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Can You Overdress for an Interview?

My immediate response to this question is no. You should not worry about being overdressed for an interview.

That said, let’s temper that just a bit. When you go overboard on dressing for a job interview, for example wearing a suit to an interview for a construction job, you may raise a few eyebrows. However, your chances of getting the job likely won’t be hurt at all.

What can hurt your chances is if you grossly underdress for your interview, so I’d like to go into a bit more detail about this sensitive and, admittedly, subjective topic.

Seeing as how there are virtually thousands of different types of jobs and job titles, I can’t cover them all, so I’ll lump them into these categories:

  • Trades/blue-collar positions
  • Office/administrative positions
  • Professional/management/executive positions
  • Information Technology positions

In an ideal world, your interview performance would be judged solely on your experience, qualifications, and accomplishments. But we live in a less-than-ideal world, especially when it comes to job interviews. One of the things this means is that you are judged on how well you sell yourself.

And like it or not, how you dress is one part of how you self yourself, particularly when it comes to first impressions. How you’re dressed is the very first thing that the Hiring Manager and/or interview panel notices about you, so the last thing you want is for your clothes to detract from that first impression.

As a Hiring Manager, the first and best piece of advice I can give you is to dress one level above what would be considered proper attire for the type of job for which you’re applying. This is classic advice that you’ve read many times if you’ve done any research at all and I subscribe to this viewpoint.

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There is no downside to this and it shows respect for the company and the people who will be interviewing you. It’s a complete no-brainer that everyone going on an interview should follow.

Let’s see how this plays out for our job categories.

Trades/Blue-collar Positions

As you can guess, these positions have a very casual dress code and some cases no dress code at all. Jeans are of course common, as are other types of work pants, bib overalls, even shorts for outdoor trades in warm climates.

This does not mean that these types of normal work attire should be worn to your interview. Remember when I said you want to show respect to the job and the interviewer?

Let’s take the example of an assembly line job in a factory. Most people in these positions will typically wear some sort of jeans or something similar and probably a tee shirt.

If you’re a man, you should wear “Dockers” style pants and a shirt with a collar to your interview. Many other applicants will likely be wearing jeans, so you’ll definitely stand out and be remembered – in a positive way! Shoes don’t matter as much, so wear what you want so long as they are not worn out or dirty. But no sandals!

If you’re a woman, casual pants and a casual top are fine. As with men, shoes don’t matter as much so long as they look decent. The Hiring Manager seldom looks at your shoes for these types of positions.

One of the hard truths is that many Hiring Managers will associate a sloppy appearance with sloppy or careless work habits, which can be dangerous in many of the trades. This is not an impression that you want to make.

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Office/Administrative Positions

While dressy jeans are seen more and more frequently in the office, you should never wear them to an interview. What you may think is trendy and fashionable, others may view as sloppy and disrespectful. Why take the chance?

For men, take it a step up and wear dress pants and a long sleeve dress shirt. Shoes are a bit more important here, so wear hard-soled shoes, not athletic shoes of any kind.

For women, casual pants (again, not jeans!) are still acceptable, although dressy pants do take it up a notch and make you look more professional. A dressy blouse or sweater is most appropriate. For shoes, flat shoes are best. Avoid wearing any open-toed shoes and you won’t have to worry about the color of your nail polish.

Professional/Management/Executive Positions

I do realize that if you’re interviewing for these types of jobs, you probably already know how to dress and therefore I’m preaching to the choir. But I like to be thorough…

For men, wear a suit and tie with hard-soled dress shoes. I always recommend a white dress shirt. That way you won’t have to worry about if it matches your suit or tie.

For women, it’s better to wear a formal pantsuit than a dress. The reason for this recommendation is you won’t have to worry about what length your dress should be or if you need to wear stockings. Avoid shoes with heels higher than a couple of inches and you won’t have to worry about tripping.

Information Technology Positions

I put these in a separate category because these positions are all over the board. Some companies could care less what their IT professionals wear to work, while others still like to at least see a business casual look.

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It usually depends on the type of IT position. Those that work face to face with people outside of IT or with customers usually need to dress a bit neater, say dockers style or nice jeans.

Those with inside IT only jobs (such as network engineers) usually dress however they please in today’s world. I’ve frequently seen shorts, tee shirts, and even sandals worn by these individuals.

Even though IT has become more and more casual, my advice is still to dress up for your interview. For IT jobs, by dress up I mean the same as I’ve outlined above for office and administrative jobs. This covers you regardless of the IT dress code for that particular company.

Of course, it goes without saying that if you’re interviewing for an IT management or executive position, the same rules apply as for other management positions.

For All Positions

No matter how you dress for your interview, the rules of good taste still apply.

…Wear conservative colors

…Avoid loud patterns, unusual colors, bright checked patterns, big polka dots, etc. These are distracting and you won’t be taken seriously.

…Keep jewelry and accessories to a minimum, especially rings and necklaces (this applies to both women and men!). This is not the time to show off your designer watch or purse.

Your goal should be that your clothes and accessories are so neutral and unassuming that the Hiring Manager doesn’t give them a second look. Unless you’re interviewing for a job as a model, this is not the time or place to make a fashion statement.

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You want the Hiring Manager to pay attention to your experience, skills, accomplishments, and what you have to say, not how you look.

How a Minor Dressing Issue Hurt One Candidate

True story. I once put together an interview panel to help me interview applicants for a Senior Project Manager, which was a fairly high-level IT position. One of the people I had on the panel was the Director of Operations. This person was conservative and old school in her approach to business.

After the interview, we discussed this candidate’s performance, which I actually thought was pretty good. However, the first comment made by the Operations Director was this: “I’m sorry, but the first thing I noticed about him was that his shoes weren’t shined and I couldn’t get past that the entire interview. If that’s how sloppy he approached his interview, how do I know his work won’t also be sloppy? I’d pass on this one.”

There you have it. A simple dress mistake made all the difference in how this Director viewed the candidate. I passed him on for a second interview anyway, since it was my position, but it’s a good example of the need to pay attention to details when deciding how to dress for your interview.

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