Careers advice

How to dress for a job interview in New Zealand

It’s something everyone worries about – what should I wear to a job interview? Here are some answers.

What you’ll learn:

  • Why it’s important to choose the right outfit for a job interview.
  • Advice on what you should wear to a variety of different job interviews.
  • Style and accessory advice for your next job interview.

It doesn’t matter if your idea of fashion is haute couture or a Swannie and jandals – when it comes to job interviews, what you wear is important.

These scenarios are all about first impressions, and your clothes are a big part of that. You want to show the interviewer that you’re taking the opportunity seriously, and that you know how to use an iron.

Let’s take a look at what you shouldn’t wear in two common, but contrasting , situations, as well as some more generalised tips.

What you wear is integral to the impression you give.

Why your choice of clothes matters at a job interview

Job interviews are all about creating the right impression on the people you hope are going to hire you. Like it or not, research has shown that it takes as little as seven seconds for someone to form an impression of a person they’re meeting for the first time. So, unless you speak VERY quickly, a lot of this is going to be based on how you look and interact.

Your clothes are a big part of creating the right first impression, because they say something about you and how you see yourself. And this, in turn, will inform how the interviewer sees you.

There was a time where, for the vast majority of jobs, you’d need to turn up in a suit for your interview. And, for some sectors, this is still very much the norm (think finance, law, real estate). However, there are many other professions in which, thankfully, we’ve become more relaxed in what we wear to the office, and thus what is acceptable at a job interview. While there are obvious positives to this, it can make the outfit decision making more complicated. So, the aim of the game is all about gauging what is correct for the type of job you’re applying to and, apart from professions where you have to wear a suit, finding something that also makes you feel confident in yourself.

How to gauge what you should wear to your job interview

In New Zealand, it’s common for employers to give a heads up about the company dress code when they invite you for an interview. If they don’t, it’s totally acceptable to ask this question.

You’ll also be able to make some guesses based around what you know about the company or industry. A bank, for example, will tend to have a more formal dress code than a graphic design agency.

Other ways of working out what is appropriate is by what people already employed by the company wear to work. There are a couple of ways of doing this:

  • If you know someone there: if you have a contact at the organisation, ask them what they would advise. Essentially, you need to know how formally you should dress.
  • Check out their social media: many organisations are active on social media, and love to show what their staff get up to at work.
  • Check out their website: if they don’t have social media profiles, or they don’t show you what you need, the company website can be another useful resource. Some organisations, particularly smaller ones, might have a “Meet the Team” type page, where you can see what the staff there wear.

What should you wear to a formal interview?

Also referred to as business attire, a formal dress code usually means one thing – a suit.

For women:

  • A suit jacket with matching pants or a skirt.
  • A smart shirt or blouse.
  • Smart, polished brown or black shoes.

For men:

  • A jacket with matching pants.
  • A smart shirt and tie.
  • Smart, polished brown or black shoes.

For both men and women in a formal job interview, think carefully about the colours you wear. Anything too loud is probably not appropriate, and may make you memorable for the wrong reasons. We know it’s boring, but darker colours are probably your safest bet.

Similarly, it’s usually smart to keep jewellery to a minimum – especially if you have a habit of fiddling with rings or necklaces when nervous.

Vibrant colours can be distracting in job interviews.

What should you wear to a casual interview?

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got companies that operate casual dress codes. For example, startups, tech companies or creative agencies. for example.

You have a lot more flexibility here, but you still need to look presentable. Here are some general pointers:

  • If you go for jeans: stick to darker colours, and no fashionable rips.
  • If you go for a tshirt: avoid logos, and any messages people might find offensive.
  • Don’t go too baggy: you’re not auditioning for a punk music video.

What should you wear to a smart casual interview?

This one is definitely on the rise as businesses try to appear less stuffy, without allowing a total free for all. You might also see this referred to as business casual attire and, as the name suggests, it’s a middle ground of the above. For example:

There are many examples of smart casual outfits for job interviews, but if you’re unsure, always go more formal over less. 

For women:

  • Dark jeans and a nice shirt/blouse
  • Boots or low heels
  • Tailored pants or a skirt and a fitted t-shirt
  • A tidy dress and blazer combo. 

Outfit inspiration for a smart casual job interview.

For men:

    • A smart shirt with dark jeans or khakis.
    • A blazer and smart t-shirt.
    • A suit minus the tie.

An example of business casual for men.

General job interview outfit tips

Whatever dress code you face, make sure your clothes are:

  • Comfortable – interviews can last a while, so make sure everything fits well before you commit.
  • Clean – check your outfit thoroughly for stains and marks you might not have noticed.
  • Ironed – yep, even t-shirts. Also, your shoes should be polished.

Job interview style tips

  • Keep your hair tidy: while job interviewers are unlikely to worry about your hairstyle, it will matter if you simply look untidy. So, take a minute before you step into the interview to make sure it hasn’t gotten untidy on the commute (particularly if you live in Wellington).
  • Minimise your accessories: it’s a good idea to keep jewellery and other accessories to a minimum. The main reason is they can easily become a distraction, or something your hands fiddle with when you’re talking.
  • Less is more with makeup: if you wear makeup, keep this to the minimum you feel comfortable with. Again, this is something that can be a distraction, but particularly for the interviewer.
  • Aftershave/makeup: smelling good is fine, smelling strongly isn’t. You don’t want to get trigger happy with the aftershave or perfume and end up choking out the room.