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The ultimate guide to dressing for a graduate job interview
No idea what to wear to your graduate job interview? This ultimate guide will get you on the right track.
The prospect of an interview could have you feeling a little nervous. First impressions really are lasting and, as a result, your interview performance will likely have a significant bearing on the fate of your application. In other articles, we’ve sought to help you prepare by covering topics such as common interview questions, techniques for responding to brain-teasers, and tips on making it through a group interview. Here, we’ll focus on something more fundamental but just as important: your presentation during the interview. After all, you know that you should ‘dress for success’ or ‘for the job you want’: but what does that mean? Read on to find out.
Unless you’re specifically told otherwise (or know that an office is ‘smart-casual’), you should assume that your interview will require you to wear smart-business attire. This rule can be disregarded only if you’re a candidate for employment at a hipster-led startup, a creative agency, or a themed restaurant. Otherwise, you should dress for your interview as if you’re about to appear on the cover of Forbes magazine: modern, professional, and ready to blend in at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Important tip: Many organisations, especially government entities, have a public code of conduct that includes an employee dress code. For example, employees at Accenture are ‘required to wear business-casual attire Monday to Thursday” with “smart-casual attire worn on Fridays.’ So, look up the company that’s interviewing you to see if you can find any must-know rules. Alternatively, don’t hesitate to ask your contact at the company about expected dress codes. It’s a ready-made question that helps you look engaged and considerate.
Men should dress for their interview like a cast member from Suits (i.e. in a suit). The suit jacket may be swapped for an appropriate blazer but a button-down shirt, suit pants, a tie, a belt, and dress shoes are essential. Avoid bright colours: the corporate palette is chiefly black, white, blue, navy, and grey. For example, Blake, a graduate at Herbert Smith Freehills, wears business professional attire: a pressed shirt, a clean navy blue suit, and a matching tie.
Ditch the suit jacket and feel free to switch the suit pants for chinos or dress slacks. You should still wear a button-down shirt or a polo shirt, but make sure to tuck it in and wear a belt. Stick with dress shoes. You should still look presentable enough to attend meetings in a professional setting. For example, Steven, an analyst at Pitcher Partners, wears business casual attire.
You obviously have a lot more leeway if (and only if) casual attire is called for. However, you should avoid sandals, shorts, slogan tee-shirts, and anything listed below (see ‘What not to wear’). For example, Nirvan Gelda, a graduate software engineer at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, is wearing casual clothing: a muted t-shirt with clean jeans and sneakers. As with the other dress codes, avoid clothes that are stained, dishevelled, or loud. Leave your bawdy high-school jersey in your wardrobe until you get the job. Alternatively, consider leaving it there forever.
Important tip: Your belt should match your shoes. It’s not something everybody notices, but those who do will defend the inviolability of the ‘all leather together’ rule with something approaching zealotry, judging harshly its transgressors. Black shoes? Black belt. Brown shoes? Brown belt. White shoes? Take them off. No white shoes.
Women should wear firm, professional-looking ballet flats or office heels, pencil skirts or slacks no shorter than the knee, a suit jacket, and a button-down shirt. Alternatively, a corporate dress with a jacket would also work well. Avoid bright colours: the corporate palette is chiefly black, white, blue, navy, and grey. Earth tones offer an appropriate choice for ‘accent’ pieces. If you’re unsure, buy classic items of the highest quality you can afford, and then keep them clean and well-maintained: you’ll get a lot of use out of them. For example, Cynthia Vaikunthan, a graduate in the Strategy Development division of Commbank is dressed in business professional clothing.
Think the type of clothing that you would find at Portmans: a conservative dress, or a blouse with a matching skirt or dress pants, along with boots or dress shoes. You can also add more colour to your palette: blues, earth tones, reds, and other uniform colours are a good choice. For example, Nicola O’Neill, a graduate management consultant at Accenture, wears business casual clothing.
Use your judgement in selecting clothes that are casual but still chic and professional. For example, you could pair a collared shirt with pants and open shoes, or opt instead for an appropriate dress. Consider, for example, the outfit of Amelie Carbonie, a graduate Salesforce Consultant at Accenture.
Imagine that your interview will be conducted by people who have never seen conspicuous hair dye before and will struggle for years to integrate the knowledge of its existence. Do not make your job interview their traumatic flash point: natural colours only.
When it comes to hairstyles, you should avoid anything that would look out of place in a church choir. Keep your hair conservative and neat, and make sure that, on the day of your interview, it’s clean, dry, and well-groomed. If necessary, invest in bobby pins and elastics in neutral colours. A common interview hairstyle for women is the classic bun: if you’re unsure how to do it, YouTube will show you the way. Use hairspray to keep your hair looking neat throughout the day.
Men with facial hair should ensure that it’s trimmed and clean on the day of their interview. If you have a substantial beard, consider having it cut by a professional barber. You can also purchase specialised products, such as beard shampoo and wax, that will allow you to keep your facial hair looking neat and clean.
Be conservative in your application of makeup: match products to your skin tone, avoid false eyelashes (or clumpy mascara), be wary of bright colours (i.e. think twice about any fire-engine red lipstick), and steer clear of attention-grabbing eyeshadows.
Judiciously applied powder (or another mattifying product, such as a liquid foundation) can be helpful for women and men who worry about nervous perspiration (or want to avoid unflattering skin glare during a video interview).
Note that makeup isn’t (officially) obligatory, so, if you’re not a makeup person, focus instead on looking clean and tidy: eyebrows groomed, skin moisturised, lip balm applied. Similarly, if you feel overwhelmed by the idea of makeup, but there is an expectation that you’ll wear it, many makeup stores (e.g. Mecca Cosmetica, Sephora, and Myer) allow you to book a paid makeup trial during which you can discuss your situation (i.e. graduate preparing for interview) and budgetary constraints (i.e. graduate preparing for interview).
Avoid strong fragrances altogether or apply only a very discreet amount of a subtle scent. Give prospective employers no reason to contemplate your potential flammability: this is remarkably unhelpful.
Watches should be conservative and silent: make sure no alarms go off during the interview and, if you wear a smartwatch, mute all notifications to ensure the screen doesn’t start flashing at random intervals.
Jewellery offers a classy way to express yourself, but, like the rest of your attire, it should be conservative and inconspicuous. That’s a stern, grandmotherly ‘no’ to any visible piercings that aren’t on your earlobes: anything else should be removed temporarily or, at the very least, replaced with clear studs. Disregard these rules if you’re being interviewed by Iris Apfel or Lee Lin Chin. Disregard them also if you are Iris Apfel or Lee Lin Chin. Finally, disregard them if you’re interviewing to be the creative director of a fashion magazine, in which case, if you happen to have an extravagant pashmina lying around, you should strongly consider wearing it.
Where to go if you don’t have access to corporate attire
Preparing for a job interview can be very expensive: there’s a good chance that you’ll need to buy a suit, some pricey formal shirts, and a snappy pair of dress shoes. This can be particularly difficult if you’re financially independent and just graduated from university. However, it doesn’t need to hold you back.
Various highly admirable organisations have emerged that provide young people with high-quality second-hand professional attire (including shoes) for use during a job interview. In most situations, the clothing is offered to keep either for free or at a low cost. These organisations include Wear for Success (men and women), Dress for Work (men), Dress for Success (women), Fitted for Work (women (trans and cis), including non-binary and gender non-conforming people and all those who identify as women), and Suited to Success (women).
Don’t go broke
If money is tight, consider one of the organisations above or ‘shop’ in store but buy online (some vendors sell ‘starter wardrobes’ through websites like eBay). Alternatively, you can check for affordable clothing at op shops like St Vincent de Paul, a Salvos store, or a Goodwill shop. You can always treat yourself after you’ve secured a graduate job.
Consider the position description and whether you’d be able to do your job in the clothes you’re planning to wear to the interview. For example, a business professional outfit might not be appropriate if you’re interviewing to be a field engineer. Remember: you can always ask somebody (such as your HR contact at the hiring organisation) for advice on how to dress for the interview or check their website.
If in doubt, overdress
It’s far better to be the sharpest person in the room than the sloppiest, so err on the side of caution by dressing up instead of down.
It’s important that you still feel like yourself, and not a corporate clotheshorse. Does the skirt ride up when you sit? Do your underarms get squeezed outwards in your blazer? Are your shoes too tight for you to walk in them? Conduct a dress rehearsal at home and make sure that your outfit is going to boost your confidence on the day of your interview. After all, you need to feel comfortable to do your best, so prioritise feeling comfortable.