Tone down, win big: Dressing for interviews

Sydney Zink, Columnist

February is all about Valentine’s Day, Black History Month and awards shows. However, as we approach its end, the month also becomes about interview preparation (for the lucky ones among us, anyway) as internship and summer job searches continue. Though interview settings widely vary depending on what kind of work you are looking at, in what company and within what field, plus what interview stage you’re in, there nonetheless remain general guidelines for interview dressing every man should be aware of when preparing to seal the deal.

A properly-fitted collared shirt is an interview essential whether you are applying for a conservative or artsy opening, whereas a tie is often not absolutely necessary. A white button-down can easily fit either the creative or conservative realm, complementing both a power suit in a corporate interview and a tasteful cardigan (think Ben Whishaw in “Skyfall”) in a more laid-back environment. White generally creates a cleaner, crisper look than a blue or pastel and appears more practical than a pinstripe. Indeed, though perhaps unexciting in social fashion, words like “simple” and “practical” are your wingmen when it comes to styling yourself for interviews. You want your credentials, not your dress, to make you stand out.

Subtlety does not apply solely to shirts. If you are going to wear a tie, your best bet is to wear a modest one in terms of both tone and pattern. Fabric types are also a strong indicator of where your outfit rests along the spectrum of too casual to too formal, and your tie may likely become a focal point of judgment for these conditions. A too-skinny tie or one of solid-patterned silk may look too formal for the internship or entry-level job you are vying for.

Whereas the saying “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” is senseless if it’s taken to mean showing up to your library work-study job dressed as a race-car driver, the advice is useful in interviews. In this context, it means to dress boldly but smartly. Interviewing for a hip graphic design position may warrant dressing somewhat trendily but only with a select few pieces. Mind that dressing boldly to show that law firm you’ve got some nerve is risky; for an intern, such audacity may read as narcissism or disrespect for the position.

Whereas dress is a key expression of personality in personal life and conformity is typically looked down upon, the latter is safe to exercise in interviews. Let your clothing reveal your sensible approach to a work environment, and let your spoken, involved self express how unique you are. Good luck in meetings ahead!