Federal Careers

Dressing for interviews has gotten harder as workplace attire has become more casual. But one thing that hasn’t changed in the job search process is that people will judge you based on first impressions.

What you wear to an interview may have changed — in some situations — but the need to dress appropriately for the interview has not. It used to be that a suit (for men) and a dress (for women) was required attire for a job interview. Now, wearing a suit might actually work against you — for example, it might signal to a prospective employer that you don’t understand the organizational culture. (Particularly if the employee dress code leans more towards jeans and sneakers than ties and loafers.)


While it’s important to feel comfortable in what you wear to an interview, you don’t want to look too comfortable. Little details about your attire will likely be noted by the interviewer and can make the difference between getting a second interview (or job offer) or not.

Dressing appropriately for an interview demonstrates that you’ve done your research and that you pay attention to detail. Just like you study the organization’s website ahead of time to be prepared for a job interview, studying the company culture — especially as it relates to employee attire — demonstrates your interest in working for the organization.

The hiring manager can form an impression about you in the first five seconds of meeting you. Dressing appropriately conveys a very different impression than an impression made with poorly hemmed pants and shoes that are falling apart. It’s very difficult to change a first impression.

Even if your interview is a virtual interview (telephone or video — i.e., Skype), you should still “dress to impress.” Don’t make the mistake of only dressing your top half for a video interview either. There are dozens of horror stories about having to stand up suddenly or change positions and your suit-on-top-shorts-on-the-bottom look is revealed.

Interviewing When You’re Currently Employed

If you are job hunting while you are currently employed, you might find yourself wondering what to do if you have a job interview scheduled for a day you have to work. How do you dress for an interview when the interview attire is significantly different from what you wear to work in your existing job? You don’t want to show up for work in a suit when you normally come to work dressed in khaki pants and a button-up shirt.

Instead, plan to change clothes before your interview — but don’t change at your current workplace or at the company where you are interviewing. Instead, change somewhere in between — preferably some place that you will have access to a full-length mirror so you can double-check every detail of your appearance. If you don’t have time to go home, a mall or clothing store can be options. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to change and still get to the interview a few minutes early.

Interviewing at a New Organization

First, you need to research the organization’s dress code. How can you do that? Ask someone who works there. If you don’t know anyone who works there, go by the worksite at the beginning or end of the day (or during lunch) and see what people are wearing as they go in and out of the building.

Once you have a general idea of dress code, you need to decide how to apply that information to what you’re actually going to wear. One guideline for interview attire is to “Dress One Step Higher.” Once you know what an employee in the position you’re applying for would normally wear to work, elevate it one notch. So, for example, if the typical employee wears khaki pants and a button-up shirt, you might wear dress slacks, a blazer, and a shirt with a tie. For women, a pair of black dress slacks can be worn with a nice sweater and/or button-up shirt or blouse, or button-up shirt and blazer or jacket, and dress shoes or low-heeled shoes. A modest dress (knee length or longer in an interesting color or a muted pattern) is also an option.

Regardless, don’t let your clothes be a distraction. You want the focus to be on you, not what you’re wearing. Be remembered for your interview answers, not your interview attire.