Womenswear: What to Wear to Any Job Interview

What you wear to a job interview might not make or break your chances at getting hired, but it certainly plays a part in the process, and can eventually affect everything from how seriously your coworkers take you, to how much you get paid. Unfortunately, dressing for a job interview as a woman can be more complicated than it is for men—just ask any female politician, news anchor, or the many (but still too few) women working in tech.

The truth is a lot of professions don’t have a standardized uniform for women, which can make shopping for boss-lady clothes a little confusing. But on the bright side, never having to wear a standard-issue suit and tie (unless you want to!) is pretty damn cool. After all, it’s 2018. No matter how old you are or what you’re applying for, your next interview outfit should be equal parts comfortable, fun, and confidence building. To help you find just that, we talked to three experts in the art of hiring about pants vs. skirts, whether or not you should wear jeans, and the best manicure colors for ambitious applicants. So sit back, prep that resume, and let us be your style guide.

Rule 1: Keep it Simple

It sounds obvious, but when it comes to professional dressing, less really is more. You want the person interviewing you to stay focused on what you’re saying, not get distracted by what your T-shirt says. Maude Standish, Vice President Fullscreen Media put it this way: “You don’t want to psych yourself out but rather portray yourself and your ideas first, not your outfit. Because people hire someone for great ideas not great outfits.”

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If you’re interviewing in finance or at a law firm

Probably the most formal environment you can work in is a law firm or a financial institution. So the clothing you choose should reflect that. But business attire doesn’t have to be boring and suits come in all colors and fits. This play on a classic pinstripe suit says “I have my sh*t together” while separating you visually from the glut of candidates in navy. So throw caution to the wind and wear white, as long as it’s free of wrinkles and coffee stains.

Rule 2: Double Check the Details Before Leaving Home

Is your shirt bunching where you tucked it in? Do you have deodorant stains on your sweater? Will your skirt ride up when you sit down? Take the time to go over every detail before stepping out the door. “I would encourage all women to try sitting in their skirts before going to a job interview. If you haven’t tried this in front of a mirror, you don’t know how it might ride up. I’m totally chill with a woman wearing a short skirt—you’re a modern women do whatever you want—but you don’t want to get in a position where your underwear is showing. So just sit down and check before leaving.”—Standish

Pro Tip:

“In finance, I worked with two female Chief Operating Officers and what was notable about them was that they always looked neat.” —Daniel H. Gallancy, CEO of a cryptography and capital markets startup

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If you’re interviewing in tech or at a startup

“There is certainly, in my view, a full equivalence [between what men and women wear]. If a woman wants to come in wearing jeans and a sweater or a T-shirt that’s totally fine. If it’s the exact same thing I am wearing, totally fine.” —Gallancy

Rule 3: Elevated Comfort

The rumors you’ve heard about tech companies and their uber casual style may be true, but don’t let that put a damper on your natural cute-outfit-building abilities. Think of this as what you’d wear to brunch with your parents: jeans (not too tight), a crisp white tee, and a flattering belted trench. You may not be expected to dress up, but you definitely don’t want your style to convey carelessness. And remember, this is a serious affair, so you’ll want to show your more conservative side and not too much skin.

Pro Tip:

“You don’t wanna show too much cleavage and you don’t want anything that’s too tight. You should still have fun with it, but you want to be taken seriously and you don’t know the background of the person you are meeting with sometimes.” —says Nicole Balsam, Executive Search Consultant | Stephen-Bradford Search

Rule 4: Save the Flash for Your Resume

Job interviews aren’t about showing off your knowledge of new trends, so keeps things classic in silhouette and colors. The place for a quick pop of color, however, is in the extras. These sunny yellow mules and the red stripe on this belt bag are fun ways of playing up your bright personality (something employers like almost as much as a great resume). Standish explains: “Feel free to express yourself, but really, when you’re interviewing, you should be showcasing your ideas not your look. You don’t want to wear anything that distracts from the conversation you are having.”

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If you’re interviewing for a creative position

So you’re about to land your first design job, go you! The simplest way to avoid showing up in something too flashy is by skipping saturated colors in lieu of graphic black and whites. A contrasty pair of plaid or striped pants will show you’ve got a strong point of view without screaming “look at me!” Compliment your bold pants with can’t-fail cool-girl essentials like a dark denim or moto jacket. Still feel bored? Get your sophisticated swag on in the form of statement earrings or a pair of all-white boots. Just remember, this isn’t an art director costume contest.

Pro Tip:

“A lot of times we go into a job interview with an idea in our head of what the person who would do that job might look like and kind of create a costume around that. But that means you’re not seeing our self in that job. It automatically puts you in a bad mindset like ‘to do this job I need to create a different version of myself’ which will just make you nervous going in.”—Standish

Rule 5: Favor Forgiving Clothing Pieces

Customer-facing jobs require a very specific level of put-together-ness not present in other industries. Down the line, your coworkers will forgive you if you accidentally spill salad dressing on your skirt. But working in a hotel or an upscale store means you represent that place to the world (including cranky tourists).

 

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If you’re interviewing in hospitality or retail

What you wear to your interview should prove you’re up to the challenge. Black pants are always professional looking and will hide nearly any stain. And a flowy striped shirt works as toothpaste camouflage in a pinch.

Rule 6: Have Fun with Accessories

Now that you’ve nailed the basics, kick things up a notch with a couple of cool accessories, extra points for wearing something with a story behind it—an instant conversation starter. “I like a nice statement necklace or any kind of jewelry is often great. It’s another talking point if you have something unique in some way.” —Balsam

Rule 7: But Test Out New Shoes First

Everyone’s tolerance for standing in heels is different, so if you’re applying for a job where you’ll be standing a lot or frequently running around (see: teachers, stylists, photo assistants) wearing shoes you can’t walk in is a big no-no.

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If you’re interviewing for a job that keeps you on your feet

A pair of clean white sneakers are perfectly respectable job interview fare, especially when paired with a structured top coat. Keep comfort a top priority with these dusty pink (and secretly elastic-waisted) trousers and play them off with some matching pink shades. The trick to wearing the rose-colored hue: choose a pale shade and mix with stark black and white. 

Pro Tip:

“The height of the heel doesn’t matter so much as that you can easily walk in them. I think women could go a lot more casual than they normally do. I personally respect a women who is taking good care of her knees.”—Standish

Rule 8: Get a Pro-Level Manicure

Your clothes are important but don’t get lazy with your grooming, especially your nails. Your hands will be on full view while you discuss your latest achievements so invest in a business babe manicure. Balsam advises sticking to classic colors “When it comes to nail color, don’t go with anything too crazy. Nudes, red, even dark colors are ok but I would avoid anything that’s too out there because it can be seen as not professional.”