Don’t Buy a Suit For an Interview

by Sharlyn Lauby on June 14, 2011

Wait, what?? A recent article posted on MSNBC.com suggested that job seekers wear suits to interviews as a means to stand out in the crowd.  You can read the article here.

I totally agree that job candidates should look clean and neat.  And they should dress in concert with the position they’re applying for.  If you’re applying to be a manager in a business office where everyone wears a suit, then yep, you should wear a suit to the interview.

Where I struggle with the piece is the suggestion that candidates should wear a suit “no matter what the prospective position.”  One person is business suit, dress, interview, recruitingquoted as saying you should wear a suit to interview with a fast food chain.  Really??  The article goes on to mention that the average cost of a suit is $500.

If you have a suit around the house, by all means – wear it.  If you have a friend or cousin that will let you borrow their suit while you’re job hunting – go for it.  But I honestly can’t in good conscience tell someone to spend $500 on a suit they might wear a handful of times.  Unless they have $500 just sitting around burning a hole in their pocket.

Two examples:  First, a theme park is opening here in Florida and hiring 800 positions, some are seasonal.  Starting pay is $7.75/hour.  A person would have to work 65 hours to pay for that $500 suit they purchased to get the job.  Or what about the company hiring 100 at-home workers.  Starting pay in the $9-10 range.  A person would have to work 50 hours to pay for the suit that they purchased to get a job working from home.

 

It’s difficult enough to find a job in today’s market.  Let’s not add to the burden by telling people to wear clothes they might never wear again just to get a job.  If a candidate is applying for a job where they will wear a uniform, they should wear neat, clean, pressed attire to the interview.  And, hiring managers should evaluate attire based upon that criteria:

Would this candidate come to work looking neat and clean?

Would they take good care of the uniform the company provides?

Let me know your thoughts on this.  Should candidates wear suits to interviews no matter what?  Or should the type of work be taken into consideration?

Image courtesy of laverrue

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HRNole1 June 14, 2011 at 6:05 am

I was once told “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. That seems to apply here. You want people top see you not only as a match for the job you are applying for, but as someone that has potential to grow & do more. That said, you should be one nothc above what you are applying for, becuase aiming too far above can be a disconnect that causes you to miss the target entirely (& the not get the job). Put differently, even if I had a $800 Jos. A. Bank suit in my closet, I wouldn’t wear it to a fast food manager interview (unless it was for a regional manager or some suitable level) but I’d wear slacks and a tie & perhaps a sports coat… If I were applying for HR Director I’d be in a suit, no matter what, but if it were for a business casual org (and I’d watch my surroundings carefully as I was broght into the office for the interview) Then I’d be certain to mention that I’ve worked in business casual environments before (some as HRD) and then (if I could work it in appropriately) I might joke about looking forward to saving money on dry cleaning if I got this job! (but take my cue from what the interviewer is wearing first!)

Kelly O June 14, 2011 at 7:20 am

I would agree that it’s all about the circumstances. The main thing to me is looking like you took the time to choose an appropriate outfit, and not look like you just rolled out of bed. (Granted, I feel that way about work in general, so I may be a bit biased.)

I know that it’s generally considered better to be over-dressed than under-dressed, but I think there are plenty of environments where a pair of slacks or a skirt and a nice button-down (with appropriate shoes and accessories, of course) are entirely suitable for an interview. I lost out on a job during my brief return to a retail sales floor because the hiring manager thought I was over-dressed and would take the job too seriously. I messed up another interview after that for not dressing up enough, again in a retail environment. In both cases, I misread the signs and it cost me.

Bobbi June 14, 2011 at 8:34 am

When it comes to interviewing there are all sorts of mine fields to avoid and the proper dress is definitely one of them. I totally agree with you, Sharlyn, about someone who works in a uniform everyday doesn’t need to wear a suit to the interview but should project a sense of responsibility and personal cleanliness.

I am an HR Director for a public accounting firm and when I am hiring someone (especially those who are fresh out of college) I ask myself “how client ready are they?”… basically meaning, how much work will we have to do to get this person in front of our clients. In public accounting dressing in a suit and having yourself really pulled together is critical, but in every job, the less “client ready” you are (whether you client is a fast food customer or a audience member at a theme park show) the more work & money we will have to spend to get you there… if you can save us time & money, you’re hired!

Ginger Dodds June 14, 2011 at 11:28 am

Sharyln,
I agree with HRNole1 – “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. I think it’s important to look neat and clean. Who wants to be distracted during the interview worrying about messing up a new suit? Being comfortable will go a long way to being at ease with the stressful interview process.

Sharlyn Lauby June 15, 2011 at 6:49 am

Thanks for the comments! I always enjoy reading everyone’s thoughts on this subject.

@HRNole – I’ve always liked that statement too. I had a tendency to think of it more as the way to get a promotion was to dress for the job you wanted versus getting hired.

@Kelly – I can definitely see how someone could interpret over-dressing as looking too far ahead and not focusing on the job being interviewed for.

@Ginger – Good point about comfort. Nothing worse than tugging new clothes during an interview.

@Bobbi – I really like the “client ready” approach. Great way to look at the attire situation.

And…I got this comment directly from a reader that I wanted to share:

A friend of mine, who is an image consultant, was asked what her son should wear to an interview for a Saturday job at a trendy retail chain. Most applicants wore a suit. He was decked out in the retailer’s brand, which targeted his age group, By doing this he demonstrated that he understood the brand because he wore it himself. He was also a nice guy who knew how to communicate, so not unsurprisingly he got a job.

Audrey Geddes June 16, 2011 at 1:15 am

I would have to agree with you on this one. Wearing a suit to an interview is case by case. I have been told on a couple of my interviews that I was actually overdressed :}. As a job seeker I want to know what human resource professionals actually require. A wonderful resource I came across is From Gatekeeper to Trusted Advisor by Andria L. Corso. It is based on the wisdom and insight of senior business and HR leaders in numerous companies of all sizes in a variety of industries. Before you go to that next interview, it is wise to read about the type of company you are seeking and what they require.

Marsha Keeffer June 17, 2011 at 12:26 am

Appropriate is the key. And when a candidate looks fresh, pressed, smooth and her clothing is so appropriate you don’t focus on it – to me, that’s a win.

Just wearing a suit is dumb. In companies that are less formal, men can get away with a nice pair of slacks, shirt & tie, and a sweater. But always, candidates that show up and blend in with the company prove they’ve done their homework.

Interview clothing becomes a kind of litmus test for candidates. If it’s an interview for a bank officer and she shows up in city shorts and flip flops, you’re pretty much done at hello. Interviewers do need to provide candidates with adequate info.

Great post, Sharlyn – this is a topic that we still don’t have nailed.

Sharlyn Lauby June 17, 2011 at 8:41 am

@Audrey – Thanks for the comment and the resource!

@Marsha – Agreed, clothing should not factor so much into candidate selection.

Audrey Geddes June 17, 2011 at 10:31 am

You’re welcome, Sharlyn! Your blog is a wonderful resource :}.

tracy c June 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm

wearing suits to an interview…even for unskilled labor type jobs…makes a HUGE difference. like it or not, it does. perception is reality, and if people perceive that you are professional, they are just going to make a lot of positive assumptions about you based on how you look. borrow one or get one from goodwill for 30 bucks and have your mom hem it. seriously.

Sharlyn Lauby June 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Thanks for sharing your POV Tracy. I totally agree with the perception is reality concept. I don’t agree that business suits are the sum and substance of professionalism. Case in point would be Scott Rothstein, an attorney here in my area. Wore a suit every day. He also ran the biggest Ponzi scheme ever in the state of Florida. Or Steve Jobs – never wears a suit but has lead Apple to some of the greatest tech innovations. I’ve also worked in many cultures where a guayabera or Aloha shirt were worn daily by the most professional people in business. My point is we should focus on the person and their skills – not their clothing.

Nate June 20, 2011 at 5:11 pm

If you have a suite, you have to rock it when going to an interview. The reason is simple. When you interview, you want to be confident. Who doesn’t feel like they can conquer the world when they put on a suite and look in the mirror? Its all about how it makes the candidate feel in my opinion.

I like the topic though- I bet a lot of people mull this over.

Anne Murguia June 24, 2011 at 1:20 pm

I agree with Marsha (above). Dressing in a way that’s appropriate shows that you took the time to understand the culture and environment of the company and even department.

In some companies, showing up in a suit would show that the candidate is out of it. In others, not wearing a suit, would be bad judgment.

If you don’t know for sure, ask the recruiter about the environment and expectations; they want candidates to succeed!

Sharlyn Lauby June 26, 2011 at 11:56 am

Thanks for the comment Anne. I like the way you’ve expressed the situation – dress for the culture.

Frank July 1, 2011 at 8:45 am

Good Morning Sharlyn,

I apologize upfront, but I have to disagree. I have been in recruitment and HR for a few years now. In general… the nicer you dress, the more you will impress the recruiter or whoever you are interviewing with. It’s human nature. I tell this to everyone – silly old saying – but you NEVER get a second chance to make that first impression – so make the best one you can!

Also, I am a HR director carving out a comfortable living for myself and have NEVER spent $500.00 on one suit. Sure, I have bought suits that retail for $500.00 but never paid that price for them. Example: went to a Banana Republic store last month and bought a $500.00 suit for less than $100.00 (on clearance of course). The list goes on. That figure is inaccurate – you can get great suits for significantly less than $500.00.

I agree that if you’re interviewing in a fast food environment or a company with a “casual” culture etc., maybe a black/blue suit and tie is too business. A nice dress shirt, pants and jacket is not. I have landed some pretty decent jobs – and have never NOT worn a suit and tie to interview. In addition, everyone needs to own a suit for special occasions (like interviews), but everyone need not spend $500.00 – there’s plenty of quality name brand items out there for much less.

Just my two cents….

Sharlyn Lauby July 2, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Hi Frank. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I actually think we agree on quite a bit. I totally agree with you that candidates should dress nicely for interviews. And we agree that a suit isn’t always necessary.

My point is we shouldn’t tell candidates to wear suits – regardless of cost – if the culture or job don’t warrant it. And hopefully if someone does need to wear a suit, they’re able to find one that fits well and is within their personal budget.

Jesus July 3, 2011 at 12:34 am

Shouldn’t it be part of the interested party’s homework? after all, if someone is interested to work at a certain place, he should have done some research about the place, customs, dressing-code (if any) etc. I guess as an interviewer it would tell me that that person did his homework prior to the interview.

Jesus
@J_R_G_H

Sharlyn Lauby July 4, 2011 at 9:15 am

Absolutely, it should be a part of research. And if a candidate doesn’t know, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask. Thanks for the comment!

cherfer February 26, 2012 at 9:21 am

everyone should have one suit. You can wear it to interviews, funerals, etc.

The average cost of a suit is not $500! Where did they even pull that number from? I got a really nice suit from the Limited for under $200.

Sean April 24, 2012 at 11:16 am

I agree, often times I think applicants get caught up in the idea that a suit is a must. Especially for jobs where formal dress is not required, or lower level entry level jobs, a suit will just make you look silly. Wearing a shirt and tie, or even a polo with nice pants may give the interviewer a better impression of you, as they will be able to see you fitting in with their staff. At the same time, for some conservative jobs a suit is a must.
Sean recently posted..50 Questions to Ask During an Interview

Noah August 15, 2012 at 5:58 am

I recently pieced together my own suit for less than 30 dollars. All the clothes are in extremely good condition, even moreso when you consider the cost. In our town a new store opened up called savers, which is essentially the same as a goodwill, but I digress. I purchased the following: Haggar Clothing Co 100% wool 2 button coat, a black/silver designer button down (Libia Lanza from Italy) a white button down(Murano), tie from FR Tripler and Co, pair of Dickie’s black, and a pair of Habland’s black. Black leather belt, As well as a nice pair of dress shoes(Florsheim) under 30 dollars for a nice suit that will last a couple years, and its cost effective enough I’d wear it to an interview for McDonalds, don’t spend hundreds on a brand new suit, or brand new anything when you can get the same quality for a lot less. Save money for more important things, like starting your OWN business. Just my 2 cents.
P.s. there are tons of blazers and shirts there to choose from, most under $6.

Callum wilson November 12, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Sharlyn, I think you are right, a fast food chain wouldnt expect you to turn up in a new suit. If you have one, then fine. Other than this dress for the job you want to get or are applying for.
Callum wilson recently posted..Working Your Notice

Jon H August 10, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Sharlyn wrote: “Or Steve Jobs – never wears a suit but has lead Apple to some of the greatest tech innovations. ”

Actually, when he was running NeXT Computer, between his stints at Apple, Steve did wear suits.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/steve-jobs-next.jpg

NeXT was marketing to customers like investment banks and the CIA, and selling (very expensive) computers via a chain of computer stores called Businessland, so he probably wanted to dress appropriately for the audience he was trying to appeal to.

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