Why You Should Still Wear A Suit To Every Job Interview

Don’t let the “casualization” of office attire fool you — you should always wear a suit to an interview, even if you’re more dressed up than the other candidates or even the interviewer.

Clinton Kelly, fashion aficionado of “What Not To Wear” fame, recently spoke at his alma mater Boston College on the importance of dressing properly for job interviews. Kelly reminded college students that they are being judged on their appearances all of the time.

While Kelly’s presentation was aimed at the young college demographic, 23-and-over adults could also learn a thing or two. With times changing and “Casual Fridays” becoming “Casual Workplaces,” the formality of dressing up for a job interview has gone by the wayside. It may seem overkill or out of place, especially in a casual office to wear a suit and tie to an interview. Unfortunately, it takes stylists like Kelly to remind people of fashion etiquette when it should be plain common sense.

Why You Should Still Wear A Suit To Every Job Interview:

1. First impressions are crucial.

A suit means business. It’s rare that anyone actually looks bad in a suit, unless it’s ill-fitting or something too colorful (i.e., what Lloyd or Harry wore to the owl benefit in Dumb and Dumber). If you don’t wear a suit, the employer might not take you seriously. Brush up on the six no-no’s of a suited man.

2. It shows you care.

Going along with first impressions, dressing the part shows that you are serious about the job. This isn’t something you’re just doing for fun or for the heck of it. If you get the job, maintaining a professional dress code can set you apart from others, and maybe make you just a little more memorable when it’s time for promotions.

3. It makes you feel better about yourself– and more professional.

If you are dressed in an outfit you’ve worn a million times before, you feel comfortable, but maybe too comfortable. There’s something to be said about the way a suit makes one feel. While there’s an occasional heightened anxiety, sometimes it’s a good form of anticipation. You are professional in a suit, a master at your job. In a more average outfit, you’re the guy who watches golf on the couch with his hand down his pants. Confidence is all visual, if you look confident, the interviewer will think you are.

4. You’d rather be overdressed than underdressed.

Even when Brennan and Dale dressed in tuxedos to their interviews in 2008’s Step Brothers, it was definitely better than sloppy sweatpants and a Judds t-shirt. Not to suggest you should wear a tux to your next interview, but if you are second guessing attire, the best advice is to always look your nicest; if you underdo it, you’re the “lesser than” in a room of “more thans.”

5. Never underestimate a sharp-dressed man.

If you can turn heads on your way to the interview, maybe you can turn heads with your job performance, too. Think of it as a date. You wouldn’t want to dress crappy for a girl in the beginnings of a courtship. It would set the wrong ‘mood’. In psychological studies, women judge the same man as differentially attractive based on what he wears. The same goes for a job interview (even with dude-on-dude interviews).

It’s human instinct to judge people based on their looks. It’s simply something we humans can’t help. We’ve always been drawn to pretty things, even as babies. Unfortunately, while we can clone sheep and make kick-ass 3D movies, we can’t fix the ability to judge others. All we can do is suit up for the special occasions life grants us.


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Megan McLachlan currently resides in the Pittsburgh area where she freelance writes, drinks coffee, and obsesses over popular culture. She was an English major, but doesn't think she wasted her life. Yet. Her blog is megoblog.com.

  • Kevin M.

    I don’t know if its necessary to wear suits to EVERY job interview. I think the best practice is to simply ask before you come in what the dress code is. If the dress code is casual and show up wearing a three-piece-suit, the employer may look at you as not fitting in as well as the guy who just comes in wearing a kakis and a sweater. I think you can always make an argument for a shirt and tie, even in casual workplaces if done right, but not so much a whole suit.

  • http://chicagopinot.wordpress.com Douglas Trapasso

    Good morning, Megan! Thank you for this reminder. I don’t have any interviews scheduled now, but it’s good to remember these basic rules.

    A recruiter cautioned my once to ensure my necktie is straight and that I have my suit buttoned before my interview (she said it’s OK to open my suit button when I sit down; do you agree?) I have started a wine video page on YouTube and am remembering that advice when taping them. If you like wine, I hope you check them out!

  • Durden

    I’m well into my career, on my sixth job, and I receive an offer every time interview. I have worked at companies that have 35 to 200,000+ employees, and as a consultant at clients based in the rural area (jeans / overalls) and in downtown skyscrapers (dark suits only). Based on feedback after the interviews, I know a significant part of my interview success is because the points made in this article.

    Even as an engineer, I have always worn a suit to every interview. I tend to match the suit to the company / region:

    I wear a conservative suit like a navy or black wool with a white shirt and power tie for a financial / insurance company interview, or a light cotton suit, non-white shirt and tie for more casual companies / warmer climates. Shined shoes. No cufflinks. No pocket square unless it’s a creative design job, in which case I’m already wearing a less conservative shirt and/or tie.

    I have never heard someone say that I wasn’t a good fit for the company, even when I was interviewed by managers wearing jeans and a polo shirt and I was still in a suit. If it’s hot outside and we’re doing a lot of walking, I ask if it’s OK for me to leave my jacket somewhere (only if other people are not wearing jackets). Otherwise, I wait for the interviewer to lead – when she/he stands, I stand and button my jacket. When she/he sits, I unbutton the jacket and sit. It’s a nice detail.

    If you are the candidate that wears a shirt and tie to the interview and everyone else wore a suit, you will stand out and it may not be for the reasons you want. In general, when you only have a few hours to get a read on someone, you will take the person that pays attention to detail and represents the company well. There is plenty of time to “fit in” after you get hired. It’s a fine line; if you act as if you’re “in” before the interviewer approves, you risk appearing cocky instead of confident.

    • Drew

      When I interview engineers (developers) I see wearing a suit as a potential red flag.  Their bosses (myself and others) don’t wear suits, and they will never wear a suit for any workday or work event.  Wearing a suit for the interview seems disingenuous, way over the top, and gives the impression they’re trying to distract attention from something.  Sometimes a blazer or jacket if it’s winter and they’re cold, which makes sense, but a full suit?  See it rarely, and have never hired a developer who does, admittedly not because of the suit, but I can’t deny the correlation.  Fresh out of college may be an exception, it’s not so egregious for them to be trying to hard to impress, but I’ve never done interviews with college grads, only professional developers on the west coast, so suits raise more questions than provide assurances.

  • http://megoblog.com Megan

    I do agree about the open suit button, Douglas! Thanks for sharing your wine video. Chicago and wine are two of my favorite things!

    Kevin, you’re right! It’s good to think about what kind of job interview you’re going into. If it’s a casual workplace type of job, it might hurt your chances. Thanks for the feedback.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Durden,

    Thanks for the comment! I think you make great points, the benefits definitely outweigh the risks. Thanks for reading!

  • Dennis

    I want to add that you need to make sure you have nice shoes to go with the suit.

    Most people look down at your shoes.

  • http://thewhatzine.blogspot.com Patrick

    Very true story! As an interviewer, the first impression of a potential hire was always crucial. For example, the woman who wore flip flops and had a stain on her shirt did not get the job. As an interviewee, I recently went through a series of interviews and was complimented on my suit by each interviewer. I ended up getting the job. Sure, there’s more to it than just the suit, but it definitely goes a long way.

  • http://richarddedor.com/blog Richard

    Never thought I would disagree with this idea, but based on my recent job hunt experiences, I must disagree (to a point).

    I think understanding the culture of the place you are applying is the biggest key.

    The place where I am starting on Monday, is a very laid-back culture. I knew that from my visits before I began a candidate. I then asked what would be appropriate to wear to the interview. I was told be casual. I always take that with a grain of salt, so I wore a collared shirt with a sweater over that. And let me tell you, I felt out of place. It was too much.

    I do think it says something to wear a suit and I will always lean towards that mark, but I think understanding the culture of your potential workplace says quite a bit.

    • Drew

      I know exactly what you mean Richard.  Luckily you had the sweater to tone things down a bit, but can you imagine if you had gone in with a freshly pressed suit and great pair of patent leather shoes?  You definitely would have taken a hit for being out of touch with the environment, and this is true in more and more offices these days.  I’ve worked in major cities on both coasts, and there is a large difference.  Going above and wearing a suit is tolerated better in New York, but office culture is less important, so being out of touch with it is more tolerable.  On the west coast it seems office culture is much more important, and therefore being a “good fit” for the office can be just as important as your experience, and overdressing can immediately tag you as stuffy and unapproachable.

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  • http://abetterhuman.blogspot.com Steven

    I agree with Richard. You need to fit into the company culture. This is what interviewers are looking for before anything else. Are they a good fit for this environment. If they are business casual, it won’t hurt to wear a suit because it’s just one step up in dress. But if it’s polo and khakis, a suit is three jumps up in formality.

    Instead, shoot for just one step up every time, unless the dress is business dress, in which case, don’t wear a tux.

  • Ben

    I have to agree with some of the others that have brought up appropriateness for the company.

    While no means professional, I just went through an interview for forest firefighting in February, and I decided on a well-fitting white dress shirt and grey dress pants with a navy shawl cardigan. I had a tie on, but quickly removed that once I realized all the other candidates almost unanimously hadn’t even dressed up–they looked like a sloppy weekend to me.

    I have no problem being the best dressed, and I think it is always a boon, but I didn’t want to come across like too “soft” for lack of a better word. That’s not how I conceptualize well-dressed at all–it’s who I am, but preconceptions exist in many jobmarkets outside the corporate or even the urban world.

    I go the job, though, so I couldn’t have been doing too much wrong. But still–know your environment and dress appropriately. Dress sharply and well no matter what.

    Cheers,
    Ben

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    MSNBC jumped in on this as well http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/42819008/ns/business-careers/

    Their conclusion is the same: in this job economy wear the suit.

  • Tim

    The answer depends on how close you are to either coast. East coast? Wear a suit to every interview. West coast, don’t go all out. Still dress nice but don’t don the suit. Clinton Kelly and the writer of this post are easterners so they’ll naturally tell you to suit up.

    Just like the pace of life is different in a large east coast city than a west coast one, you need to tailor your look to that area.

  • http://www.thegasgrillreviews.com/blog Jim

    Hi Megan,

    I much rather be overdressed than underdressed. I second that. Regardless of what kind of interview, I would prefer to look smart and wear a coat rather than just coming in with just formalwear and a tie. I don’t think I will dress in a different way unless it is a very unique kind of interview or I have been told not to be to formal. Personally, if I was the one interviewing, I much prefer a candidate who looks smart and well dressed. First impressions make a difference in the earlier stage of an interview.

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  • Joy

    What is a mature woman supposed to wear to an office interview if it’s 100 degrees outside?

  • http://www.megoblog.com Megan

    Good question, Joy! There are some really cute business “shorts” where the length comes slightly below the knee. If you paired them with heels, it would look nice. Here’s a slideshow of some ideas. http://www.stylehive.com/slideshow/What-to-Wear-Summer-Job-Interview-1683/9. I think the key to office style in hot weather is to keep the color light.

  • Zach

    While I agree that you should err on the side of being overdressed, I disagree with the fact that you should wear a suit to every job interview. I recently had an interview at a company that followed, as you called it, a “casual workplace.” When inviting me on site for the interview, they told me to dress casually as to fit in with their culture. They even recommended jeans! Now I was skeptical of this at first, but I talked to someone who had previously worked for the company and he said that this was a test to see if you could follow directions. He told me to definitely NOT show up in a suit, because then it would indicate that I had not listened to what they told me and be a bad first impression (instead of a good one). Ultimately I think a suit is a good default option, but you should always listen to the company if they tell you otherwise.

  • Bob

    Definitely not the case at many startups.  I showed in a suit for one such interview and felt very out of place among the other candidates.

  • Drew Cottrell

    I have interviewed for positions where wearing a suit would make you appear so out of touch that it would certainly be a negative in your assessment.  I know this because I’ve been on the other side of the table when the interviewers have told me so!  Even in fashion minded places, including fashion retailers, appearing out of touch can be the touch of death.  I always follow the instructions of the assistant to whoever I’m meeting with and have never been let down.

  • Pygmalion2008

    This article is WAY behind the times. For more traditional professions like banking, finance, real estate, city jobs and such, you cant go wrong with wearing a suit and tie. But most definitely do NOT wear a suit and tie if you want any high level job in Information Technology. Wearing a suit and tie to an interview with a company like Google, Yahoo, Facebook or any of the software developer/game developer/applications specialist/programmer employers and you will not get the job. Wearing a suit to IT job interviews is actually a negative. I am a Systems Engineer for an Inc 500 company, and because I have lots of experience in this field, I know its culture. The suit of IT culture is jeans and a dress shirt and comfortable shoes (preferably leather) or boots, but not sandals. A t-shirt should not ever be worn to an IT interview.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      It’s true you have to know your audience. I don’t think it’s accurate to say its behind the times because some specific industries have a different culture. There will always be examples like that.

  • Richard

    I’ve heard the “date” line before, also ask THEM questions because you are also interviewing them.

  • Teej

    In large part, my view is to wear in the interview what you might wear to work there. I wore khakis and a polo to my interview as a physical therapist and got the job. Maybe not a suit, but a shirt and tie is always a good middle of the road interview outfit. Unless everyone there is wearing a suit… then wear a suit.

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