Dress One Notch Up

Recently I was asked by a young male seminar participant, “I’ve got an interview with an advertising agency next week. What do I wear?”

The reality is most job interviews are a competition. It’s not just how you look, act and express yourself that matters, it’s how you look, act and express yourself in comparison to the other candidates that matters.

If you apply to a dot com business where everyone is in jeans and a t-shirt and you show up in a suit, you don’t look like you belong. Conversely, if you apply to a private investment bank where business formal is the norm and you show up in khakis and a golf shirt or even a button-down shirt with no tie, you may have significantly hurt your chance for the job before you answered the first question.

My advice? Dress one notch up. Find out what the people who work at that agency wear to work and then kick it up a notch. If they wear golf shirts and khakis, you wear a button-down shirt, no tie, slacks, and maybe even a jacket or blazer. Your goal is to look like you fit in.

During the twenty years I owned an advertising agency, I interviewed dozens of job candidates. I was amazed by the people who came in for an interview dressed inappropriately. Most were dressed too casually, and many displayed body language that was unprofessional, like slouching in the chair or not being able to look me or other staff in the eye as we talked. I couldn’t help but wonder: If that’s how they dress and act for the interview, how are they going to dress and act when meeting clients or prospects when they represent my business and me?


So, how do you find out how people at that business dress? If possible, try visiting the day or two before your interview. Introduce yourself to the receptionist, and take a moment to observe how people are dressed. In addition, check with the receptionist or assistant to confirm the name, spelling and pronunciation of the person or people you’ll be meeting with. If you do it correctly and your competitor doesn’t, you’ve got a leg up.

Regardless of business casual or business formal, wear clean clothes, ones with no stains or odor. Clothes should be lint-free and pressed as well. Better yet, today’s no-iron shirts and pants are a great way to look sharp without having to do the ironing yourself or pay to have your clothes pressed. And while you’re at it, check your personal grooming: hair, nails, teeth, breath, and beard.

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