Suit or no suit? What should you wear to a job interview?
The question that I get most often from clients is, “Do I need to wear a suit to an interview?” Yes! If you are in the business world a suit is still the most appropriate attire for an interview. Objections usually include; but the company itself is business casual or I don’t even own a suit anymore. I recently spoke with the President of an advertising agency about this subject and he said decisively, “suit!” Keep in mind that this agency itself is business casual and he still demanded a suit for an interview. When I asked Stacey Moore of Gravitas Executive Search the same question her answer was, “suit!” This is consistent with my experience too. It is better to be overdressed than under-dressed and I know businesses that would knock you out of the interview process for showing up in anything other than a suit.
Let’s get a little bit deeper than suit versus no suit. This month we are talking with Kami Gray a personal stylist in Portland Oregon. Kami worked directly with one of my executive coaching clients and my immediate reaction to the style she pulled together was “WOW”. Everything is classy, perfectly fitting, impressive and really pops. Do you know what I mean? It leads me to believe that all business professionals, me included, could really use some help in this area. I certainly learned some great tips from my interview with Kami Gray and it’s time for me to get my Visa out for a few wardrobe updates for both me and my husband.
Interview with Kami Gray, Personal Stylist
Q. What attire do you recommend to senior level business clients who are preparing for a job interview?
Always dress a step up from what you’d typically wear to work if you landed the job. Do not take chances. Fitting in is extremely important to corporate clients. If you know about the corporate culture of the company you’re interviewing for, dress for it. If you’re not sure, dress for the industry. Avoid anything flashy, distracting, branded, trendy, or too expensive looking. You want to make a quick and impactful first impression and then let your communication skills, body language, and eye contact do the rest of the talking.
Q. Do you have any special shopping tips for these clients?
Do your research. Know what you’re looking for ahead of time and stick to it. Sales clerks are helpful, but they are trying to make a sale. They don’t necessarily understand what’s right for your interview or your industry. I can’t stress this strongly enough; make a plan and don’t waver.
Q. What clever ideas do you recommend to differentiate a suit(s) from one day to the next?
For men: pocket squares, pastel dress shirts, and wearing a tie occasionally (even if your industry is less casual) are great ways to make your suit look different and set yourself apart from the rest of the pack.
For women: bright colors or prints can make a suit look completely different. I recommend getting the matching skirt and the trousers with your suit jacket for more variety. Indoor silk or linen scarves can instantly change up an outfit. If your industry is more creative or casual, wear tights and boots with your suit to give it a more edgy look. Just make sure the boots are sleek and refined and not costume-y like a pair of western-style Frye boots.
Q, What are the essential items every business professional should have in their closet?
For men: Dress shirts that fit perfectly. Most men, even those on the stockier side would benefit from a slim fit shirt. Nothing looks sloppier than a shirt that billows out when it’s tucked in or has a tent like appearance (in front and back) when it’s worn un-tucked. Most tailors can alter ill-fitting shirts so this doesn’t mean your shirts necessarily need replacing.
For Women: Shoes can make or break the look. Elegant, classic, un-scuffed, polished shoes are a must in black and brown. If you can afford three pairs, gray is my go-to third color. A heel looks a million times more put together than flats, but for people with foot problems or that only wear flats, a 1-1 ½ ” wedge heel is a good compromise.
Q. We all know this when we see it and I would love to get your secrets for my readers; what differentiates a conservative and somewhat boring look from one that is pulled together, professional and pops?
Find one item that sets you apart from the masses. Even if you work in a conservative corporate environment, figure out one way to make it yours. Maybe instead of a brown or black briefcase, go for a navy satchel. I love this one from the Cambridge Satchel Company. And if you can get away with a bright red or yellow satchel, why not go for it? I’m always on a mission to get away with as much as I can – because it’s fun and it makes me feel unique.
Q. What is your go-to item this season?
I hate to say this because it’s taken me a long time to get here, but here it is: comfortable shoes. Fear not, because finally, shoe companies are combining high style with shoes or boots that are good for your feet (not to mention back, hips, and knees). A new favorite of mine are anything from Oh! Shoes. These edgy, studded, yet still classy and polished black platform pumps put other boring versions to shame. Oh, and they’re comfortable! So yes, I’ve crossed over to comfortable shoes, but I have not sacrificed style one single bit. Win-win!
Kami, thank you for your knowledgeable advice on this tricky area of business attire. It’s one that everyone is familiar with because we do it everyday and yet I don’t think any of us laymen feel we do it well enough to make a lasting impression. Your advice certainly helps!
What are your biggest takeaways from my interview with Kami Gray?
I can’t wait to see your takeaways in the comments section below!