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How to Dress for an Interview

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Bottom Line/Personal: In a world of business casual, what do people wear to job interviews these days?

Nancy Collamer: It’s confusing. It’s definitely trickier than you would think. The fact of the matter is that what is business casual in one environment doesn’t always translate over into another company. So a couple things that I always recommend.

First, do some sleuthing around before you go to an interview. Thanks to the internet these days, you can pull up a company’s website; take a look to see if they have any photos so you can get a sense of what people are wearing at the workplace. You can even, if it’s a place that’s close by, go take a drive. Sit in the parking lot, and see what people are wearing as they come out.

Bottom Line: So you really want to match the style of the company?

Collamer: You want to match the style. With that said, I think you can never go wrong by erring on the side of being too professional. You want to match the style, but you always want to keep it professional.

If you’re going into an environment, where let’s say everybody is wearing blue jeans, you don’t necessarily want to wear blue jeans, but I wouldn’t go in wearing a suit either. You want to find something, maybe a pair of khakis. You want something that is neat, clean, and that looks professional, but that is in keeping with the feel of the workplace.

And then keep in mind that in certain environments – banks, law firms, places like that – business casual is still pretty buttoned up. I always say in those types of environments that you can never go wrong, I think, by wearing a conservative-looking pantsuit if you’re a woman and a suit if you’re a man.

Rule of thumb: Stick with the culture that you’re interviewing at, keep it professional, and when in doubt, do your homework ahead of time.

Bottom Line: How about if you’re an older person and you haven’t bought a suit or a blazer in years? You don’t necessarily want to pull out your 30-year-old blazer. Invest in some more contemporary cuts of your clothes?

Collamer: Definitely. You really need to think about that in terms of it being an investment as opposed to an expense. And what I always recommend people do is you can go to some of the larger department stores and ask to work with a personal shopper there. A lot of them have free personal shopping services, so you can get somebody to assist you and help you pick out those outfits. But it’s worth the money. You want to look good.

Bottom Line: And how about, let’s go to the other end of the spectrum, for the youngsters, the twenty-somethings that are at their first job and don’t necessarily have their “conservative” clothes on. How far should they go on the spectrum? Because again, to your point of you can never fail by looking professional – do we get them a little bit out of their comfort zone of their funky clothes?

Collamer: Yeah, again, unless you’re going into a very artsy and creative environment, in which case you want your personality to come across. But pretty much any other type of workplace, you’re better off erring on the side of being more conservative and more professional. People understand that you’re coming in for an interview, and so they realize that, that you probably are more dressed up than you’re going to be when hopefully you get hired.

So again, if they have any doubts, introduce them to a personal shopper. It’s well worth the time and money to do that.

Bottom Line: Great advice. Thank you, Nancy Collamer.

Collamer: You’re welcome.

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Nancy Collamer, a career counselor, speaker, and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. She also writes a semi-monthly career column for NextAvenue.com (PBS) and Forbes.com. MyLifestyleCareer.com

Date: January 30, 2015 Publication: Bottom Line Personal