What To Wear To An Interview: Advice From 3 Women Leaders

Arianna Huffington and other powerful women spill their secrets on dressing for success.

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When you’re looking for a job, the only thing tougher than getting a call back is figuring out what to wear to an interview. First impressions are everything: People at the interview will notice your outfit before you can elaborate on the highlights of your résumé and what you can offer their company. Plus, wearing clothes that make you feel great will help you exude that cool, calm, collected attitude employers are looking for. So how do you find that perfect job interview ensemble to impress the hiring manager, all while sharing your most authentic self? It can be tricky, and it requires the perfect balance of professional and expressive style, office-appropriate garments that aren’t too stiff (save your shoulder pads for an ’80s dance party, please!), and an overall look that fits the culture of the company where you’re applying. For expert advice about what to wear to an interview, we went straight to the source: successful women who were once in your shoes—trying to land their next great opportunity—and who have since climbed to sky-high career heights. Boss ladies Arianna Huffington (co-founder of The Huffington Post and chief executive of wellness company Thrive Global), Kelsey Haywood Lucas (content and marketing director at Girls’ Life, the renowned magazine for teen girls), and Nicolette Amarillas (founder of Expansive Voice’s Professional Women series, which offers career workshops to women) sat down with HealthyWay to share pointers on nailing your job interview and tips on picking just the right outfit for the big day. Oh, and in case you needed permission to take a last-minute shopping trip, consider it granted.

First Things First: Making a Great Impression

While many of us can be preoccupied with what to wear to an interview, making a great impression is about so much more than finding a flattering blazer and the perfect pair of heels. The meeting with the hiring manager can be a daunting moment. Some advanced preparation will go a long way to helping you feel self-assured and show your excitement for the position during the job interview. “Remember that much more important than how you dress in an interview is how you feel. Are you feeling calm, confident, and in control? It’s less about what someone’s wearing and more about how they present themselves,” says Huffington, who looks for candidates who are “confident and direct.” “Those are vital elements of any thriving company culture,” she adds. When there’s so much riding on a job interview, it can be a challenge to overcome the natural nervousness you feel leading up to the meeting. Practice and planning can make the hot seat feel a lot cooler, though. Rehearse your answers to common job interview questions, such as “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, with a friend—or even in the mirror. Your answers shouldn’t sound canned, but you also shouldn’t struggle to come up with compelling responses. Read up on the company’s history and any recent news; that knowledge will show that you’re seriously interested in the business. On the day of the job interview, try to be as calm and collected as possible—even if you’re buzzing with anticipation. “Getting to an interview can be stressful due to an array of issues, like traffic, so it’s important to leave with plenty of time to arrive early and take 5 to 10 minutes to decompress, close your eyes, and become present. Simply inhaling through the nose for six seconds and exhaling through the mouth for six seconds for 10 to 15 times can drastically decrease any mental stress you may feel in your body,” advises Amarillas. Your body language can play a big role in the impression you make during a job interview. Even if you’ve still got a few jitters, hide them behind a confident strut and perfect posture. “The way you carry yourself expresses so much about you. Keep your eyes forward, shoulders back, and chest proud,” says Amarillas. The conversation with the hiring manager during the job interview is the ultimate chance to share what you can bring to the role and how you can drive success at the company. “Tell your interviewer why you’re qualified, why you’re a great fit, and how you’d benefit the company—then back it up. I meet a lot of candidates who talk about why they want to work for our company and what a great opportunity it would be for them. Remember that when a company hires you, they are investing time and money in you, so you need to explain the potential return on investment,” says Lucas. But remember: The job interview is not one sided. It’s as much of an opportunity for the company to find the best candidate for the role as it is for you to determine if this is the right place to invest your talent and energy. “The best candidates I’ve ever met with are the ones who turn an interview into a conversation. Be fully engaged in what your interviewer is saying. Ask smart, relevant questions to create a natural flow without interrupting or veering off topic,” Lucas adds. Finally, express your gratitude to the interviewer for taking the time to learn about you and explain the details of the role. Then send a follow-up within 24 hours of the job interview to confirm your interest in the position. This step is even more important than figuring out what to wear to an interview. “A prompt thank-you note is always important—and it can trump even the most amazing outfit,” says Lucas.

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Deciding What to Wear to an Interview

Now that you’ve got a game plan for the meeting, it’s time to start strategizing your job interview outfit. Your closet might be bursting with potential options. How do you know what to wear to an interview? Successful women tend to take one of two paths: creating a versatile, go-to outfit that works for any job interview or customizing clothing to complement the culture of the company. Building one amazing interview outfit that you always come back to can help you feel confident as soon as you put it on and make it easy to get dressed up on short notice. “Pick out a go-to outfit—your ‘power suit’—and then repeat it for all interviews. And then once you get the job, don’t be afraid of continuing to repeat it. Repeats are my top style tip—men do it all the time,” Huffington notes. “Feeling like they have to pick out new outfits constantly can take up a serious amount of time for women. So pick out an outfit you like and then don’t be afraid to repeat it, again and again,” she adds. That being said, there are some benefits to putting together a job interview look that reflects the overall vibe of your potential employer. When you wear something that’s similar to (but slightly more formal than) what current employees throw on for work, it’s easier for the hiring manager to envision you joining the staff, and it shows that you understand the company culture. “Looking relatable is important. A dressier company should be met with a dressier interview outfit. Be careful, though. A laid-back work environment still calls for an intentional outfit. A dress or pantsuit might not be necessary, but a pair of nice slacks and a blouse would be perfect,” says Amarillas. If you’re not sure how people dress at the company, throw on your detective hat and start scrolling through social media. “I thoroughly encourage Instagram stalking of both the company and its employees because you might get a glimpse into a day at the office, which can help you prepare both mentally and sartorially,” says Lucas. “Aim for something that feels on-brand with the business but a little bit elevated.” When figuring out what to wear to an interview, comfort is key, whether you’re going with a standby outfit or coming up with an entirely new look. You should feel both physically comfortable in the garments (no shoes that pinch!) and with the style you’ve chosen. “There was a time when I’d try to dress on the more corporate and professional end of the style spectrum—and then I ended up feeling like a caricature of myself,” Lucas recalls. Eventually I realized that if I just aimed to wear a very polished version of something I was comfortable in, I was so much more confident. If you get dressed and you could never, ever see yourself wearing this outfit again, change immediately.” 

What to Wear to an Interview: Law, Finance, and Corporate Exec Jobs

Legal, finance, and corporate executive positions require a very professional, conservative look, such as a tailored pantsuit, for job interviews. You’ll want to look extremely polished to help demonstrate that you’d thrive in a high-pressure environment. This sharp black dress (made from eco-friendly fabrics) ($159) from Wallis Evera has that high-end look that works well for a corporate environment. Bonus: It has pockets! Looking for something with more of a sleeve? This classic navy wrap dress at People Tree ($119) is figure-flattering, work appropriate, and made with certified organic cotton.   If dresses aren’t really your thing (and the company is on the more casual side of corporate), put together some separates that will help you look the part. This tube skirt ($55) from Everlane, a company that works with ethical factories, features stretchy fabric that still looks structured. And since you can never go wrong with a crisp white blouse, this silk button-down shirt, also from Everlane, is a natural choice for a top. At the most conservative of firms though, women’s suiting is usually the only appropriate answer for what to wear to an interview. Fortunately, Theory’s got you covered. The brand’s tailored blazer ($395) and flare pants ($295) are part of their responsibly milled Good Wool collection and come in a bunch of flattering colors. Beneath the blazer, wear a basic silk cami, like this sophisticated, versatile option from Boden ($70). If there’s ever a time for heels, it’s when you have a corporate job interview. You could splurge on these gray woven pumps ($660) from Stella McCartney, the high-fashion pioneer of cruelty-free garment-making. Or pick up these vegan leather heels from VEERAH ($278), a company that sources all of its materials in a responsible way. The removable ankle strap is better suited for a night out, so skip them for the interview—then go out to celebrate! Whichever pair you choose, go with a 3 inch or shorter heel to give you a corporate-approved power walk.

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What to Wear to an Interview: Health, Wellness, and Fitness Jobs

Companies in the health and wellness industry look for people who are relatable, optimistic, and compassionate. These roles tend to require a lot of face-to-face interaction with everyday folks who are relying on your expertise to help them look and feel their best. When thinking about what to wear to an interview in these fields, plan an outfit that’s comfortable, welcoming, and fresh—nothing aggressive, as that might scare off clients. If you feel your best in a dress, this blue lace one ($59.99) from Mata Traders would be perfect for an interview at a company in the health care sector. It’s made in India at a fair-trade women’s co-op. For a more casual look, try this floral blouse ($138) from Amour Vert, a brand that only uses non-toxic dyes to color its silks. Its cheerful, natural vibe befits the wellness field and would look gorgeous over Everlane’s Italian GoWeave Easy pant ($88). Everlane ensures that ethical and environmental standards are being upheld throughout its supply chain. Flats are generally fine for interviews in these fields. Matt & Nat’s white ballerina flats ($90) are made from vegan materials and will give you a crisp, clean look. TOMS, the company that gives shoes to children in need, has taupe suede flats ($84.95) that would match either job interview outfit.

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What to Wear to an Interview: Tech and Start-Up Jobs

Tech and start-up workplaces are famous for their low-key, fun environments. Wondering what to wear to an interview at these laid-back companies? Show that you’d fit in at their organizations with a casual yet thoughtful interview outfit. A pair of minimalist sneakers will do the trick for an interview at a truly casual start-up. Slip-on sneakers ($136) from Ahimsa, which manufactures its vegan leather shoes using ethical practices, have a sleek vibe. These sneakers ($95) from Allbirds are on-trend in the tech industry. (Your interviewer might even be wearing them herself!) The process to create the comfy kicks out of New Zealand sheep’s wool uses 60 percent less energy than typical synthetic sneakers. You can’t go wrong with a pair of dark cropped pants, like these cigarette pants ($98) from Amour Vert. More comfortable in something form fitting? Try these gray cuffed pants ($115) from Wallis Evera; they’re made from high-quality, eco-friendly hemp and recycled poly. A white shirt will give your overall interview outfit a modern feel. You could go with a relaxed V-neck tee ($68) from Amour Vert. The price might be a little steep for a T-shirt, but the company makes it worth the splurge. For every shirt sold, Amour Vert plants a tree. Alternatively, ADAY offers a sophisticated yet casual option with their Something Borrowed Shirt ($135). Casual definitely beats formal in tech and start-up environments, but you still want to look smart for a job interview. This relaxed-fit blazer ($475) from Citizen’s Mark, a brand with a wool mill in Italy that’s dedicated to water conservation, will take your outfit to the next level. If you’re looking for a splash of color, try this ponte blazer ($150) from Boden, which has been a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative for 10 years and promotes sustainable practices.

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What to Wear to an Interview: Marketing, Publishing, Arts, Fashion, and Creative Jobs

Creative jobs—like those in marketing, publishing, fashion, and arts fields—allow you to be a little more experimental in what to wear to an interview. In fact, you should try to express your creative side in your interview outfit. A memorable look can help set you apart from the competition in these hot fields. Prints are your friend in this situation. The Virginia dress ($218) from Reformation comes in a pretty floral pattern that will show your interviewer that you’re not afraid to go bold. Or, slip on this floral pleated midi skirt ($85) from & Other Stories, which will stand out against this silk tee ($155) from Cuyana. Since you’re going fearless with printed clothing, play it a little safe with your shoes and look for a pair that’s structured and contemporary. The shoe selection at & Other Stories, which offers in-store recycling programs, has tons of options. We like these d’Orsay pointed ballerina flats ($85) or block heel suede sandals ($85).

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Finally, no matter what field or company you’re hoping to land a job with, definitely wear a smile to your interview. Being cheerful and friendly goes a long way in a successful career.

Joni Sweethttp://www.jonimsweet.com/
Joni Sweet’s journalistic pursuits and adventurous spirit have taken her around the globe—rafting down the Ganges, hiking the jungle of Borneo, and hot air ballooning over Cappadocia—only to land her in the most thrilling city in the world, New York. When she’s not traveling, she can be found taking yoga classes, trying out trendy spa treatments, discovering new vegan restaurants, and, of course, writing. She’s been published by National Geographic, Forbes, Thrillist, and more. Visit her site to see her latest articles.

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