Careers advice

Making the right impression: how to dress for an interview

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

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 should wear in two common, but contrasting , situations, as well as some more generalised tips.

What you wear is integral to the impression you give.

How to dress for a 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.

The common questions we hear are:

What is a formal dress code for an 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 is a casual dress code for an interview?

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got companies that operate casual dress codes. 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 is a smart casual dress code for an 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:

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.