You already know that it's important to look your best at a job interview, and that's true regardless of whether the interview is happening in-person or through a screen.
After all, first impressions stick, and you want to make a good one. But picking an outfit that's professional while still feeling at least somewhat personal can be tough, especially since company cultures differ and you never know for sure what the hiring manager will be expecting of you.
The thing is: what you choose to wear will reflect parts of your personality, and you want it to reflect all the best parts. Of course, your skills and experiences should be what land you the job (or what don't land you the job). But there are, of course, unwritten rules for interview outfits that can make or break your chances, too. Although speaking to a hiring manager may feel decidedly different over Zoom than it would from across an IRL conference room table, it's still best to assume that the usual rules of interview outfit etiquette apply here.
So, we asked hiring managers to tell us about the times that they actually rejected candidates because of their "outfit mistakes." Here's what they had to say.
"Because of the industry I work in, I unfortunately get the occasional candidate who comes in altogether inappropriately informal," says Ian Kelly, vice president of operations at NuLeaf Naturals. "We grow, manufacture and sell a CBD product — it is not intended to get the user 'high.' Still, we attract people who come in with the thought that we are all 'chill' all the time."
Kelly says he once had a candidate wear Rastafarian wristbands and a T-shirt, smelling of the substance the candidate had *hoped* the company was all about.
"It's a sore disappointment for them, I'm sure, when they realize we are a real business that needs employees to work efficiently," he says. "Don't get me wrong: We love to have a good time. But, if you come in for an interview, you need to dress as if you are ready to work — not as if you hope to open the door to a big party."
"I have interviewed several candidates for varying employment positions throughout the years, and attire is extremely important in my career field," says Chantay Bridges, a realtor. "If a candidate cannot exercise good judgment in what to or what not to wear for a job interview, I don't have to go much further to ascertain that they would not be a fit."
Because realtors have to regularly meet with strangers who tend to sum them up in a moment's notice, Bridges says, if she's not dressed appropriately, it can be the difference in clients wanting her to represent them in selling their home or not.
"Rarely do you ever have another chance to make a really great first impression," she says.
"While it is no longer necessary to wear a business suit to some interviews, it always pays to ask what would be appropriate and, in most cases, you can’t go wrong wearing a suit if you are unable to ask," says Bryan Zawikowski, vice president and general manager of the Military Division at Lucas Group. "What you choose to wear to the interview can push you one way or the other if the interviewer is on the fence about you, so it’s always best to err on the conservative side."
Zawikowski says his company has a casual dress code, and they tell candidates coming in to interview that they can wear what they wear. Some still come suited up, and he says that he is impressed by that. It tells him that they are taking the interview seriously.
"We had a candidate come in a few weeks ago that was over-the-top casual, and we chose to pass on him, even though on paper he looked like a great candidate," Zawikowski says. "He came in wearing jeans and a hoodie that he never took off, and his hair looked like it had not seen a comb in a week or more. His attitude was casual and unserious. In the final analysis, it wasn’t about the hoodie or the hair, but the attitude that it all conveyed — and that was not a fit for our culture."
"When I worked for my last company, I had to hire a small team of designers; this one candidate showed up for her interview wearing a Wonder Woman T-shirt, purple hair, cut-off jeans and flip flops," says Becky Beach, a design manager and blogger at Mom Beach. "I couldn't believe it! I felt disrespected, to be honest, that she would dress this way. T-shirts, cut-off jeans and flip flops aren't even allowed for employees to wear at the company. She seemed aloof and not very interested in the position, as well. It was too bad because her work was very detailed."
Beach says that she simply could not have someone with her personality working for her, so she had to pass this candidate up.
"I’ve had candidates come in where they were clearly underdressed but not to the point of the automatic disqualification — the hygiene was still present, and they looked dignified, despite this faux pas, thus, I chose to overlook this yellow flag and still give them a chance," says Pete Sosnowski, vice president of people at Zety. "On the other hand, I once had an instance where a candidate decided that it would be a good idea to show up in shorts and flip flops since it was a Friday and we’re a 'casual start-up.' Unfortunately not only did they look extremely disheveled, but the shirt was also clearly very dirty. Long story short: We politely informed them that it’s probably not going to work out."
So, Sosnowski says he certainly believes that “clothes don’t make a (wo)man,” he asks that candidates have enough respect to show up looking decently.
"There’s a reason why the rule of thumb suggests that it’s better to overdress than vice versa," he explains. "Ultimately, it isn’t about some draconian and arbitrary rules or to make candidates stress more than necessary, but it pays to think twice before you come into an interview looking like you were headed to your third beach party of the night."
"In my company, everyone can dress more or less the way they want; that means that no one is expected to wear suits or even a shirt, and we extend this principle to our candidates, so it’s fine if they show up dressed more casually than in typical corporate interviews," says Jagoda, a human resources specialist at Resumelab. "That said, there’s a difference between having a relaxed style and having dirty clothes. The latter is not a matter of freedom to dress how one wants, but of disrespect towards the interviewer. "
"One notable candidate was this man who wore slippers to the interview — he wore a suit and tie with black slacks, so the guy was almost presentable until you looked at his feet," says Anh Trinh, managing editor of GeekWithLaptop. "I asked him why he wore slippers for the interview. He told me in a confident manner that it was because he was running late."
Trinh says that, while confidence is "a big thing when it comes to the hiring process," this guy was cocky and showed from the get-go that he wasn’t someone who cares about his appearance or work ethic.
"I didn’t want to waste my time with this guy anymore so I kindly asked him to leave," Trinh says. "I learned an important lesson here. Although appearances aren’t everything, it does give you a brief idea of what a person is like. So whenever someone appears poorly dressed for an interview, I would kindly ask them to convince me why I should interview them in the first place."
"They say that the first impression is the last impression and, when it comes to hiring professionals, it is very true, says Jennifer, editor at Etia.com. "Even without speaking, people can convey a lot about themselves, and these managers are experts in these areas. Body language and tacit knowledge is very crucial. In a few months, we rejected a few candidates based on their attire."
One woman, Jennifer says, came to the interview wearing a T-shirt and jeans.
"This generally considered as lack of seriousness on their part," she says. "I work in a professional environment, and if some candidate can't be bothered to meet those standards for an interview, we don’t need them."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.