Dressing for the interview by industry

What to wear on the big day depends on the industry and job you're pursuing. Here's a primer on how you should look by career area.

Dressing for the interview by industry

Interview attire by industry.

There's no getting around it: In every job interview, you're going to be judged—at least partially—by how you look, so you should pay attention to the interview attire you select for the big day.

That said, how you should look varies depending on your industry and the job you're interviewing for. Take a look at general business attire expectations for eight career areas.

Business professional attire

If you're interviewing for a finance job or baking job, remember that "nothing is more precise and exact than managing money," says Pamela Holland, chief operating officer for Brody Communications in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and coauthor of Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move? The same expectations apply to law jobs. "You cannot afford to have a hair out of place. Full business professional attire is required and expected," Holland says.

Business attire

You're allowed to dress one notch below business professional clothing if you're interviewing for a less corporate environment. For example, if you're pursuing a government job, "don't be flashy," Holland says. "This is a time to show you're responsible, trustworthy, and honest." 

"Be conservative with jewelry, makeup, and hairstyles," says Kathryn Troutman, author of Ten Steps to a Federal Job. She advises being conservative overall, but adds "the days of all white shirts for men in government need to end." 

Similar rules apply for salesmen, managers, and hospitality workers, where you'll be interacting with other professionals and clients throughout the day. Image is particularly critical in the hospitality and HR industries. A suit is appropriate for some positions but is not always a must. However, you always need to make a great first impression. "You're representing the company, and you may be the first person seen," says Carole Martin, a former Monster contributor and author of Boost Your Interview IQ. "You must look professional and authoritative. You'll need the look that you could handle any crisis and be dependable."

That doesn't mean you have to stick to the same old stuff. For example, a suit is the uniform for a sales interview, but you might be able to go with bolder designs and colors, Holland says. "The product or service you're representing will determine how classic versus trendy/fashionable you should be," she explains. Use your judgement. Nobody will take a car salesman wearing a bright-orange sport coat and fuchsia pocket square seriously.

Casual attire

Tech companies are known for having less formal dress codes than the corporate world. "If you're applying for a job in technology, you won't need a suit," says Martin. Applying for a job as an IT technician? "A collared shirt and khakis or slacks would work. Same goes for women—sweater or blouse and slacks or a skirt." 

Similar rules apply for manual labor jobs like factory workers, mechanics, engineers, construction workers. If you're expected to show up for work in clothing like cargo pants, reflective vests, and hardhats, you're probably not expected to interview in designer duds. 

John Coffey worked as a factory production manager for years before becoming a career success officer for Winning Careers in Woodbury, Minnesota. His take on appropriate attire for an interview for a trades jobbusiness casual.

"For men, this might be a nice pair of Dockers and a buttoned shirt, along with well-kept and polished shoes," says Coffey. "The same goes for women—nice slacks and a professional business top. I think a suit or sports jacket for this type of work is overkill."

That said, you should upgrade your interview attire if you're aiming for a higher-level job, say as a manager or executive. In that case, "you dress in the best clothes you have," says David Perry, managing director for Ottawa, Canada-based high-tech recruiting firm Perry-Martel International and author of Career Guide for the High-Tech Professional.  

Get a wardrobe check

Of course, one industry's excess is another industry's underdressed. So don't be afraid to ask HR what you should wear to the interview, because no matter what, "your packaging counts," says Holland.

That packaging includes the little things. "The details matter," says Mary Lou Andre, president of Needham, Massachusetts-based Organization by Design and author of Ready to Wear: An Expert's Guide to Choosing and Using Your Wardrobe. For example, shoes "should be in excellent condition, as should totes and outerwear."

"You really never do get a second chance to make a good first impression," Andre stresses. "By investing some time and money in creating a suitable interview wardrobe, you will invite others to easily invest back in you."

Find a job that fits you

Just like your interview attire should fit your measurements, you job should fit your needs. Having some trouble with that? Join Monster for free todayAs a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads.