Home > Careers, Employment, Uncategorized > Smart, Smart-Casual or Casual? Cracking the Interview Dress Code. 

Smart, Smart-Casual or Casual? Cracking the Interview Dress Code. 

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Deciding what to wear to interview can be tricky. Traditionally a suit has been the default option and in many cases this still holds true. However as office cultures in many industries have become more relaxed sometimes a less formal interview outfit may be appropriate (or even advisable).  So, if you’re trying to decide what to wear to an interview, Suzanne Ball, from our Careers Adviser team, gives some tips on how to crack the interview dress code.

Focus on the company and the role

If you’re being interviewed for a traditional corporate role, particularly in sectors such as banking, finance or law, then a suit is still essential interview wear, particularly for men.  A suit is a safe option in other sectors too but you can also consider other smart options for many roles (see below). If the job you’re being interviewed for involves wearing a uniform or lab coat or spending time working outside you will still need to look smart but a formal suit may be not be necessary. There are some cases where a smart-casual or casual outfit might be more appropriate for example if you’re applying to a small start-up tech company, particularly if you know it has a relaxed office culture, or if you’re applying for a creative job.

Look at the company’s website

If the company has pictures of people doing the type of work you’re applying for, take note of what they’re wearing.  Ideally your interview outfit should be smarter than the everyday norm.

What will you be doing at interview?

If you know the interview will involve activities such as spending time outside (maybe for a site visit) or doing a lab-based task then make sure you wear (or at least take) appropriate footwear/clothes with you.

Has the employer given any tips?

Read the email and any information the employer sends you when you’re invited to interview. Some employers will tell you if there’s a casual dress code or indicate the types of activities you’ll be involved in during the interview process.  If in doubt you could ask about dress code when you email to confirm your attendance.

What does smart or smart/casual actually mean?

  • SmartA suit or tailored jacket with co-ordinating trousers/skirt or dress. Bear in mind that a suit will be the best option for some roles and men should always wear a tie. Keep shirts/tops/jewellery neutral and black is safest colour for shoes (particularly for men).
  • Smart/Casual. A suit could still be appropriate but perhaps worn with a coloured or patterned shirt or even a smart, plain T shirt. Ties are optional.  Co-ordinated jacket/trouser/skirt/dress combinations will also work well and you could consider less tailored options (but be wary of fabrics that crease easily). Brighter ties, colours and statement jewellery may also be appropriate but consider the industry/role you’re applying for.  You’ll have more options regarding shoe style and colour but avoid trainers unless you’re confident they would be acceptable.
  • Casual. This can be a bit of a minefield. Jeans may be appropriate but make sure they’re new, clean and unripped. If you’re thinking of wearing a T shirt or sweatshirt make sure they’re new and that any images or slogans are appropriate. Knitwear should be new and not bobbly or misshapen.  Trainers may be OK if new but avoid flip-flops!

 

Whatever the dress code…

  • Use minimal perfume/aftershave or don’t wear it at all.
  • Handbags or document cases should be clean and not battered looking. Make sure your bag is big enough to hold everything you want to take without bulging (but don’t take too much with you).
  • Footwear should always be clean and not scuffed or “down-at-heel”.
  • Make sure you look well-groomed. Clean hair and trimmed fingernails will give a good impression and make sure that there are no missing buttons or frayed edges on anything you’re wearing.  Iron any garment that looks even a little crumpled. Try to fit in a hair-cut before the interview and make sure your hairstyle will survive if it’s windy or raining outside.
  • Don’t show too much flesh – low cut tops and miniskirts (women) or overly unbuttoned shirts (men) are never appropriate. Try to avoid bare legs even if the weather is hot.
  • Plan your outfit a week or so before the interview and do a quick check for stains, missing buttons etc. This way you’ll have time for a quick trip to the dry-cleaners if necessary.

When in doubt…

Dress smartly – it’s usually better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.

For more detailed information and suggestions on planning your interview outfit check out our Interview Fashion Pinterest board

Suzanne Ball is a Careers Adviser working with students in the Business School at the University of Hertfordshire. She regularly tweets in regards to Business School related information on @HBSCareers.

 

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