We’ve all been in some variation of the same scenario where we show up to an interview in an outfit deemed “professional” but is also devoid of any personality and is, quite frankly, really uncomfortable to wear. Then, once the interview is over, we hang the outfit up and tuck it away in the backs of our closets until the next time a situation calls for corporate attire. That’s just the way most of us have been trained to dress for interviews–but it doesn’t have to be that way.
As an applicant, it’s easy to focus so much on a potential employer judging you during an interview that you dismiss the fact that you are also interviewing them, as you’re both searching for the right fit. While it’s important always to show up looking your best, there is also no reason to feel like you need to dress in a pencil skirt and pumps if you’re more of a dress pants and flats kind of woman. You can be professional and show off your personality simultaneously. They are not mutually exclusive.
That being said, just like you shouldn’t feel pressured to look like a corporate robot at an interview, you also shouldn’t show up wearing leggings and a graphic tee-shirt. You still need to strike a balance between being yourself and being professional. It can be tricky to walk. But it certainly can be done with a bit of preparation and confidence.
Why Does It Matter?
At this point, so many of us are to working remotely that it’s hard to remember a time when we had to put on real pants and do more than simply try to cover up the dark circles under our eyes and apply a quick coat of mascara before showing up to work. Shoot, even if you do work on-site, so many companies have adopted a casual dress code that you might have a box of dress pants in your closet that’s simply taking up space and collecting dust. Still, even though so many employers have (thankfully) caught on to the fact that we all prefer to be comfortable while we work, you should always opt for, at a minimum, a business casual look for an interview.
Sure, we all know that you can be a fantastic, professional employee no matter what you’re wearing, but the fact is that taking the time to put effort into your look and wardrobe for an interview shows respect. A clean, professional look signals that you’re bringing this meeting seriously and that you are being considerate of the interviewer’s time and attention.
Additionally, like it or not, you’re trying to make a good impression at an interview, and your appearance is a significant factor in how someone perceives you. Research has found that someone’s initial image of another person can carry more weight than facts about them. So, you can completely dazzle a hiring manager with your knowledge and experience. Still, if you show up looking sloppy, it’s more likely that they will remember your appearance and judge you more based on that rather than on your qualifications. It’s not fair, but it’s usually unintentional on an interviewer’s part, so simply by showing up looking clean and put together, you’re eliminating one hurdle that could get in the way of you landing a job.
Show Some Personality
While looking clean and professional is a must for an interview, it’s also important not to hide who you are. To find a job that’s right for you, culture matters, and if you feel pressured to disguise who you are at work constantly, then it’s not the proper role for you. So, for instance, if you have a facial piercing, a tattoo, or your hair is dyed a rainbow of colors, don’t cover it up for an interview (unless you’d be okay with having to do it every day for work). Appearance and first impressions matter, but so does authenticity, and you shouldn’t have to hide or tone down who you are 40+ hours a week.
Admittedly, this advice is more accessible said than done because, unfortunately, not everyone has caught up to the idea that you can be both an asset to an organization and wear something like a headscarf at the same time. So if you’re hesitant to stray from the traditional, it’s completely understandable. Here are some examples of how someone can portray professionalism while still showing their personality:
Switch from a large nose ring to something more dainty and minimalist
Wear a long sleeve dress shirt to cover tattoos, but roll the sleeves up just a bit, so the art isn’t completely hidden
Add pops of color to your outfits, like bright pink shoes or a vibrant green necklace
Skip the blazer and collared shirt and opt for a comfortable blouse or sweater
Wear a headscarf that complements the rest of your outfit
Keep your makeup dramatic but toned down a little (ex: for eye makeup, opt for neutrals instead of bright colors, or balance colors out by applying less eyeliner and mascara)
Style your hair in a way that highlights how gorgeous unnatural hues can be
Don’t shy away from your preference for masculine, gender-neutral, or feminine styles. Just make sure whatever outfit you choose is professional
If you need to show self-expression through your appearance, you need to work for an employer that allows you to do that and doesn’t try to shame you for it. It is possible to stay true to yourself in an interview and still leave a lasting good first impression. Spend some time determining the best way for you to comfortably and confidently strike a balance between authenticity and professionalism.
Planning Your Interview Look
The last thing you want to do is try to throw yourself together an hour before your interview starts. It’s a best practice to have a standard go-to interview outfit to prevent feeling frazzled and possibly unhappy with your final look. Instead, plan out clothes no later than the day before the interview.
Things you’ll want to have mapped out include your outfit, shoes, jewelry, your hairstyle, makeup, a bag/purse to carry, and a coat (if necessary). If your interview is on-site, make sure to keep an eye on the weather so that you can plan accordingly. For example, if your hair doesn’t do well in humidity and it’s going to be a rainy day, then a stylish bun or ponytail may be in your best interest, or if it’s going to be very cold, then you may want to skip the skirt and opt for pants and layers on top. Similarly, consider the company’s overall culture when choosing your outfit. If it’s a super casual environment, you’re probably safe to dress business casual, whereas if it’s a very corporate-feeling company, opt for something more traditional.
It’s important to mention that even though video interviews aren’t in person, your outfit still matters. Even though you’re in the comfort of your own home, the same rules of professionalism apply. You may be tempted only to dress up the top half of your body since that’s the only thing your interviewer will see. Still, it’s better to play it safe and dressed because you never know if something will happen that causes you to have to stand up for some reason (and the last thing you want is for them to see your perfectly styled top paired with your distressed cut off denim shorts).
Find the Right Fit
By wearing an outfit to your interview that shows off your personality and style, you’re ensuring you end up working for a company that accepts (and hopefully embraces) who you truly are. Masking is exhausting, and no one wants to spend the majority of their waking hours having to pretend to be someone they’re not. So, before your next interview, find out your sweet spot between professionalism and authenticity so that you can show up feeling comfortable and confident and leave a lasting impression.
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