Dressing for an interview – Men’s Edition

The old adage, “You only get one chance to make a first impression” could not be any truer. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you go to meet your prospective employer.


You can (almost) never go wrong with a suit and tie – but make sure the suit fits. If it is too baggy, the impression you leave an employer with is that you don’t care about the details of your appearance. This seems like a minor passing thought, but that thought could grow into a bigger concern – “If he doesn’t care enough to make a good first impression, why would he care about any assignment I give him at work?”


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The suit on the left says – “I got in one last game of Halo before I threw this on to come here.” Just like your suit, you aren’t a good fit for the company. Next candidate!


The suit on the right says – “I knew I would be interviewing this year and planned ahead. I might even have ironed my socks.”  The impression is that this guy has it together and will probably apply the same attention to detail to our company. I would be interested in hearing what he has to say.

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If you don’t own a suit yet, you can wear a button up shirt with a tie and a nice pair of slacks.

This example demonstrates a crisp, ironed shirt, with an appropriate tie and a nice pair of slacks.


I said slacks – note, slacks.

Not jeans,

Not cargos,



It’s the little things that make or break the impression. Let’s talk the details:


  • Tuck in your clean, ironed shirt.
  • Wear a belt that matches your shoes.
  • Wear dark socks with your polished dress shoes.
  • Wear dress shoes.
  • Commit to a beard or commit to shave. A beard should be trimmed and a shave should be recent.
  • Have clean, trimmed fingernails.
  • Pop a mint before you walk into the room.



  • Wear heavy cologne. If they can smell you coming before you get there – it’s too much.

  • Have untamed hair (wear a ponytail for long hair or comb and slick it back).

  • Wear an ironic t-shirt that has a message about alcohol, drugs, or sex.

  • Wear a t-shirt.

  • Wear athletic shorts.

  • Wear sandals, especially not with socks.


“But I’m looking for work in an area that is more relaxed about appearance!”, you say.


Yes, in some small businesses the dress code is casual and you can get away with wearing an ironic t-shirt and shorts to work.  However, you don’t have the job yet, so you should make the best first impression to get the job. Once you’re in, you can see what the dress code social norms are for that company and dress accordingly.


The above guidelines are general guidelines which can vary due to regional differences.


In general, the East Coast is dressier than the West Coast and finance and legal firms are more formal than startups and creative firms. Know your audience. A plaid button-up paired with skinny jeans might fly for a meeting with a startup in San Francisco, but a meeting with Merrill Lynch will require a suit.


Ultimately, the first impression should not be distracting. Wearing a suit or business casual as described above helps ease your introduction and keeps the focus on your skills, abilities, and fit. If your clothing distracts the person you are interviewing with, then they are not focusing on you and the talent you bring to the company. You want the interviewer overwhelmed by your aptitude for the job and your fit within the company – not by the smell of your cologne.


Would you like some expert guidance in preparing for an interview? Check out our Transform Interviews Into Conversations WebClass.

Posted by Pamela Moy