Nothing to Wear Shouldn't Kill a Job Interview

By Lindsey Novak

March 7, 2019 5 min read

Q: This happened many years ago, but it bothers me to this day. I applied in person at a small local business for a job advertised in the newspaper. I really wanted this job. It was convenient to where I lived. It was a job I knew I could do and one I would really enjoy.

I dressed in my best clothes, which is not the kind of clothing I would be wearing if hired for the job. I interviewed well and was asked to return for a second interview and turn in my resume. Again, I dressed nicely for the interview. To my surprise, I was asked to come in for a third interview. But I had run out of good clothing to wear, so I never returned.

Why would a company ask a job candidate to come back for a third interview? Should I have gone in wearing something that was in line with how I would have dressed for the job? Could I have worn the clothing I wore the first time? I have always regretted this.

A: How sad you gave up the opportunity to work in the perfect job in the perfect location because you felt your clothing was such an important factor. If your parents' and friends' advice was out-of-date, they didn't have relevant experience, and no one had any decent clothing to borrow, there is still the internet for immediate information (albeit not always accurate).

Here are examples of things you should never wear for interviews:

A middle-aged woman wore tight velour sweatpants, a matching sweatshirt and a baseball cap to an interview. She apparently thought that as long as the clothing matched, anything was OK. A millennial girl wore a slim-fitting black cocktail dress with the entire back made of wide-holed fishnet. A new and naive graduate wore a suit he had just purchased. How did the people at the company know it was new? He wore the jacket with all the labels still stitched on the sleeve — brand, price, size and material. If you have to run out to buy something new, ask the salesperson to cut the tags off for you. This interviewee may have thought that if he didn't get the job, he could return the suit, as the labels were still in place. This seems more common than one would think. A few young men committed the same offense by wearing new outer coats with the labels still on the sleeve. (If you think you need to buy a new article of clothing for an interview, you must cut off all visible tags. If you can't do this, you can't afford to buy it. This also applies to the vent pleat in the back of jackets and coats. Another young woman's idea of dressing up for an interview was to wear an ankle-length stretchy spaghetti-strap summer dress with a giant black dragon printed on it.

There may not be a strict rulebook on clothing to wear to an interview, but no matter how wild you dress on days off, use common sense when dressing for job interviews and for work as well. Appropriate business and business-casual attire is simple. If you interview at an advertising agency where employees dress creatively, save your creative style for when you join their team. That doesn't mean you should dress like a banker for your interview, but let your personality shine instead of your clothing. Black or khaki slacks are always acceptable; they can be dressed up by adding a sport jacket or dressed down by wearing a crisp white shirt or a sweater (in a flattering color). No one will think less of you if you change your shirt and stay with the same black pants. Not only are you not expected to wear a women's St. John or Chanel suit or a men's Italian silk suit, but that may actually take you out of the running because no boss likes to feel poorer than the employee he or she is hiring. There are also medium-priced to high-end resale shops if you can't afford new clothing. When you dress appropriately, the interviewer can focus on you, your abilities, your personality and your sensibility.

Email your workplace issues and experiences to [email protected] For more information about career and life coach Lindsey Novak, visit, and for past columns, see

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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