How to Dress for an Interview and a Look into Modern Society’s Take on Day-to-day Office Wear

Rutherford Cross’ interim finance specialist and Fashion Branding graduate, Christina McLean, discusses the value of planning ahead when it comes to dressing for an interview, and why understanding company culture is key. She also explores the post-pandemic shift in society’s take on day-to-day office wear.

At Rutherford Cross, helping our candidates and clients realise their full potential is at the heart of what we do, and as a recruiter with a background in fashion, what better way to marry these two passions together than to discuss the importance of dressing correctly for an interview and why it should be made a priority on your ‘pre interview to-do list’.


First Impressions Count

The first impression you make when attending a job interview, face-to-face or virtually, is often the most important one. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but interviews can be an exception to this common rule of thumb. Before you’ve even had the chance to introduce yourself, what you are wearing has already begun to tell the interviewer a story about your personality and fit within the company, despite how strong your experience may appear on paper.

When preparing for an interview, choosing an appropriate outfit is often lower down the priority scale than more obvious tasks such as preparing your best competency-based answers or analysing the company accounts. Whilst it’s your ambition and skills that really count, your outward appearance builds the initial foundation in the interviewer’s mind of what is to come.


Researching Company Culture and Dress Code

When swithering as to whether you should be reaching for your best suit and tie or opting for a more business-casual approach, the first step is to look at the industry and culture of the organisation you are interviewing for. If you are applying for a high-level role in an industry in which wearing tailored suits is seen as the norm, such as a legal firm, you should prepare to meet these standards during the interview process. Start-up culture and the creative industries will typically take a less formal stance, such as jeans and a nice shirt, or a midi dress with some boots.

If you have been engaged in the process through a recruitment agency, turning to your recruitment consultant for advice is oftentimes the most assured way to guarantee that you are hitting the nail on the head in terms of fit with company culture and dress code. A good recruiter will have an established relationship with the hiring manager and will ideally have visited the company offices or premises. Alongside the rest of your preparation, your recruitment consultant should be setting the bar for you regarding the client’s expectations and offering first-hand insight into how staff within that business are dressing on a day-to-day basis.

If you entered the process directly, don’t be afraid to ask HR or the Talent Acquisition Partner what the appropriate dress code might be. If you find yourself at a loose end, just remember, it costs nothing to browse through the organisation’s social media channels and online website. Arguably, this might be the best way to visualise which approach you intend to take in terms of dressing accordingly, and offers a snapshot into what life might be like at company X.


Displaying Professionalism

Times are changing, and so is dressing etiquette. How you show up for an interview says more about you than just your dress sense and personality quirks, it’s also an indication of your judgement and ability to recognise that standards exist. You should avoid giving off the impression that you are defying the norms and expectations set by the organisation, as this can damage your professional image before you get the chance to showcase your skills.

Portraying professionalism can differ from organisation to organisation, and person to person, but following these three key fundamentals can be a good place to start:

  • Wear Comfortable Clothing: Your success in an interview often relies upon your confidence, and the clothes you wear should instil you with confidence – not discomfort. Avoid ill-fitting garments which may distract you from the focus of the interview and affect your gravitas.
  • Too Dressy vs Too Casual: Knowing how to dress for an interview has become increasingly difficult with the classic suit not always being the best option. Even the larger corporate giants are edging towards less conventional ways and blurring the lines that were once very clear. The expectation is to display as much professionalism as possible, whilst mirroring the industry, and preventing a fall into the ‘too dressy’ or ‘too casual’ categories.
  • Don’t Over Accessorise: Jewellery and other accessories are a great way to express your individuality, but try keeping it subtle and pay attention to the small details. Try to avoid overindulging in perfume or aftershave as well; many people are sensitive or allergic to fragrances, and it can be overpowering.


Virtual Interviewing and the ‘Enclothed Cognition’ Theory

Interview styles have changed dramatically over the past few years following the working from home narrative that businesses and their employees adapted to during the pandemic.

Today, interviewing virtually has become common practice. The convenience it offers can be great for candidates who don’t get much time away from their desks to meet face-to-face, or for those who have other commitments at home. Virtual interviews can also allow organisations to run a speedier recruitment process. However, despite its benefits, if given the choice between a virtual interview or an in-person interview, we would always recommend choosing the latter. There’s no better way to sell yourself than the natural flow of a face-to-face conversation or interaction.

When it comes to dressing for a virtual interview, it can be tempting to only dress professionally from the waist up, but studies surrounding the concept of ‘enclothed cognition’ suggest that the clothes you wear have a significant impact on your mood, confidence, productivity, posture, and abstract thinking, amongst a host of other features. So, although it might seem trivial to dress head to toe in your best attire whilst interviewing from your dining room table, the impact this can have on your mindset, concentration, and ability to articulate your thoughts makes it a worthwhile consideration.

Whilst we suggest looking the part for your virtual interview to fuel your confidence and how you articulate yourself, it’s worth noting that you can still look smart across the camera without being too formal. It makes sense to wear a smart shirt or blouse, but the need for a tie or blazer is best kept for those face-to-face formal meetings.


Dressing for the Office – Pre-Pandemic vs Post Pandemic

Day-to-day office wear has always differed in some ways from interview attire, and even more so now as we return to the office post pandemic with most of us operating a ‘hybrid’ working model. Increased flexibility in working patterns has led to increased popularity amongst businesses adopting a ‘Dress For your Day’ strategy and ditching the traditional corporate approach. This simply means that on days where you don’t have important meetings or presentations, you can take a more relaxed, smart-casual approach. Swapping power suits for a blazer with jeans has become the norm within many organisations, and at Rutherford Cross, this is a novelty that we are embracing.


Styling Business-Casual to Business-Formal

Whether it be an interview, a business meeting, or a typical trip to the office, what you wear should complement who you are and not diminish from what you have to offer. Dress comfortably, professionally and in line with the culture or circumstances. Ultimately, if you look the part, you will feel the part!


Example Interview Looks

To help you prepare for your next interview, Rutherford Cross consultants Mollie Rogerson and Harry Young had some fun playing dress-up to demonstrate how you can style your next interview outfit, from business-casual to business-formal, with a view to lifting one less worry off your shoulders in advance of your big day.

For further interview or career advice, or if you are interested in hearing about current opportunities in the interim Finance market, please get in touch for a confidential chat: [email protected].