I have a interview attire question I hope you can help with, should I wear a jacket to an interview? I have an in-person interview in a few weeks and have been told that the interview attire should be business casual. I understand the basics, my confusion is whether a jacket and/or tie is appropriate, I’ve come across conflicting information. I feel more comfortable in a jacket than without in professional situations, but I don’t want to overdress. My gut instinct is that it is better to be more formal than less, but I don’t have much real experience in the business world. Some details; I’m a PhD scientist, transitioning from academia to industry. The position has some managerial duties but is still mostly hands-on. The job is in biomedical manufacturing, with probably little, if any, interaction with people outside the company. Any insight you can give is appreciated.

My gut instinct is to go with the jacket, maybe a sport coat (note to my readers, from the name on the e-mail, I assume this person is male). Definitely a tie.

I’ve read that you should scout out the parking lot and see what people wear and wear that. I think you should scout out the parking lot, see what people wear and wear one step higher. (Unless it’s a suit and tie sort of place, then you should not show up in a tux.) So, if they all come out in jeans, you go in a blue button down shirt and dockers. If they wear dockers and golf shirts, you wear dress pants and a button down shirt with a tie (conservative colors). If they wear the latter, you wear a suit.

I’ll say, when I was hiring people to report to me (not recruiting, mind you), it really bothered me when people would show up under dressed–I felt like they didn’t feel like the interview was important.

My opinion may be old school though, so perhaps my readers can comment and make suggestions.

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34 thoughts on “What to Wear

  1. There's a time and place to wear what the employees at a company wear; that time is when you're an employee.

    Interviewees who seriously want a job wear a suit. You cannot go wrong in a suit, but you can risk an otherwise great interview by being under-dressed. Why take the chance?

  2. When being intereviewed, I always dress one up from the everyday wear of the office.
    I've also noticed a lot of interviewers (myself included) also dress more formally when interviewing as well. My reasoning being to present a good image of the company, and of myself yourself. Interviews can be great networking situations. And in the recent job market we had in western australia, attracting good applicants was difficult enough. The las thing we wanted to do was to make a bad impression and have a great applicant turn a role down.

    "Dress for the job you want, not the job want" is a good way to go, unless of course you're a welder but want to be a finance broker. Wearing a suit while welding – probably not a good idea

  3. "Cannot go wrong in a suit"? Seriously, would you hire someone who showed up in a business suit when interviewing for a job as a bricklayer, bus driver, nurse, crane operator or kindergarten teacher? I'd say that would indicate they're seriously mistaken about what the job is about.

    My rule of thumb is to interview wearing the nicest clothes that you can realistically imagine showing up to work in if you got the job. For some jobs, at some companies, that will be a suit. In other cases a suit will be inappropriately formal.

  4. I generally agree with EHRL, but also see the point of view of others as well. When I was most recently recruiting for a casual technology company, the candidates ran the gamut of dress. Of course everyone was always impressed with a suit; however a decent button-down shirt and nice pants were perfectly fine. We did have a guy show up in what looked like a tux and another guy with a wrinkly shirt. Needless to say, those guys attire aligned with their personalities. Many of our interviewers would be wearing jeans, but they had that right due to the dress code of our company. The good candidates were smart about their attire.

  5. Dressing one-up is right on. And that is where you do your homework (like scoping out the parking lot.

    Also, if you get to the interview and find you are overdressed, comment that you were really excited about the position and wanted to dress your best.

    Aussie HR girl: If I were interviewing as a welder and everyone was wearing t-shirt and jeans, I would show up in clean and pressed work pants and work shirt.

  6. Just a thought… ever notice how even hardened criminals are brought into court with a nice suit and tie…. Might a first impression be important? I think this is the point of this post. First impressions are important. Keeping this in mind while choosing what to wear for an interview would be a good idea.

  7. I'll come in a little contrary to what others here are saying – you CAN be overdressed, and it makes you look like you don't understand the culture of the company. You don't need to match perfectly, but you need to be in the ballpark. If they say business casual, and you come in a suit, it can look like you either don't understand the atmosphere of the company, or you can't follow basic instructions.

    What EHRL said is correct. Business casual doesn't require a tie, but it's ok to have one. "Safe" for business casual would be khaki pants, dress shirt (non-white), and a tie.

  8. I think in this situation a sports jacket would be appropriate. Business casual (at least in the Midwest here) would be darker tan slacks paired with a navy sports jacket…or something along those same lines. No tie needed but you would still be in bounds by wearing one. Yes actually, now that I think about it, wear a tie. This type of outfit is "boring" enough that you won't stick out either way (over or under dressed) and they can only consider you for your skills and knowledge.

    1. Yeah, apparently I have an oft-obscure sense of humor. A lot of my jokes eeihtr go right over people’s heads or get taken at face-value as serious. 🙂

  9. @Henning Makholm – Yes I would hire someone for all those positions if they wore a suit to the interview. I might question it if the suit were a custom tailored Italian suit. However, if someone wanted to the job enough to wear their Sunday/Wedding/Funeral suit to an interview, I appreciate that they understand the importance of the situation and wanted to impress me.

    I love I can wear jeans to work on Fridays, but still think the business casual thing has gone too far. I also like having "work" clothes. I can come home and change clothes, thus shedding the work persona and the stress that often comes with it.

    If I were the scientist above and preferred to wear a jacket, I'd go with dress pants, button down, jacket and no tie. I've worked with scientists before. We were lucky to get them to wear something other than shorts and flip flops.

  10. I agree with HR Leigh, no tie.

    The person being interviewed mentioned,
    "I have been told that the interview attire should be business casual."

    Well, if someone TOLD the interviewee that the attire is business casual, I don't think it is wise to go against the suggestion and wear a tie. A jacket and dress pants and shoes, yes, but a tie to me wouldn't fit in.

    I say that based on changes I've seen in even more strict business places. I've worked recently as a consultant for a Wall Street institution and the new CEO instituted "business casual" as the new rule, explicitly saying that ties were no longer required (and apparently not desired).

    Jeans and very informal clothing of course out of the question, but a tie is too formal in an environment where business casual is expected.

  11. HR Leigh: And dressing like investment bankers wouldn't make you suspicious that they so obviously wanted to "impress" you with something that has nothing at all to do with the job? I would get very suspicious that they were trying to compensate for lack for actual job-related skills to demonstrate.

  12. I work in the same field the person in interviewing for, and seem to hire in it a lot.

    Our workplace is "business casual" and all interviewees show up with a coat on. Some also have a tie (say 50%, but honestly have noted it too well as it doesn't matter). I would think it weird to do the tie buy not the jacket (although I have seen it, we all thought it was weird).

    I am based in California though, and I will say that in the field you are going in to there is a pretty wide geographic swing in what is expected. The East coast firms are a little more "formal" than the west. Not even close to as big a swing as it used to be, but still present.

  13. A lot of people seem quite certain of what the term "business casual" means. I once asked what the dress was for a work event, was told "business casual" and went in a jacket without a tie. I was the only man without a tie, and for the next such event the person who invited me made a point of saying "you'll definitely want a tie." This was on the East Coast. It seems like a vague term designed to trip people up.

  14. I can understand why this question was asked.

    Like EHRL, I am old school and have always dressed "professionally" for interviews. That is I, a male, would wear a sports jacket, nice slacks, and a tie. I still do.

    However, I have noticed that the dress codes of so many U.S. companies today is, at best, "business casual." Sloppy, is more what I would call it; But, I guess years of parochial school uniforms have really made me learn to dress "old school."

    I hadn't really thought about it until reading this post; but in the last few months of looking for work not a single interviewer I have met has worn a tie. For male interviewers the best that I have seen is a button-down shirt, nice dress slacks, and clean professional shoes. Polo shirts, jeans, and loafers (AKA docksiders) seem to be more common.

    While I agree with EHRL's advice of dressing "one up." I do wonder if there aren't some out there who would use it against you if you dress nicer than them.

    Just look at some of the comments here where people are judging you by how you dress! Saying that you are trying to make up for short-comings, or you don't understand the company culture, or you cannot follow basic instructions (really? informing someone that the job is business casual is an instruction now? God, no wonder I'm having a hard time getting work!) etc. I hope that most of these commenters are NOT recruiters judging people in such a shallow way!

    I don't know if this helps or not; but last year I was doing contract work at a pharmaceutical compnay in central NJ in whcih I was told the dress code was business casual and everyone dressed as I have said above. I wore a sports jacket and tie to the interview. I did get the job. However, on the first day of work I was told NOT to wear a tie (I left the sports jacket at home). It wasn't a issue of me not understanding the company's "business casual" dress code. I, like HR Leigh above, like to have "work" clothes and "non-work" clothes. From what I gathered my boss (who turned out to be a real jerk) didn't like me dressing "better" than him.

    So, yea, I can understand why this issue is a real problem for job seekers as there are a lot of shallow, empty-headed recruiters and employers out there. Good Luck!

  15. Ten years ago, my brother almost didn't get a job with a computer gaming company because he was 'overdressed' (slacks, dress shirt, tie), he was told this when offered the job. And this is a major company, not a start up. The guy interviewing him was wearing a t-shirt, swim trunks and flip flops.

    I agree with the advice to scope out the parking lot/business and dress one step higher, and I do think being too overdressed can be a bad thing, as it shows you haven't done your research about a place.

    I interview for manual labor positions, groundskeepers, maintenance workers, etc., and while I don't expect them to show up in a suit (and yes, that would raise questions if they did), I do expect clean clothes, and at least a polo shirt. I usually get clean, unstained, jeans/dickies and polo or aloha shirts (button down casual shirts)

    To the original questioner, as a PhD Scientist, I'd imagine he's going to be interviewing for a job where a full suit would be a plus, or at least not a negative.

    Oh, plus I think it matters which region you're in too. I'm in California, where it's a lot more relaxed than like D.C. or New York.

  16. Just to add to the other comments. I always tell the candidates we are going to interview that our dress code is business casual. Why? I want to see how well they listened and if they dressed accordingly. Granted a suit is fine, but for those that show up under dressed, usually end up the least qualified of the candidates for the position.

    When I interviewed to work here though, my interviewer showed up in a Hawaiin shirt and sandals and was impressed that I wore a suit. I moved to a beach community and had no idea the rules were different here. Business casual here is what would have been considered casual attire where I used to live. We draw the line at shorts that are shorter than knee length and no flip flops. Other than that – anything goes with business casual around here.

  17. Business casual is not a suit. It's at most a sport jacket. If you wear the jacket I wouldn't wear a tie, if you don't wear the jacket a tie would work.

    However, I've had people show up to interview for a warehouse job in a suit and it didn't bother me.

  18. My husband has a Ph.D. and moved from academia to industry last year. Though the dress code in his new office is decidedly khaki pants and polo shirts, he wore a suit to the interview. He got the job, obviously.

    I generally fall down on the side of those who say you can't be overdressed. I remember a couple of years ago, I wore a fairly "nice" outfit in my casual office, and I can't tell you how many people said to me that day, "do you have a job interview on your lunch?" Because even people who wear jeans to work on a daily basis think that you dress up for the interview. (And no, I didn't have a job interview; I'd worn the nice outfit because we were expecting a visit from an offsite VP and I wanted to impress her.)

    Scoping out the parking lot isn't always an option. My husband's current employer is one office of many in a large, tall building. They don't have a parking lot because we live in a dense urban area, but even if they did, he would have no way of knowing if the people walking out the door were from his target company or not.

    All that said, it does give me pause – if the interviewer said specifically that the dress code for the *interview* is business casual, then I would want to follow his lead. The problem is, few people really know what "business casual" means. It's like obscenity, they can't define it but they know it when they see it 🙂

    The compromise I might strike in this situation would be to wear a jacket and slacks, though not necessarily a suit. And I would go with a lighter color – it looks more casual than a black jacket, without looking unprofessional.

    Good luck!

  19. Always better to be overdressed than underdressed. If you're overdressed, you just look better dressed!

  20. Business casual normally doesn't include a tie.

    I once went to an interview in a business professional suit and was told that if I wore a tie to my second interview that I wouldn't be hired. It was stated jokingly, but I did notice I was the only one in the building wearing a tie.

    They were a $50 million company. However, they did construction. I found later that their culture was somewhat distrusting of people who wore ties. As their HR Manager, I was asked to notify candidates to keep it "business casual."

  21. Business casual for what field? Business casual is evaluated relative to the norm in that field and has less meaning as a general term.

    Business casual in Boston in my field (law) just means "don't wear a black suit;" while business casual in other jobs has meant "wear a polo with your shorts."

    Generally, the low end of business casual would be khakis, a collared shirt (short sleeve usually acceptable in summer), and decent shoes. Midrange adds a jacket, high range adds a tie (though not a white shirt; those tend to look too professional.)

    You can get away with a blue blazer and a nice polo or long sleeve shirt underneath, in most occasions, and you'll be fine. If it looks like you are overdressed you can just take off your blazer. That's a good midrange solution which will usually work.

    If I want to err on the side of formality, I carry a carefully folded tie in my blazer pocket and wear a long sleeved shirt; I can always don the tie in the bathroom in a minute. If I want to err on the side of informality, I wear a polo under my blazer and less formal shoes.

  22. I tend to go with the dress-for-success types, except in aggressively casual environments.

    Here's my sneaky way to both dress up, but make it seem more casual:

    Buy a TAN suit. Wear it with a white shirt and tie. It looks dressy enough, but the color makes it more laid back. If you walk in and immediately see others far less dressy, you can take off the jacket,(or even the tie) and it's instantly business casual.

    Same goes for women. It's much less formal and austere, but can be very professional and polished.

  23. Anon 7:48 AM, people care because I'm funny and mostly right. You're not required to read if you don't care.

  24. MY Dad always told me that you don't want to out-dress your interviewer. I did that once, showed up in a 3-piece suit, and my interviewer was in Dockers and Birkenstocks. Fortunately we both had a sense of humor about it, and I got the job, but it was very uncomfortable. Checking out the parking lot and going one level up seems like a good strategy to me. It says that you're serious about the job, but will also fit in with the culture.

  25. I always "dress up" for an interview: suit, white shirt, and tie. During the 2nd day of interviews for a job (this was in 1988), an interviewer looked at me quietly for a couple of minutes and asked, "Is that a uniform or is that you?" – as if I wasn't nervous enough already. I told him that it was a uniform. He then told me, "As soon as you remove your suit coat, loosen your tie, and roll up your sleeves, we can start talking." I got the job, and stayed at Apple Computer for 16 years.

  26. I think the whole fuss about attire is a ruse about human resources for everyone else to waste their money so that the hiring department has another pointless thing to ponder about.

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