Answer: It depends.
Ugh. Seriously? I hate that answer! But…it’s true. What you wear to the interview depends on whether the dress code at the company is business formal, business casual or a catch-all category we’ll call “other”. Let’s drill down and get to some specifics about what would be appropriate to wear to an interview.
1. Business Formal. As discussed in other posts, the navy interview suit and the black interview suit (pinstripe if you can find it, with a white shell underneath) is the standard for a business formal interview. (See this article for help with Shopping for your First Suit).
How can you tell if it’s business formal or business casual? If’s it’s not a federal government position, or with a law firm, investment bank, accounting firm, or another professional services firm, it can be difficult to know how formal you should dress. Here’s a tip–look at profiles on the company’s website. From looking at the company’s website, you should be able to tell if the company is presenting itself as a suit-and-tie sort of place (business professional) or “clean-cut but casual” environment. Who else has a position similar to yours? What is she wearing? Even if the pictures are stock photos, do they present a more formal or more casual environment? If there are no profiles or people featured on the website, think about who the clients are for the company, and dress in a way that would impress them. When in doubt, err on the side of formality. You can always take off the suit jacket.
2. Business Casual. What does “business casual” for women? Good question! Part of the purpose of this blog is to help define that term. A quick solution is to dress formal (in a suit) and then take off the suit jacket. Voila! You are now dressed in “business casual.” (Just make sure your undershirt has sleeves, or throw on a cardigan.) If you don’t own a suit, you can still get the same effect by going for the “nice” look. To look “nice”, go for a nice blouse (read, NOT a cotton t-shirt), with a nice pencil skirt (note, NOT a go-clubbing skirt) with nice shoes (like, a 2.5 inch patent leather pump). Try this look. Don’t like skirts? Pants are perfectly acceptable, provided they are nicely tailored, and not faded or slouchy yoga-style. I’ve had an easier time finding a nice skirt than nice slacks, so if you find any, let me know!
3. “Other” interview attire. So, you’ve got an interview with a hipster tech company? Sales company? Trendy fitness apparel company? Good for you! But remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Make it easy for the interviewer to imagine you as the face of the company. Ask yourself these questions: Could you impress their clientele? Could you engage with people who are 40 years older, 10 years younger, or in a different industry? Ah, well, gets a little more complicated then, doesn’t it? Going for a nice look, like business casual, is a safe bet, but if you’re feeling daring, you could follow the plain, pattern, pop rule for a smashing outfit.