Interview Outfit? Hint: Don’t Remix the Suit & Tie
The interview is one of the rare times when you don’t want to differentiate yourself – sorry fashionistas! No matter your long-term goals, aim for assimilation in dress. Success is when the interviewer doesn’t take stock of your outfit.
When I interviewed applicants, my expectations changed based on whether I was an alum or part of an admissions team:
When I was an alumni interviewer, I always advised applicants to dress business casual since we were meeting at Starbucks. Unless someone came in a full-blown suit on Saturday at 10am after being told NOT to wear a suit, I didn’t factor their dress into my evaluation. I felt pretty strongly that people applying to Wharton (my alma mater) know how to dress and since Southern California is already casual, it was a waste for people to dress up.
But, when I was part of the admissions team on-campus at Wharton, I expected applicants to wear a suit. They were interviewing on-campus and wouldn’t know whether they’d interview with students or full-time staff so they were expected to dress accordingly.
How you present yourself is your first impression on an interviewer so make it positive so you can get to the important part – the interview!
Here are more specific guidelines for each interview type:
With Admissions Officers/Group Interview, On-and-Off Campus
Everyone: Wear a professional business suit and minimal jewelry.
Women: Wear stockings if you wear a dress/skirt (even in California!), although a pantsuit works perfectly.
Men: Wear a tie.
First, follow the lead of the interviewer – if the interviewer says the dress code is business casual (my standard line was “this is a not a coat-and-tie interview”), don’t wear a suit. This is not a stress or “test” interview; if they tell you to dress business casual, then follow directions.
If you’re coming directly from work where you normally wear a suit, then men should remove their ties and women can remove their jackets (weather permitting). Find a way to tone it down a tad.
If the interviewer doesn’t give you direction, consider the location and time:
- If it’s Starbucks on the weekend, wear business casual. Admit.me considers business casual to be nice slacks, professional skirt, dress shirt, no tie, or a professional dress. No jeans, tshirt (or any type of uncollared shirt) or tennis shoes.
- If it’s their office during business hours (even at the end of the day), wear a suit.
None of the alums who interviewed me gave me clues; however, one interview was at his office and the other was at Starbucks during the day. Fortunately for both interviews, I had donor meetings earlier in the day, so I was stuck over-dressed at worst. When both mentioned they forgot to tell me to dress down, I shared that I had meetings with donors, which segued into my work.
Definitely wear a professional shirt and jacket. It’s easy to not care about your pants, but we suggest wearing (at least) nice slacks on the bottom – consider how ridiculous you’d look if you had to stand up and your interviewer saw your PowerPuff or Johnny Bravo PJ bottoms!
Bottom Line: Be confident and wear a sharp outfit that projects your confidence!
Hair: Get a haircut about a week or so before your interview. Don’t take on the stress of figuring out a new style.
Make-up: Wear the normal amount of make-up you would wear to an important business meeting. Don’t try anything new that day.
If you normally wear make-up, wear the usual amount you would wear to a business meeting (blot your lipstick before you walk into the admissions office). If you don’t wear make-up, that’s fine too.
General Clothing Tips
No matter what you wear, practice answering questions in your interview outfit. Do the sleeves fall funny when you shake someone’s hand? Does the dress shirt fall awkwardly? How does the dress fit when you’re sitting down? Does this tie really go with that shirt?
Don’t break in new shoes that day. You may have to walk a lot or walk up a flight of uneven stairs. You don’t want to navigate any of this in shoes you’ve never worn before. Your shoes can be new, but break them in before the interview.
Don’t try out a new look – whether it’s make-up, suit, shoes, hair or tie/shirt combination. You don’t need the added stress of worrying about whether mascara will bother your contact lens or whether your tie is too “out there.”
Strut your stuff.