How to Dress for an Interview

A reader writes:

I lost my job four months ago. I’m finally starting to get calls for job interviews, but I don’t have anything to wear. At my last job, we always wore jeans, so I don’t have any suits, and I really can’t afford that stuff right now. Do I really have to wear a suit to job interviews, and if so, where can I find cheap clothes for interviewing?

Whether you have to wear a suit depends on where you live, what industry you’re in, and how high up you are on the food chain.

Your interview outfit is meant to make you look smart and professional and stuff, but it’s also meant to be a sign of respect. Sometimes people say, “I know they wear jeans there, so I’m going to wear jeans to the interview.” You can try it, but you would be amazed how many hiring managers are offended by that. They want to see you dress up for them, as a sign of respect for them and the process, and as a sign that you actually want the job. Maybe that’s stupid, but I’d say that’s the prevailing view among managers I know.

That said, you don’t necessarily need to dress like you’re applying to be a bank president. Take what they wear on the job at the company you want, and then go up a notch or two. For example, if they wear jeans, wear dress pants and a nice sweater. If it’s business casual, wear a jacket and dress pants (not necessarily a matched suit). If you’re not sure what the dress code is, ask the person who invited you for the interview (trust me, they won’t mind-it makes you look smart).

There are lots of places you can get work clothes without spending a fortune*. When I was starting out, nearly all my work wardrobe came from thrift stores and consignment shops. In fact, consignment stores are an especially good option now, since a lot of cash-starved people are consigning their unused things to raise money. I’ve also bought a lot of suits on eBay; if you know what brand and size fits you, you can get some real bargains (this works for women…not so much for men). Target now has suit separates for men and women, and they look good enough to wear on an interview. TJMaxx is a great place for ties in particular; it’s hit or miss, but I’ve found some great ties there for $9.99 (sometimes less, but the cheaper ones are usually ugly…$9.99 seems to be the cutoff for nice ties).

Bottom line-you’re just trying to look presentable and respectful. You want the interview to be about you, not about your outfit. Wear something that will make you feel appropriate, professional, and comfortable, and you’ll be fine.

*I have no financial connection to any of these companies, although if any of them are overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude after reading this and want to send me a gift card, that’s okay with me. Especially Target.

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