What to wear for your industry

Job interview attire: Insiders reveal what to wear for jobs in their industry

Elizabeth Bromstein|

A friend recently asked a question on Facebook: “What would you wear to a job interview for an Ad agency?” She posted a picture of a striped dress-y thing (no, I don’t know what it’s called. A tunic? That’s why I don’t write for Vogue) and asked, “Is this ok with leggings and ballet flats or too casual?”

The responses were plentiful, with most seeming to agree that you never wear leggings to a job interview and that “smart casual” or “business casual” is the way to go.

I don’t even know what those terms mean. They don’t actually tell you anything at all, as it depends on what is casual for the business in question.

What you wear to the interview depends on the industry, the position for which you’re applying and the culture of the company. If you can, find out what they wear in the office. Feel like playing spy? Pretend to be a research company, call and say you’re taking a survey. Then ask the receptionist what people wear in the office (I just thought of that now but I must say it is a BRILLIANT idea).

Otherwise, you’ll have to wing it.

I interviewed five people who do the hiring in five different industries, to give you an idea. Their names have been changed.

Charles, ad agency: It depends on the role and the person, whatever makes them feel comfortable. We’re a creative agency, so dress code is not that important. It’s more about what you present in the interview. Most of us wear jeans to work, so jeans are fine. I wouldn’t wear shorts. We wouldn’t screen somebody out because of it, but shorts might be pushing it a little bit, unless you’re a developer or programmer, then you can wear anything you want. Leggings would be fine for a copywriter. If it’s a very client-facing role or a business development role, you probably have to dress accordingly. Sometimes people can be completely overdressed. We’re all wearing jeans and if they show up in a suit and tie they’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. Some old school agencies might be more Madison Avenue style, but we’ve moved on from that.

Kate, software: We’re a software company whose clients are all in the wealth management business, so my expectations vary. It’s OK for a software developer to come in for an interview in business casual, but a person applying for a client-facing position, should wear more traditional business attire. Most important is to be well groomed (not rumpled, tidy facial hair). Unless you know specifically about the dress code of the workplace, jeans are NEVER appropriate. If we are meeting a candidate on a Friday, where jeans are acceptable in our workplace, we try to let them know that they can dress down as well, but when in doubt, dress it up a notch and be conservative.

Mark, engineering: The dress code for engineers is all over the map really.  Unlike finance or other formal fields, it’s definitely not suits and ties any longer for work wear.  With that, you’re also seeing interview wear become more casual. Heck, in any type of IT or computer place, showing up in a suit and tie (interview or otherwise) might even mean you don’t get the modern work culture of the office. Also, engineering is much more technical so because of that, looks play a lesser part.  One could argue it’s also because fellow engineers don’t know much about style anyway so they can’t really act as judges. One never goes wrong with pants and a proper dress shirt. Jeans and a relaxed look can work, but I suggest one scope out the company or be very familiar with their work environment prior to trying that tack.

Grace, healthcare research: You can never go wrong with a smart suit, whether you are a male or female. Our environment is a little less formal, so simply looking sharp and put together in what you wear is enough. Nice dress pants and shirt, skirt and nice sweater…. The one thing people don’t keep in mind when they interview here is that we are a scent-free environment so wearing perfume and cologne is a no-no. It is surprising how many people show up to interviews smelling like they are wearing half the bottle. I have had many people who wear sparkles to interviews, often as eye shadow, while other times all over their face. While this does not make or break your possibility of employment, I will say, in my experience, there is a direct correlation between those who wear sparkles to an interview and those who cannot answer the questions.

Albert, law firm: Guys: A nice, smart suit. Nothing garish, no charcoal stripe or anything that makes you look like a Wall Street banker. Nice shirt-tie combination – again - no garish colours. Polished shoes can’t hurt. At the end of the day you are trying to look like someone that the interviewer will feel happy to put in front of clients and charge $350+ an hour. Confidence without arrogance. Also a good idea to comb your hair and hide your tattoos. Girls: If you can see up it, down it or through it, it’s a no-no. Again, smart, professional and confidence inspiring. I’d avoid 4 inch heels or boots. If you’re not a trouser-suit wearer then a knee length skirt with a nice blouse will more than suffice (jacket optional). I’d also avoid overtly obvious designer gear or heavy lumbering handbags – The office is a place of work, not a fashion space. At the end of the day, if you can’t work out what’s appropriate and inappropriate to wear for a six-figure salary, then what hope have you for getting the law right and impressing clients?


Category: Job interviews,
  • Richard Derek

    Look professional, regardless of the job. That normally means a jacket and tie for men. It’s tat plain and simple. If you are not willing to ‘dress up’ a little and look your best, it means you are not serious about the job. I have been to interviews for an office job where the first thing out of the interviewer’s mouth is how well I am dressed while in a jacket and tie.

  • David Lamothe

    Dress up, You can always dress down after arrival. (i.e. removing your tie and jacket, but you can’t do the opposite!

  • Tom.Gr

    Imo if you are applying for any sort of professional job, just wear a suit. Dressing down can come off as a sign that you don’t care, and as David said up above, you can always dress down after arrival if it’s a big deal. I dress pretty casually for work, but I just think it would look weird if someone came in for an interview with our team without a suit, even if they knew we had a casual dress code in advance. Just my 2 cents.

  • Dave Laubman

    khakis and a nice dress shirt can pass for most job interviews. I don’t recommend jeans even if it’s a casual work environment.