Suit Up for Success: What to Wear to a Job Interview

So, you have sent out your CV and have finally been called in for an interview. You’re excited and nervous, spending hours looking up common interview questions for your industry. But, there is one important aspect that can often go overlooked until the day: what to wear to a job interview. You may have to spend hours searching the clothing shops in Cape Town for the perfect items, so below is a comprehensive list of what to wear to a (successful) job interview.

Polished and professional

The first and most important step to dressing for your job interview is to ensure that you are well-groomed. For ladies, this means that wearing the same makeup you would for a Saturday night girl’s outing is a no-go.

For men, you should ensure that you are clean-shaven or that your beard is neatly trimmed and conditioned. The motto of ‘less is more’ is important here, especially when deciding on accessories, makeup and attire. Ladies, if you wear nail polish, you should avoid wearing fluorescent colours and men, ensure that your accessories are not too bright or distracting.

Decoding the dress code

Before you head out to spend hours browsing the shelves of clothing shops in South Africa, you will need to decode the dress code of the offices you will be interviewed in. For example, you may hear that the company is ‘business professional’ or ‘business casual’, and these can be really confusing to understand.

  • Business professional: In a business professional capacity, you should err on the side of formal, because suits are the norm for both men and women. Women could wear a business pants suit with low heels, and men should opt for a blazer, a button down shirt, suit pants, a tie and dress shoes.
  • Business casual: In this capacity, you can ditch the suit but you will still need to look professional. Men can opt for dark chinos, a long-sleeved button down shirt and loafers while women can choose to wear a blouse with a skirt or dress pants with flat shoes.

It’s what’s inside that counts

Choosing to wear a smart, tailored blazer over slacks (for women) or chinos (for men) is a great idea for a business casual interview. Inevitably, the deep V of a closed blazer will create a plunging neckline.

If you choose to wear a camisole or dainty shirt underneath your blazer, you will need to ensure that you are properly covered by this. Layering with a button-down shirt is a better idea and will appear more professional. For men, wearing a smart blazer does not entitle you to wear a t-shirt underneath, unless you are interviewing at a very casual place such as a startup. You should always opt for a button down or a V-neck sweater if the weather is cold.

Shine your shoes

Your shoes are an important part of your interview outfit. Dirty, unpolished or even unsuitable shoes can leave a lasting impression in the minds of interviewers. You will need to make sure your shoes are polished and free of all dirt.

Men, the best choices you can make for interview shoes are black or brown slide on loafers or lace-ups, without any bells and whistles. Avoid sneakers at all costs, no matter what brand they are. Ladies, your heels should not be sky high and your pumps should not be too flat against the ground. Court shoes with kitten heels are suitable for most pants suits, but if you are shorter then look for heels that give you added height, but avoiding stilettos.

Keep accessories to a minimum

You might enjoy accessorising your outfits with earrings, necklaces and bangles but for a job interview, you will need to keep them to a definite minimum. If you feel the need to wear earrings, keep it to a small pair of studs rather than large hoops or dangling sparkly items. Rings should be left off of hands unless you are wearing an engagement or wedding ring.

While accessories are not as much of an issue for men, you will need to be mindful of your cufflinks, your tie-clip and your belt. Avoid wearing a tie that has a large, distracting buckle and keep cufflinks elegant and understated. You do not want your outfit and accessories to detract from the true purpose of the interview: you, your experience and your talents.

Clothes do not make the man or woman

While it is vital to dress professionally for a job interview, you should remember not to wear an outfit that will detract from you as the interviewee. Bright colours or wild patterns may look exciting but they can often distract the interviewer and cause them to not take you seriously. On the other hand, overdressing for an office that is decidedly business casual can be detrimental, as it shows you have not done your research on the company. Dressing for the interview means dressing for the company, so be sure you decide on at least two outfits before the day so you are prepared for every event.

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