The Budget Babe | Affordable Fashion & Style Blog

Work-Chic Wednesdays: What to Wear to an Interview



A well-fitted black suit is a sophisticated, foolproof look for interviews that says you mean business. (Tahari by ASL Pinstripe Pant Suit, Now $139.99 at Macy's)

I am a 22 year old that just graduated from college. I am starting to go on interviews, but I have absolutely no idea what to wear. I want to look professional but chic. Please help me BB and your fashionable readers. —Megan

When I was a college senior, I did the nerdy thing and took some job hunting workshops offered by the Career and Placement Services department at my college. I'm pretty sure all schools offer this, so definitely take advantage of this worthwhile service, if you still can. They'll walk you through mock interviews, spruce up your resume and even share tips on what to wear (and what NOT to wear) to the all-important job interview!

Having said that, I was advised to wear a suit, so months later when I landed an interview for an entry-level position at Oprah.com, I went out and bought a nice black suit with a very subtle tone-on-tone pinstripe, a crisp white button down shirt, and some practical black pumps. I bought the best suit I could afford at the time (Tahari, on sale), pulled my hair back, wore neutral makeup and carried a no-nonsense writing pad/folder thingy with my resume tucked neatly inside.

I felt confident in my suit, and it must have showed because I got the job. Even though my interview look was far dressier than the general office dress code, I think it was the right move. In my opinion, it's always better to overdress for an interview as well as the first couple days on the job, and then to gradually adjust your look to be more casual as you get a better feel for the work environment.

The funny thing is, I never did wear that suit again—I was fortunate enough to stay with the same company for a number of years—but I'm confident that suit had something to do with me getting the job. In my mind, it was worth the investment. And, having subsequently been in the position of the interviewer, I can say with certainty that what you wear and how you present yourself in an interview is critical. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so concern yourself with looking polished, put-together and professional (and don't worry too much about looking chic unless you're applying for a job in a fashion/creative industry). You'll have plenty of opportunities to express your fashion sense after you land the job!

Ok, enough rambling from me. What did YOU wear to the interview that landed you YOUR last job? Be specific!

Comments
Perfect outfit for the interview. Classic black suit. For my first big job out of college (where I am now) I wore black pants, and a teal ruffle blouse and pumps. I also think that what I wore factored into the hiring decision. Looking polished and put together really boosts up your confidence when you go to the interview. I went to one interview after college and I felt so uncomfortable because my pants didn't fit right and my blazer was just plain awkward. It's all I could think about when I was sitting across from the interviewer. Bad idea.
#1 Dina's Days (Homepage) on 2009-08-26 07:38 (Reply)
I agree that erring on the side of conservatism is best, and there's nothing like a classic suit to give a GREAT first impression.

Did write up some alternate options for interview attire, but they're more for seasoned interviewees!

http://www.alreadypretty.com/2009/07/reader-request-stylish-interview-garb.html
#2 Sally (Homepage) on 2009-08-26 08:34 (Reply)
Loved your post, especially the tips for livening up a suit!
#2.1 The Budget Babe on 2009-08-26 09:59 (Reply)
I have a classic black pantsuit that I've worn for every interview. I usually wear it with a black silk blouse, pearls, and black round toe pumps with black dress socks.

I spent $200 on the suit, and I agree that it's a great investment. The fit is key, also, so I brought it to a tailor before I wore it out.
#3 Joann on 2009-08-26 08:43 (Reply)
yep- great advice- I have always worn similar attire you mentioned no matter what work environment- b/c it is better, like you said, to be over than under-dressed.
#4 Real Style Real People (Homepage) on 2009-08-26 08:43 (Reply)
You really can't go wrong with a suit! Or if you know for sure the office is a bit more casual, mixed work separates work well too. The whole idea is to look capable and put together, someone they can feel confident about hiring. At my last job we did a round of interviews with college kids to fill an assistant position, and you wouldn't believe how many came in completely underdressed - I mean really, jeans??
#5 Trude (Homepage) on 2009-08-26 10:50 (Reply)
I had to assist my supervisor with interviews earlier this week, and FOUR people showed up in jeans. Not even dark wash jeans (which still aren't acceptable, imo), but light wash jeans with whiskering details. My boss ended up telling all of them right then and there that their attire was not appropriate.
#5.1 Joann on 2009-08-26 10:53 (Reply)
That was pretty nice of your boss, to be honest. Those people sound like they clearly wouldn't have figured it out on their own. >_>
#5.1.1 Sandra on 2009-08-26 11:56 (Reply)
Amazing post, BB! So, so true. And I love how we got a sneak peek into your first suit wearing interview especially since it was such a positive experience. The power of the suit :0)
#6 angie (Homepage) on 2009-08-26 11:02 (Reply)
I've only interviewed at one company after college (and landed the job)- to which I wore a black pantsuit and button up blouse (even though I knew for a fact that the dress code was super lax) but I have a question about suiting material:

I wear a size 8/10 in most clothing but when it comes to suit pants I find that the material is so thin, it hugs my upper thighs in a very unattractive way. I can't stand tucking in tops for that reason, and I've tried to find pants with thicker material, tried sizing up so the fit would be more loose and relaxed but still haven't found that dream suit. Just wondering if anyone else has encountered this problem...or knows where to find suitable suits?
#7 Srujana on 2009-08-26 11:05 (Reply)
I got a suit from Ann Taylor for my first interview out of college. I went with plain black. I think I've worn it to every interview since. Their suit pant material is heavy/thick and lies beautifully.

Our college career fair / job placement office also did workshops and they usually gave out coupons and discounts for stores like Banana Republic and Ann Taylor. :-)
#8 Katie on 2009-08-26 11:08 (Reply)
I like skirt suits, or sheath dresses with jackets. I think it makes you stand out in a nice way from the typical black pantsuit. To be safe though I would always wear it with tights.
#9 Janna on 2009-08-26 11:27 (Reply)
I work in retail and giving a good first impression is key. When I recieve a resume we usually jot down a little note about the person who dropped it off. Denim is a nogo and if you're dressed like you already work here you're way above the others.


ps. if it's possible drop off your resume to a manager.
#10 Courtney (Homepage) on 2009-08-26 12:00 (Reply)
A new purple blouse and grey a-line skirt from H&M and Christian Louboutin kitten heels!!
#11 Wanderlusting (Homepage) on 2009-08-26 12:46 (Reply)
Simple black pants, draped black T-shirt and black/white striped Marni cropped jacket with a simple silver watch. Killed it.
#12 Kim on 2009-08-26 12:51 (Reply)
Great article! I agree, a suit is a MUST. I work in the fashion industry, so I like to add a little personality, but still be conservative. My favorite way to do this is a brooch on a blazer or nice detailing (such as a ruffle on a blouse). I actually am planning a post on brooches for fall, make sure ya'll check it out, up later this week! http://smartstyletips.wordpress.com/
#13 Jessica Nelson (Homepage) on 2009-08-26 13:19 (Reply)
As an art teacher, I have to portray both a conservative nature to the school board, but show my creative side too. For my last job, I wore a pair of black bootleg dress pants, leather pumps, a cream wrap around sweater and a very large, red piece of art jewelry that I made out from a fused glass pendant, strung from chain and hand-lampworked glass beads.
#14 Kath on 2009-08-26 14:11 (Reply)
I'm a music professor, so I have to be professional but also creative-looking. For interviews, I like to wear a black suit (as everyone agrees) but I wear a bright shirt underneath. I have a dark fuchsia satin-type shirt as well as a dark blue one. (bonus-the sleeves peak out from the sleeves of the suit) Sometimes I'll wear a black suit with black or white shell, but with colored shoes (pumps), like green or purple or gold. Another idea is to go with the black and white look, but have a brightly colored portfolio or handbag.
PS - for the size 8/10 gal above(I'm more like 10/12) I've had good luck with The Limited for heavier fabric pants, but you have to buy in the winter months.
#15 Abby on 2009-08-26 16:31 (Reply)
I was advised to always, always wear a suit. It says that you are taking the position seriously and shows that you are poised and professional.

I am also a 22 year old recent grad, and to my interviews I've been wearing a basic black suit from Banana Republic. I wore a button down shirt that was blue (also from banana).

Although no one in the office was wearing a suit, it is definitely the way to go. Better to be overdressed than underdressed!
#16 Kait on 2009-08-26 19:43 (Reply)
I work at Macy's and we always have suits discounted for 69.99 (not all of them, and the selection is of course limited) lots of real name brands that are just older styles of suits. But a suit is a suit! Go to your local Macy's (preferably the bigger one) and check them out. 69.99 and the coupons in the paper work (or your macy's rewards coupons for having a macy's credit card) or you can always check the Clearance Racks in brands like Alfani, INC and Calvin Klein for really nice seperates!


hope this helps
#17 reyna on 2009-08-26 22:03 (Reply)
A black suit is ALWAYS fitting, but the job you are applying for will dictate how you accessorize it.

For example, a marketing job would allow you a bit more freedom to accessorize. I'd wear a big chunky necklace and colorful pumps to go with the suit. Maybe carry a purse in a contrasting color.

An accounting job is much more conservative, so I would add a conservative watch and a pair of classic pearl earrings, and tie my hair back in a ponytail.

For a job in PR, I'd wear a colored blouse under the jacket, simple earrings and necklace. You want to appear "camera ready", as if you are already in the role.

Good luck!
#18 Jo from Canada on 2009-08-27 12:23 (Reply)
Around here, where I work, you can always tell when it's interview time. I swear everyone young female resident buys the exact same suit from Ann Taylor. I did see an exception, a young lady worn soft pink and when you are trying to stand out among a sea of the same - it makes a statement.

On my first interview (I still work here - can't ever seem to leave) - I wore a red/black/white suit. It actually reminds me of a schoolteacher. Luckily I just recently donated that thing! I've had several interviews for different positions since coming here and I've worn everything from a denim dress (impromptu interview) to, most recently, a tan suit.

Although, we've seen a resurgence of conservative dress as more ppl are out job hunting, a suit is practical in some venues, but at times you have to spice it up a bit and make it your own.
#19 TexNYQueen on 2009-08-27 13:39 (Reply)
Thanks for this post. You'd be surprised at the number of people who don't know proper etiquette when it comes to interviewing and/or business attire. Everyone should seek out information on what to wear, what to bring, what to say, etc. whether from a school resource, online, or a book.
#20 food.wine.sunshine (Homepage) on 2009-08-28 13:07 (Reply)
GREAT advice! I always err on the conservative side, just incase. For the interview for my current job, I wore a suit from Ann Taylor -- chocolate brown with a subtle pinstripe. I paired it with a crisp white button-up shirt, brown closed-toe heels, a chunky red necklace, small pearl earrings and red leather purse. Aside from a small black leather folder for my resume, I kept my hands free. For an old job, I did wear a cream skirt from White House Black Market to the interview, and I think it was fine. Just made me paranoid when sitting or going up stairs :-).
#21 Katie (Homepage) on 2009-09-10 19:57 (Reply)
It is really interesting to read all these comments. I am in the advertising business and we make fun of people when they wear suits, even to interviews.

I would wear a high-waisted skirt, bold silk top, maybe a shrunken blazer (depending on the weather), tights, and a great pair of heels. Oh and super fun accessories. But I guess for a bank guy going more conservative is right.

I just wanted to point out that a suit is NOT always the way to go.
#22 Erin on 2009-10-22 16:27 (Reply)
I wanted to second Erin's comment above. For my first interview ever, to be a fashion/entertainment publicist, I wore a black skirt suit thinking suits were the way to go. I got the job, but the VP who interviewed me also told me never to wear a suit in this industry again. Ever since then I've avoided suits. For my interview to my current job (marketing for a luxury company) I wore a pin-striped skirt, black ruffled blouse and black and sheer striped tights from Club Monaco.

I've also had interviews at design houses (for major brands) where the director interviewing me is wearing tank tops, mini-skirts, etc.

So yes, a suit isn't always the way to go - do your research to find out what works best for your industry!
#22.1 Serena on 2010-07-07 16:57 (Reply)
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