How to dress for an interview in this day and age

Posted Thursday, March 8th, 2012. Filed Under Financial Empowerment

I want to share an article from the website:

By Mitchell Stephenson
December 19, 2011

Question on an interview: Q & A

I have an interview coming up at a nonprofit and wanted to know about appropriate interview attire. I haven’t worked in the nonprofit sector so I wasn’t sure what rules apply.
The importance of image

It cannot be stressed enough how important image is to the hiring process. Although many of us feel it’s unfair to judge people based on their appearance, manner of attire, and general demeanor, the reality is that we all do it since it forms a large part of the input we use to form our decisions on people. Whether you are interviewing for a role at a nonprofit, a for-profit corporation, or even the circus for that matter, the key is to live up to other people’s expectations of us. If you have a plumbing problem at home, for example, and one of the plumbers shows up in a well-pressed Tuxedo – while impressive, would that indicate to you the message “I’m ready to dig in and get dirty” in order to solve your plumbing problem?

Dress for success

While it can be more difficult in these days of uncertain dress rules concerning normal business attire, there are still some general rules of dress that should be followed. For both men and women, it is always better to err on the side of being seen as appearing too dressed-up or conservative than being perceived as being too casual. For the interview, try to always dress one level above what you’ve been told the office dress code is: If it is business attire, be as formal as you can, if it is business casual, stay at the formal business level, and if it is casual, dress at a business casual level. Jeans, shorts, halter-tops, T-shirts, running shoes, and other casual wear should always be avoided for the vast majority of opportunities that most of us would face. If you are unsure of the standard dress code, call up and ask someone who works there.

Formal business attire

For men:
Usually, men can’t go wrong with a two-piece suit, either single or double-breasted, in blue or grey. A 100% cotton shirt is also appropriate, preferably white, a neutral beige or blue pastel. A tie with colours that complement the colours in the suit and shirt, and black dress shoes (clean and polished) complete the ensemble.

For women:

A skirt or pant suit in power colours, such as dark blues or even red project a very powerful professional leadership position. Complete the look with matching dress shoes (clean and polished), with heels no higher than two inches.

Informal business attire (“business casual”)

For men:
This attire is defined as consisting of dress pants, sports jacket, cotton shirt (white preferably, or a neutral beige or blue pastel), with optional tie. Black or brown dress shoes (clean and polished) complete the ensemble.

For women:

A skirt or pants paired with a blouse or sweater is a good combination. Complete the look with matching dress shoes (clean and polished), with heels no higher than two inches.

For both men and women in all situations, jewelry should be minimal and not distracting. Again, err on the side of conservative and wear less jewelry. Consider taking out any visible body piercing jewelry.

DRESS TIP: If you don’t feel that you need to change when you go home after the interview, you’re probably underdressed!

What else to bring: Accessories

A very important part of your image are your accessories. The interview is not a safari after all — you don’t need very much in order to survive for the next hour or so, and remember, the more you bring, the more you will have to pick up and keep track of. Too many accessories can be a source of real distraction for both you and the interviewer, and take away from your professional image. You have enough to think about already, and this is a business meeting after all.
Bring a portfolio or briefcase with three extra copies of your resume and two pens. Don’t forget your personal organizer or appointment book for arranging next interviews, if necessary. And have enough money to cover any incidental expenses such as parking.

For women, consider carefully whether you need to bring your purse at all to the meeting. If you do want to bring a purse, keep it small and presentable. You are trying to convey a professional, organized image, so fishing around for a pen in a sea of clutter doesn’t look good.

Good luck!

Mitchell Stephenson M.A., CPCC, is a senior partner and a certified professional career counsellor at Catalyst Careers, a career transition, counselling, and outplacement firm. Mitch has been involved in human resources, career counselling and coaching in the health and legal sectors for many years. To contact him, visit:

To submit a question for a future column, please email it to No identifying information will appear in this column.

Disclaimer: Advice and recommendations are based on limited information provided and should be used as a guideline only. Neither the author nor make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in whole or in part within this article.

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