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What should you wear in an interview? We asked the experts.

  • Publish Date: Posted over 2 years ago
  • Author:by MERJE

Suited and booted remains the preferred attire for interviews, but a less formal approach is also gaining momentum

Interviews have had quite the shakeup in recent times thanks to the pandemic and the proliferation of the now ubiquitous video call.

This has led to many people settling in to the wardrobe freedom which comes hand-in-hand with virtual meetings, with more casual outfits or even a “smart-on-top, comfortable-on-bottom” approach becoming more popular.

However, now that in-person meetings are on the cards once again, we couldn't help but wonder whether this rather more relaxed attitude to interview attire has carried over.

This is why we took to LinkedIn to ask the interviewers and hiring managers across our network what they believe is the right approach to interview clothing.

We asked,

Interviewers & Hiring Managers - What is acceptable in-person interview attire these days?

Possibly unsurprisingly, the formal approach came out on top with 40% of the vote, however the step down from fully suited and booted – “lose the tie but no jeans” – came in at a very close second at 37%.

Attending interviews in a completely casual outfit is still a no-no with only 1 in 10 respondents opting for “more casual, jeans are fine”, while 13% of voters took the more flexible stance that it doesn’t matter what people wear during interviews. (See the full results here)

This more forward-thinking attitude to interview clothing seems to be growing in popularity, with one commenter sharing their recent interview experiences,

“I interviewed with four companies who said, "dress how you feel comfortable, as we think that will allow us to get the best out of you". We need to move away from this uniform culture; it does not equal performance, nor does it define competence. So many things need to change, such as gender pay, ethnic pay, flexible working, acceptance of mental health and acceptance that something can be done virtually.” (Zarak D. Risk Lead)

The reality is that the most appropriate interview attire will vary dependent on the type of business and from industry to industry.

Sally Cordwell, our Front-Line Talent Principal Consultant who specialises in customer services and contact centre recruitment, is an advocate for dressing for success but warns that first impressions aren't always the most important…

“At the level we recruit, I would expect our candidates to make an effort, but without the pressure and expense of having to buy a new suit if they don't own one already. I would always expect them to look respectable and if they are friendly enough - for a call centre agent job - it shouldn’t matter what they wear.

“I’ve run assessment centres where people have turned up in tracksuit bottoms, or looking like they are about to go on a night out! Obviously both of these don’t give the best first impression.

"However, a quick example of not judging a book by its cover is that I almost didn’t place a temp in a job due to their informal appearance at interview, but he ended up being one of the most reliable and hard-working people I have ever placed with my client. They loved him so much, they offered him a permanent job which he stayed in for years.”

On the other end of the spectrum, our Principal Consultant in Financial Crime & Regulatory Compliance, Pritesh Chudasama, recommends sticking to a more professional look, which is likely a common opinion across senior positions and more established financial services businesses,

“Always suited and booted unless told otherwise. You can lose the tie once you get the job.”

Continuing that train of thought, we wanted to explore the importance of interview clothing across the range of businesses in our network.

Do the major banking institutions think differently to the start-ups and fintechs of today’s market?

To that end, we asked some of the voters in our poll for further comment. However, it’s important to bear in mind that the individual views of hiring managers and interviewers may differ slightly from the overall stance or policies of an organisation.

Nick Simmons, Head of Decision Science at Shawbrook Bank, voted for the fully suited and booted approach…

“As we move into a more hybrid home and office environment, the dress code naturally relaxes but the interview is always a time to err on the side of tradition. Far better to be over than underdressed, particularly for a first interview, you definitely don't want to be the most casual in the room.

77% of the poll suggests a more formal look which indicates that the old advice of not getting a second chance to make a first impression is still relevant today. Regardless of your look, don't forget to iron your clothes. Nothing worse than a crumpled shirt!”

Charles Mungroo, Head of Group Mortgage Retention at Yorkshire Building Society, opted for a semi-formal attitude to in-person interviews (voting for “lose the tie but no jeans”), but is open to more flexibility for virtual meetings…

“A really interesting question, and one which had me on the fence. As a financial services provider, you would expect that "suited and booted" is the right approach, but how many interviews are conducted face to face these days? I don't wear office attire when sitting in my home office, so why would I expect the same from my candidates?

“The past 18 months have given us a glimpse into the homes and personal lives of my team like never before. And in a relaxed and hybrid environment, I would like to be able to make candidates feel relaxed and at ease when conducting digital interviews.

“For me, I think a casual shirt with no tie is smart but comfortable enough for an interview. If the candidate wears jeans or shorts... I'm honestly not concerned.”

Leon Tunnicliff, Global Head of Credit Risk & Fraud at fintech firm etika, is even more accepting of an informal attitude to interview clothing, opting for “more casual, jeans are fine” in our poll, and believes that the casual approach is already the accepted norm in his arena…

“I personally believe, as an interviewer, that I want to see the real person and make the candidate feel at ease. Therefore, candidates shouldn’t be worrying about what they need to wear over being mentally prepared and able to relax so that they can concentrate on the interview questions. In the fintech world there are numerous roles where a suit, tie or even a shirt would be out of place and a personality can make all the difference!”

This sentiment is echoed by another fintech professional, Lisa Middleton, who is Senior Director – Compliance at GAIN Credit. Lisa said,

“I voted in the 10% 'more casual' group. If you asked me this question a few years ago I would have very much been in the 'always suited and booted' gang. When I moved to a fintech business dress code was smart casual including jeans, this was completely alien to me and I really struggled, however, I quickly found that what you wore did not define how you performed.

“Particularly since Covid and many of us are working in various environments but more from home than ever before, comfort is key. Be respectful of your environment but for me I'm ok in casual where appropriate.”

Regardless of which approach a business decides to take during their interview process, it is widely agreed that the outfit requirements should be shared beforehand to avoid any potentially awkward interview encounters, with Leon adding,

“It really all depends on the company that you are joining, expectations should be set for the interviewee.”

At MERJE, we always recommend that candidates retain an air of professionalism when it comes to attending an interview, but we understand that they also need to feel comfortable in themselves.

Our top tips for looking the part at a job interview:

Err on the side of caution

If you’re not sure what the best interview attire will be, choose something smart and you can always amend your look for further interviews.​

Make sure you’re comfortable

Squeezing yourself into a tight pair of trousers or forcing yourself to wear an itchy jumper will only serve to distract you and the interviewer from the matter at hand.

Consider the industry you’re interviewing for

Applying to work in a kitchen? Hygiene is going to be a big priority. Going to formal meetings with clients in your new job? Dress as you would present yourself in those instances.

Consider the interviewers comfort too

Avoid using an overpowering perfume or aftershave, or busy, distracting clothing. Again, these can divert the interviewer’s attention and have a negative impact on your interview.

More quick tips:

  • Never chew gum during an interview

  • Avoid open toe footwear

  • Consider your posture and body language

  • Be prepared and lay out the chosen outfit the night before

Many thanks to everyone who voted in our poll and to Nick, Charles, Leon and Lisa for providing additional commentary.

If you would like to discuss this or any of the topics covered in our articles, please get in touch.