What Should You Wear to a Job Interview?

10 mins

With just 34% of London professionals now wearing a suit to work and ‘company fit’ mattering...

With just 34% of London professionals now wearing a suit to work and ‘company fit’ mattering more than ever, we ask ‘what should you wear to a job interview?’

A few years ago, London was a much simpler place. You went to a job interview in a suit – whatever your gender. There wasn’t really any debate to be had. Perhaps, if it was a casual company, you might choose not to wear a tie or you might show some personality with a piece of signature jewellery.

Back in those simple days we looked across the pond to super-casual Silicon Valley – where you could turn up to a job interview in a grubby T-shirt and ripped jeans and still walk away with share options and a six-figure salary – and praised London’s straightforward ways.

But London is heading down the same path as California. A recent survey found that just 34% of professionals would now wear a suit to a big meeting, conference or other ‘special’ occasions. For the rest of the time, more and more people are happy to get by in borderline presentable variations of jeans, skirts, and casual shirts.

When you combine the casual dress trend with today’s much-increased focus on ‘fit’, it is clear that dressing for an interview these days requires some thought and preparation.

Don’t worry, 3Search isn’t about to take on Gok Wan as the UK’s biggest fashion advisor. To be honest, we never thought we would write a blog about dressing for an interview. Yet, as the flexible dress code trend spreads, it is becoming one of the most common questions we are asked by candidates during their interview preparation.

How, then, to decide what to wear to a job interview?

Aim for the right ‘fit’…
A recent business school study concluded, while companies are still looking for a basic baseline of skills, beyond that, ‘employers really want people who they will bond with, who they will feel good around, who will be their friend’.

We’ve written before about how your body language can help you to build this vital rapport with your interviewer. But how you are dressed – and crucially how it matches the culture of the firm you’re interviewing with – matters almost as much.

What this means is that you shouldn’t immediately assume that smarter is better. So what do you to make sure you’re dressed in a way that suggest you’d be a good fit for the company you’re interviewing with?

Research the company beforehand, check out their social media profiles, and look up some of the key members of the department you’re applying to on LinkedIn. Fortunately, many companies these days openly discuss corporate culture on their websites (check out this page from Google, or this one from Barclays, for example).

… But remember that first impressions really matter
Alarmingly, a survey by Ladders.com found 37% of bosses say that they have decided against hiring an applicant because of the way they dressed – a decision they make almost on first sight.

It almost goes without saying that, whatever you choose to wear, it needs to be clean, inoffensive, and fairly neutral in colour. Beyond that, though, is there anything you really must do in order to make a good first impression?

The Ladders survey of hiring managers also found that half prefer a man to wear a suit, almost all would frown upon a female candidate wearing a low-necked tops or dangly jewellery, four-fifths would object to bright colours like red and orange, and all would find novelty or logo-emblazoned clothing completely inappropriate.

Aim for a notch above the standard office code
A good general rule is to aim for a notch above the general office wear you identify during your company research.

If you’re struggling to identify the usual office code, check out the company’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, as often companies will post images of the office environment. For example, check out the tweet below from TransferWise, a Shoreditch-based fintech startup.

TransferWise tweet

Clearly, tech companies, like TransferWise, are very casual. Therefore, to ensure that you exude ‘fit’ at an interview with them you’d want to dress in a relaxed and casual way. To wear a suit to an interview with companies like this would immediately mark you out as potentially stuffy, old-fashioned, or simply unable to do your background research!

So, if a company is all T-shirts and jeans, what does a notch above actually mean? Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert, says feeling comfortable is crucial: ‘if you aren’t comfortable in your outfit – that will come across in the interview’, she writes.

You’re being judged constantly when you’re interviewing so Williams advises against ‘scuffed shoes, messy bags, or low-cut tops’. Her final analysis if you’re interviewing at a casual startup or tech company? ‘Dress as if you were going to a dinner party on a Saturday night’.

If in doubt, ask your recruiter!
One of the many advantages of developing your career in partnership with a specialist recruitment agent, such as 3Search, is the option to draw on their decades of experience and knowledge of their sector. If you’re in doubt about how best to dress for an interview then simply ask. It’s our job to know the client and ask those tricky questions for you, so while Gok Wan’s status is safe, we will be able to help on this!

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