Casual vs Formal: An interview style guide
It’s super stressful when you’re an upcoming graduate. Juggling late nights at the library for revision, spending hours meeting that 10,000-word target for your dissertation, and trying to find a job to walk into after graduation can get a bit too much. Not to mention that part-time job and trying to have some sort of a social life. When you eventually get invited to an interview, they are often with short notice and come around quickly — leaving you with little time to decide what to wear!
For formal interviews, you should adopt a professional look. These interviews could be in front of directors of the company for a graduate job or an internship. You want to look your best here; your appearance certainly counts, and with the high level of competition at this stage, you don’t want to fall at any hurdles.
In a professional situation, women should opt for a suit. When it comes to dressing the bottom half, go with what you feel comfortable in. If you decide to wear a skirt, wear one with a hemline just below the knee to avoid it rising and becoming too revealing. A suit doesn’t have to be boring — shop around and discover suits that are tailored in different ways — find one that suits your body shape. When it comes to footwear, heels are acceptable but make sure you can walk with confidence in them. If you don’t feel happy wearing heels, opt for pumps or shoes with a smaller heel.
Men should wear a suit when it comes to a formal interview, too. Wear dark socks to blend in with your outfit and bring a briefcase to look professional. Brogues are a good choice of footwear — they are stylish and smart without being mundane. Choose a tailored suit that you feel represents your style, a slim leg may be best suited for you and your shape.
Some interviews may specify business-casual attire on the invitation. This may be because they have this dress code in the office or it may be for an assessment day where you are expected to be there all day and recruiters want you to feel comfortable.
If you are unsure what to wear, it’s best to dress too formally rather than too casually to avoid giving off the wrong impression.
With a business-casual dress code, you have more freedom with what you wear than in a strictly professional interview. You could wear pinstripe or patterned dress slacks with a smart shirt tucked in.
Or, wear a smart shirt with a wide collar underneath a long-sleeved sweater. This look gives off a formal impression, whilst not as professional as a shirt and suit jacket.
For men, to be appropriate for a business-casual dress code, you should wear a dress shirt. Why not invest in a non-iron shirt? It stays free of creases and there’s no need to rush around with the iron the morning before the interview! Also, if you’re travelling by car or public transport to the interview, a normal shirt can become creased but this is avoided through the non-iron garment.
You should avoid a polo shirt, as this is too casual and still steer clear of wearing jeans.
Casual dress is suitable when you’re interviewing for charity work or a casual unpaid internship. For these interviews, it is likely that they won’t expect you to be dressed very formally, and will be more concerned with your personality, including your punctuality. Of course, it’s always good to make a positive first impression, so still consider what you’re wearing.
For women, skirts and jeans are appropriate in a casual interview — wear what you feel comfortable in. To ensure you still look presentable, you should avoid mini-skirts with bare legs and ripped jeans. You could wear a smart dress with tights and a cardigan or a shirt-jumper combo with a smart pair of slacks or jeans.
Since it’s likely to be a relaxed vibe, you shouldn’t worry too much about footwear. Opt for smart ankle boots or flat pump, and perhaps avoid trainers and high heels.
For men, it can be hard to dress casually without looking too underdressed. Jeans are definitely appropriate, but similar to our advice for women, steer clear of ripped jeans. You should avoid wearing joggers or tracksuit tops, as these will not give off the best impression. A safe option would be a long-sleeved top, jeans, dress shoes such as Chelsea boots or brogues, and a smart jacket.
What to avoid
As we can see, the main thing to do is to make sure you feel comfortable in your outfit — it will show in the interview! However, there are a few things that you should avoid:
- Too much perfume or aftershave.
- Too much jewellery or makeup.