As you prepare for a job interview, it’s natural to have a number of anxieties and concerns swirling through your head. What will the interviewer ask you? Do you really have the right skills and credentials for the job? How can you ensure you put your best foot forward?

One question you should be asking yourself is what you’ll wear. At first blush, this may not seem so important. After all, if you have the right formal qualifications, what does it matter what your wardrobe is?

Actually, hiring managers tend to care a great deal about wardrobe. There’s a simple reason why: The way you choose to dress for a job interview reveals much about your ability to present yourself in a professional setting. It’s a show of your seriousness as a candidate.

Tough Decisions About Interview Attire

The problem that many job seekers face is that interview dress codes are no longer standardized. Once upon a time, you could feel pretty confident putting on a nice suit. Today, a suit may be desirable in some work settings; elsewhere, though, it may come across as overly stuffy and formal.

For example, take startup companies. Many startup companies take pride in having more relaxed standards of dress, and a more flexible workplace culture. So, if you show up wearing a suit and tie, they may assume that you’re a little too uptight, a little too conservative, or a little too “corporate” for what they’re looking for. This isn’t just true at startups, but also with many creative workspaces, like ad agencies or design studios.

With that said, there are plenty of places where employees do wear formal attire each day, such as accounting firms and law offices. As such, job seekers are encouraged to do a little homework about the company and how it presents itself; at times, you may just need to make an educated guess.

Dress Code Distinctions

Generally speaking, workplace dress codes fall into one of three categories: Business professional, business casual, and casual. Of course, these are very general, and different companies may interpret these categories in varied ways. With that said, here’s a quick synopsis of these three categories.

  • Business professional: In a business professional office, the expectation is suits and dress shoes for men; you’ll definitely want to make sure you have a blazer or jacket and a tie. For women, skirts or pantsuits are the best bet. We’d also recommend that women wear heels.

  • Business casual: As for business casual, the expectation for men is dress slacks and a button-up or polo shirt. You don’t necessarily need a jacket or tie, but we would advise wearing a belt. For women, consider a conservative dress, or a blouse with a nice skirt or dress slacks. Women should wear boots or dress shoes, though they don’t necessarily have to be heels.

  • Casual: Even in a casual work setting, you’ll want to look polished and professional… so, no jeans, flip-flops, or T-shirts. Instead, consider collared shirts with nice-looking slacks, chinos, or skirts. Remember to wear a belt and dress shoes.

Hopefully, you’ll have enough information about the company to know which of these categories you’re aiming for. And if you don’t, you can do a little digging. More on that in the following section.

If in Doubt…

Again, because every company is different, and because many of the dress code norms are in flux, it can sometimes be hard to know how to dress for an interview. If you ever feel unsure, consider these rules of thumb.

  • Do some research. There are plenty of places you can turn to learn more about a specific company’s culture: The company website, Facebook, Glassdoor, etc. Also, check your LinkedIn network to see if you know anyone who’s worked at the company before.

  • Just ask. If the company has an HR or recruiting department, you can always call them up and ask what the expected dress code is. Nobody is going to think less of you for going that extra mile!

  • Err on the side of caution. Even if the company you’re looking at sometimes lets employees wear jeans, you’ll probably want to dress a bit more formal, just to show that you’re taking the interview seriously.

  • Stay neutral. It’s generally best to stick with more neutral colors; blue is actually the best bet for job seekers, according to a number of studies that have been conducted. If you want to add just a splash of eye-catching color, it’s generally best to do that via accessories.

  • Avoid cologne, perfume, and aftershave. You never know if the hiring manager has sensitivities or allergies to such things. Yes, you want to smell nice, but that’s what showering and deodorant are for!

So long as you stay within these guidelines, you should walk into your interview dressed appropriately. And again, we’ll emphasize that if you’re dressed a little bit more conservatively or more professionally than the other folks in the office, that’s probably okay. It’s always better to overdress than to underdress.

Position Yourself for Professional Success

More questions about how to dress to impress? Reach out to Performance Staffing Solutions at any time. We’re passionate about positioning job seekers to advance their careers and find meaningful work; to that end, we work with our clients to advise them on proper interviewing, attire, resume formatting, and beyond.

We invite job seekers to apply with Performance Staffing Solutions today; or, reach out to our offices in Charlotte, NC, and Rock Hill, SC at any time.