Dressing the Part: Bringing Your Best Self to an Interview

· by Julie Blackmon

Julie is one of our Career Transition Coaches in our Outplacement group. She brings over 10 years of recruiting experience to her role. Julie has been with HTI since 2011.
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Interviewing well requires confidence, however, when you go through a layoff, it’s hard for your confidence to not take a hit.

And, when you aren’t feeling your best, it’s hard to dress your best. Especially if it’s been a while since your last interview. We often see candidates coming through our outplacement program that just don’t know what to wear for an interview. Never fear, help is here!

Before we get into clothes, let’s get some general grooming advice out there that’s helpful for everyone.

  • Hair – Hair should be well groomed and neat. This may mean that a fresh haircut or trim is in order. Guys, same thing applies for facial hair. You don’t have to be clean shaven (unless in a specialty role where you might have to wear a respirator or work in a clean room environment perhaps), but your facial hair should be trimmed and edged. (no neck beards please!)
  • Nails – Freshly cut and clean. No wild manicures or super long nails ladies! (or guys for that matter!)
  • Jewelry – Wedding rings and watches are ok. Ladies – simple necklaces or earrings are ok, but keep in mind for some plant tours you may have to remove jewelry.
  • Hygiene – You should smell clean, but not perfumed. Keep in mind that hiring managers could have allergies or sensitivities to certain smells. Same goes for smoking prior to the interview – just wait until you are done to indulge.

For dress, our general rule is to dress one step up from a typical day’s attire at that job. So, if you would typically be in blue jeans and a collared shirt on the job, dress in khakis or dress slacks and a nicer shirt. Let’s break it down a little more between men’s and women’s clothing.


In a higher level position, you can never go wrong with a classic suit. Keep colors toned down and simple. Suits should be black, navy or gray, with a simple shirt and tie combo. The last thing you want is for someone to only remember you because you wore a funky tie. Let your experience speak, not your clothes. In middle management positions, I love this look  – a classic pair of khakis with a navy sport coat and button down. A sport coat instantly elevates a work appropriate look to interview appropriate.

dress interview

For skilled hourly or hourly associates, we recommend a nice pair of khakis and a button down. Possibly a polo shirt, but it’s always better to overdress than under dress.


I know some of these steps seem simpler in men’s clothing, so let’s talk more in depth about ladies’ dress in interviews. Especially in manufacturing, the environment can be a little tricky. Typical interview advice might not work for an interview in manufacturing that could include a plant tour. You could be the exact right candidate, but safety regulations might not allow for a plant tour if you are in a skirt suit and heels. For this reason, I always recommend interviewing in flats if you are interviewing for a position that could get a plant tour. If you are interviewing in the accounting department of a manufacturing facility, you likely won’t need a plant tour, so feel free to wear heels, but an engineer needs to be prepared for a tour.

Again, for higher level management positions, a suit is totally appropriate, but I would keep it to a pants suit, not a skirt suit if a plant tour is on the table. Bare legs (or even stockinged legs) are a no-no on the vast majority of plant floors. For middle management positions, here are a few looks I love – swap out skirts for pants or heels for flats and you have some solid conservative interviewing outfits that aren’t too matchy-matchy, but are professional.

women interview dress womens interview dress womens interview dress

With ladies, one major thing to consider in your interview outfits is being conservative. Again, let your experience speak, not your outfit. We really want to avoid large accessories, crazy shoes, or unique hair and makeup applications. Trust me, you will be known as “the green hair girl” or “the girl with the huge pink purse”, not “the qualified candidate”.

Overall, keep the following in mind

Hygiene is important, conservative clothing is a better choice, and you want to be remembered for your interview, not how you looked.