Dressing for the Interview at a Business Casual Environment

Today is your big interview for the job you’ve been dreaming about your entire life. Your best suit is fresh from the cleaners, white shirt is pressed, new tie selected, shoes polished, hair freshly cut and you’re really confident. However, the people interviewing you will be dressed in blue jeans, boat shoes and the occasional clean tennis shirt. Should you change into your best jeans or stick with the Brooks Brothers uniform to get the job? In today’s world of business casual, dress down attire and beachwear office days, you probably have at least a 50 percent chance of this situation being a reality.

So what should one do? Dress like your potential new employer or follow the traditional interview uniform? The answer from talking with many of those in the staffing industry is clear. Ninety percent of the employers we surveyed recommended the traditional interview uniform. The majority lean toward the traditional blue suit, white shirt/blouse, conservative dark shoes/pumps with appropriate tie/scarf. Survey comments included:

“Dress like the traditional IBM sales representative.”

“The potential employer will treat you with respect if you dress for business.”

“During the interview, you need to exude confidence and a blue suit is part of the confidence costume.”

One counselor suggested that the interviewee explain to the interviewer ahead of time that the typical dress in his or her current workplace is one of either business casual or formal business, and then arrive for the interview in typical current employer’s attire. This will help discount the dress and allow the new employer to judge you better on merit. However, the following story from the Bergen Record discounts this theory:

A former menswear clothing company executive recounts the story of an interview he conducted to hire a personal assistant three years ago. The incident is still fresh in his mind, because he was, in his words, “appalled by the candidate’s personal appearance,” as were the support staff who saw her when she went in for her interview. The candidate arrived in a pink sweat suit, conscious from the moment she walked in that she looked inappropriate. She proceeded to apologize for her “casual” outfit by explaining that every day at her current company was casual day. She was “afraid to dress up” as she felt her co-workers would notice and know that she was going on a job interview. Despite her apology, the executive didn’t hire her.

“You know,” he said, “it’s really too bad. She was intelligent and very qualified, but I just couldn’t get past what she was wearing. She just didn’t fit the image of what someone who is trustworthy looks like to me.”

Another recruiter offers the following advice. “Dress in the attire that you look your best in. Some of us have a better jeans physique than a blue suit body.”

For example, the other day I attended a great sales presentation given by a major software vendor. The representative was dressed in chinos and a tennis shirt. It was one of the best, most professional demos of a product I’ve ever attended. Could it have been that because of the casual dress, I trusted the content more? Would I have been even more impressed if the presenter was dressed in traditional business blues? I don’t know, but I do know that I bought the product.

On a lighter note, maybe you could interview in your pajamas. The interviewer will never know. It’s a phone interview. Polish up that voice. At least you won’t get caught in the wrong designer jeans. Does anyone wear them anymore? Even in you decide to go the pink sweat suit route, a smile and good eye contact work wonders in any environment. Good luck, and for now, stick with the blue suit!