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Dress for interview; if you have ask, you probably shouldn’t

dress for interview

Solids always look good. Pepper Potts always had a simple and elegant style

Ask your HR person about your dress for interview dress code

Because I am in HR, I seem to get a lot of questions about the interview process.  Seems lately I have been asked a lot of “dress for interview” questions like “can I wear this or can I wear that?” to an interview more and more.

My two cents and I always try to drive this point home at the end of the conversation:  If you have to ask, you probably already know the answer.  You can come to me, HRNasty the all mighty when it comes to job interviews, hoping for some validation and permission to do what you already suspect is out-of-bounds, but I am no pushover.  If you have ANY sense of fashion, then prove it by wearing the appropriate ensemble at the appropriate time.  That or get a job as a model/rock star.

When you dress for interviews your outfit shouldn’t be noticed.  You want to be remembered for your answers to interview questions and not your outfit.  What this means is that you don’t want your outfit to stick out in a good way and you really don’t want to stick out in a bad way.  A Prada bag sticks out.  Pants that are too short stick out.  Cologne and perfume will stick out and can cause an allergic reaction.  Your college athletic backpack with your suit sticks out.  Fly under the radar.

I try to answer these types of questions with a “what makes you think you shouldn’t wear that?” or “what is your concern?”  (Yes, I know it sounds like a counselor, parent or the dreaded HR, but I is what I is!)

More often than not, the candidate figures out pretty quickly and on their own that it would be better to “not” wear the article in question and upset the dress for interview code.  I usually don’t have to say anything and isn’t that how a good mentor rolls?

Some common dress for interview questions:

  • Can I wear my new phat watch?  (too much bling)
  • Can I wear a suede skirt?  (Suede in Seattle????  Suede to an interview?  Are you applying to an S&M shop?)
  • Should I take out my 3rd, and 4th earrings?  (Are you auditioning for a heavy metal band?)
  • Should I take out my nose ring? (see above)
  • Should I cover my tattoo? (see this blog post)
  • Is my skirt too short?  (I’d have to see it on first, why don’t you model it for me)

9 times out of 10, the candidate seems to talk through it for less than 30 seconds and comes to the right decision.

It is almost as if they absolutely KNOW the right answer, but don’t want to admit it to themselves, so they ask.  If I the professional HR guy like me will give them permission, it is “OK” and they can blame someone else.

I have said this in the past, I don’t have children. .  .

For just a minute, let’s forget about how cool, hip, or Vogue, your sense of fashion is.  An interview isn’t a fashion show, and it certainly isn’t a club.  We aren’t selling individuality here.  9 times out of 10 we are selling “team player”.  Teams have a uniform to be as one.  

I hear the following arguments on a regular basis when dress for interview discussions come up:

  • “If they don’t want to hire me because of my shoes, then I don’t want to work there”
  • “If they don’t like my 3rd and 4th earring, then forget them”
  • “Everyone has a tattoo and this means a lot to me personally”

My argument on the dress for interview questions below:  

Get the job offer first, then ask if your earrings, flamboyant color, or t-shirt with a blazer are appropriate.  If the company isn’t for you, YOU are in a position to decline the company and the company isn’t declining you.  But give yourself the option to be the one doing the declining.  Don’t give this option to the hiring company.

Wearing multiple earrings and a suede skirt may give you confidence, but confidence can also come from the fact that you KNOW you aren’t going to get kicked out of the interview loop for wearing what is considered inappropriate.  If you want confidence, wear your sexy thong or your Valentine evening panties.  Most of us want to have the option to decline the company after an offer is given vs being declined before we get a chance to show off our skill set.

At the end of the day, employers want to hire candidates that can be sent out to customers and vendors.  Hiring companies want employees they can be promoted to be managers. Managers want role models and employees who can be public speakers on behalf of the company.  These employees understand how to interpret the appropriate dress for interview code.

Most companies have a dress code.  It might be a loose dress code, and it might be unwritten, but they have a code.  If they have a dress code, dress one step better.  (no shirt, no shoes, no job)  We might not like the dress code, but it has been put in place for a reason.  Why would a company do that???

Any time you get a number of people in a group, you will have outliers, folks at the extreme ends of the scale.  The larger the group, the more diversity.  There will always be someone who wants to push the envelope and as soon as one person pushes the envelope, someone else will try to push it further.  If we as people didn’t have this trait, there wouldn’t be improvements in the products and services we produce.  Pushing the envelope is what makes us successful.

There will be folks who “just don’t have a sense of fashion” and there will always be folks who will want to try to get away with as much as they can.  We all know that stealing isn’t right, but we still seem to need a law for it.  So, if you find yourself asking “Can I wear this?”, you probably shouldn’t.  Ask yourself “What would HRNasty say”?

Good Luck,


nasty:  an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something.  “He has a nasty forkball”.

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