Dressing for the Interview in 2014

When discussing the question of attire for a job interview it is wise to remember the advice of Zig Ziglar: “People don’t buy for logical reasons. People buy for emotional reasons.” Once they have bought, they likely defend their emotional “buy” with lots of logical reasons afterwards. In the case of selecting a candidate to fill a specific position, appearance and soft skills are key emotional factors, while someone’s ability to perform at a high level and their track record of success are key logical factors.

Let’s assume that a job seeker possesses the right logical factors to be employed. It is likely the hiring decision will be influenced by the emotional factors, which is why it is appropriate to take a look at the changing landscape of interview attire for 2014.

What to Wear in 2014

There is the old school group that says, “always wear a traditional dark suit, white shirt or blouse, red tie or scarf, and hard-shined dark leather shoes.” Then there’s the group that says, “dress for the workplace so you look the part.” Which is the right advice?

I reached out to a number of recruiting, hiring and placement experts to get their opinion on the changing landscape of interview attire for 2014. Here’s what they said:

  • Steve Levy, Twitter’s sixth most mentioned person by recruiters in the world, who specializes in tech sector recruitment, says, “Always ask – is it a suit culture? Will my interviewers be wearing a suit?” Better to ask and know, than to show up in a suit for a tech position (where nobody wears suits), and get laughed at. Best advice: “You need to look the part for the position you want, and sell them on how you are the solution to their problems, because that is what they are hiring you for…not to strut on a fashion runway but to deliver results.”
  • Brett Evans, Sr. Account Executive for SalesForce Search and former AE with Robert Half in the finance sector, agrees. “Appropriate interview attire is going to vary by sector. Finance is different from IT; fashion and the arts are different from services.” It is always best to get a clear idea of an employer’s dress code and culture by asking the recruiter or employer’s HR department. “I know that when the culture demands a certain look, I stress this with the candidate.”
  • Peter Levitt, owner of recruiting firm WalkerForest for the last 18 years also agrees that it is situational. “I have roles in NYC that require a suit, ones in Chicago and Boston that prefer khakis and a collared shirt, and a tech firm in central PA where it’s jeans and a t-shirt. So from my perspective, it’s old school for an interview, meaning to dress one step up from the dress norm.” Best advice to job seekers: “Ask the recruiter or HR, ‘Just out of curiosity, what is the dress code?’ By asking this question a candidate shows situational awareness and a desire to fit within a team.”
  • Mary Boyer, VP Human Resources for Cairn University echoes the advice from the recruiters. “Whether for a coach, custodial services, faculty member, admin assistant, or CFO, candidates are best advised to dress for the position plus one level up, when it comes to the interview. I’d expect a faculty member to be in a suit (they teach in a coat and tie) and a custodial candidate to wear a collared shirt and nice slacks (they wear jeans and collarless shirts to work).”
  • Jeffrey Huffman, VP Training and HR for A Wireless Verizon Retailer, a leading national chain of Verizon stores, advises Millennial job seekers. “When Millennials interview with Gen Xers and Boomers, dress conservatively (relative to what you might otherwise wear). You don’t want the interviewer thinking wrong things about you because of a lower neckline, tight form-fitting clothing, or stiletto heels. And I do want to see candidates dressing one step above the position for which they are interviewing, be it front line sales or a managerial role.”
  • Eileen Hicks, HR Director for Leaco, a telecommunications provider in the rural southwestern US, advises job seekers to dress professionally for the position. “I hold professional attire in higher regard than if someone comes in dressed in jeans and sneakers, or capris and flip flops. That said, if someone comes in decidedly overdressed for the position (a field technician in a suit), it might signal that they don’t have an understanding of the nature of work the position does. Best to aim one notch above what the position calls for, but be neat, clean, and attentive to detail.”
  • Greg Cox, who previously spent 15 years as an HR Director, now works with more than 100 employers who employ over 8,000 people in his role as Area Career Services Director for Virginia College in Knoxville TN. “For major healthcare employers who are hiring medical assistants, surgical technicians, pharmacy technicians and billing and coding staff, we suggest candidates wear professional attire, with a matching jacket, pants or skirt. For IT professionals who typically wear khakis and golf shirts, one step up with dressier slacks and a collared shirt. In all cases, attire ought to be well-matched to create a polished look.”

Practical Advice

When interviewing you’ll want to investigate and understand the employer’s expectations about dress in advance of your interview. Here are several practical ideas to help you do this:

a. If you have a trusted contact inside the employer’s location, find out what they have to say (or are willing to learn on your behalf) about the attitudes regarding candidate attire.

b. Understand your audience. If you are being interviewed by a CEO who has decreed Hawaiian Shirt Day every day, then coming in dressed in a formal suit might hurt your chances. But if you are being interviewed by the head of nursing who is never seen out of formal business attire, you might think seriously about formal dress for your interview.

c. Understand the industry and adjust your outfit for it. For example, if your career interests lie in a glamour field, then it’s very likely the accepted professional standards for glamour attire will be viewed positively by interviewers. If the industry is in a research field, tweak your attire to be a fit for the culture, with one step up from the everyday.

d. Have you contacted a gatekeeper in the HR area (the place most likely to interview you) and asked for his/her help and advice on what you should know about the employer’s preferences on candidate attire?

e. If unsure, go a more traditional route where you look professional and feel confident, which can include dressing one step up from the culture’s adopted attire all the way to a traditional suit.

Want more tips like this for every phase of your job search? Then visit Boyer Management Group’s Career Search Tools page to learn more about which job search assessment-and-textbook is right for you.

Boyer Management Group works with universities, employers and job seekers alike to help them become more successful. For job seekers and universities, we offer the world’s first two assessments to measure someone’s knowledge and awareness of current and emerging job search best practices, along with the educational programs to support higher ed curriculum, career coaches and individual job seekers. For employers, we offer world-class talent assessment, acquisition onboarding, and training tools and programs. To find out more, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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