Style Tips: Dressing for a Job Interview

Tuesday, 5 May 2009 | Tags:

It's hard to know what to wear to an interview these days, especially since many workplaces have relaxed their dress code. Should you go casual, business casual, or suit up with the works? We talk to a style expert and an HR professional to find out how to dress to impress.

Your first impression on a potential employer can often be a make-or-break moment. Dressing appropriately not only shows your style, it can also boost your callback quotient.

Casual, business casual, or full suit? It all depends on the job and company you’re applying for. But does that old adage hold true? “Dress for the career you want to have, not the job you have now.” We ask a stylist and an HR professional to weigh in.

Giovanni Amenta, Personal Style and Image Consultant


Giovanni says: the biggest mistakes I see on job interviewees:

  • Wearing yoga pants. Just because they are black and pants,  doesn’t make them dress pants or appropriate for an interview.

  • Being overdone. Avoid jangly jewelry, and don’t overdo your make-up.

  • Being too plain and washed out. Wearing all one colour or faded earth tones makes you forgettable, which is the opposite goal of a job interview.

 Always go one step up from what everyone else is wearing. Here are some example looks to consider:


Gio displays a medium grey suit jacket with a knee-length pencil skirt in the same fabric, tan pumps, a soft blue blouse, and a silver, textured-look, silk neck scarf:

  • Don’t show too much cleavage. A scarf at the neck can polish off a collared shirt without making you look too stiff. 

  • You can choose more masculine colours but look for softer hues. E.g. try a periwinkle blue instead of corporate blue.


Gio displays a dark grey, pipe-trimmed, jacket with a double-ruffle collar and sleeve cuffs, a white ruffle-collar blouse, a black trumpet skirt, black heels and a black and white colour-blocked purse.

  • Ruffles make your bust look bigger and give you great shape, without showing skin.

  • The white blouse brings the attention up to your face, which is what you want in an interview. It provides a soft spotlight for your sparkling smile.

  • The piping on the jacket creates a well-tailored look and brings in your waist a bit.

  • The trumpet skirt is like a pencil skirt with a flirty twist, and finishes off the whole look.

Business Casual

Gio says this look is perfect for an interview for a retail or admin position. He displays a royal purple top with front ruching detail, a matching royal purple long cardigan, a large statement pendant on a silver chain, and a black pencil skirt with a built-in fabric belt-tie. The purse he puts with this outfit is a flat grey with faux crocodile corner and handle details.

  • Purple is the new power colour, taking over from red. 

  • Have some fun, show your personality, and pick a purse and accessories with a little sparkle and detail.

Sarah McNeill, HR Specialist

McNeill Nakamoto Recruitment Group

 We asked HR Specialist Sarah McNeill to evaluate three job interviewees based on first impression alone. Though Sarah is not a fashion expert, she still bases some of her candidate evaluation on appearance.

We asked three candidates to To ensure she just looked at their clothing, we put a brown paper bag over their heads before they walked into Sarah’s office.

Our candidate outfits included:

  • a “loud” outfit: patterned jacket, tasseled purse, long beaded necklaces layered on top of each other, metal studded high-heel pumps

  • a “casual” outfit: cotton cardigan and t-shirt, cotton pants, bright pink carpet-bag purse, and silver-metallic, flat, ballet shoes

  • a “business casual” outfit: black crop, double-breasted jacket, shimmery low-cut silver top, shimmery a-line silver skirt, black pumps.

Sarah’s first impressions:

  • “Loud”: There was too much going on here. The bag with the tassels was too much. The necklace was too informal.

  • “Casual”: The cardigan is appropriate for a casual workplace, but you wouldn’t wear it to a job interview. The big pink bag is totally the wrong look.

  • “Business casual”: The jacket is perfect. The blouse is a little to low for a neckline. A pencil skirt would be better.

While none of our looks gave Sarah a perfect first impression, the business casual look made the the best impression. Sarah says that Kristina, who posed anonymously as all three candidates (wearing a grocery bag over her head), would only land a reception job in this look, so she needs to rethink her outfit to help her land that executive position!

General Guidelines

  • Whether the company you’re applying for is corporate or creative, you should always dress like you mean business. Wear a suit, and add your personal touches, depending on how conservative or creative you want to appear.

  • Aim for charismatic, not comely. If you’re a woman, that may means you should dress a little more masculine than you normally would.

  • If you’re wearing a skirt, go with pantyhose or tights. Bare legs are a no-no at this stage of the game.

  • Keep jewelry minimal. Avoid overdoing it with too many bracelets or large, dangly earrings.

  • Wear conservative shoes with a modest heel or lower. They should co-ordinate well with your suit (dark colours). Avoid shoes with adornments, or that are made out of cheap-looking material. And don’t forget to clean them up or shine them.

  • Keep make-up simple. Don’t overdo eyeliner or mascara. Wear a lip colour that doesn’t stand out. Don’t wear perfume.

  • Cover up tattoos.

  • If you’re going for a creative look, add a punch of colour with an accessory like a bag or blouse and pair with neutral foundation pieces.

  • If you’re dressing for a casual interview, trade in the suit jacket, but keep your look on the business casual side, with a polished, put-together look that will be sure to impress.


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