5 Things You Should Never Wear to a Job Interview

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: March 10, 2014

First Impressions Matter

You’ve made enough of an impression with your resume and job experience to get an interview, and in that first seven seconds when you walk through the door, research suggests the person on the other side of the table is going to size you up.

And as we all know, first impressions matter. A lot.

What you wear – and, perhaps more importantly, what you choose not to wear to that job interview – could make all the difference in whether you get your foot in the door. “The person should not notice your clothes,” Barry Drexler, an interview coach with Expertinterview.com, said in a recent interview. “They should notice you in your clothes.”

5. Pass the Sniff Test

A wise father once said after getting a whiff of his son’s cheap cologne, “It’s cheaper to take a bath.”

Avoiding a strong smelling cologne or perfume might just be the key to keeping yourself in contention for a job. “Body odor is certainly offensive, but a strong cologne or perfume can also be offensive,” Drexler said. “You don’t want to wear anything overpowering. You don’t want people to be distracted by your perfume or cologne.”

If the smell remains in the office even after you’ve left, it can leave a lingering doubt in the mind of the manager about whether you’re the right fit for the job. And if it comes down to you and one other equally qualified candidate, do you really want the tiebreaker to be your pungent aroma?

“There are a million things that could go wrong with perfume or cologne,” Drexler said. “You could remind them of an old boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s best not to wear anything. It can only hurt you. It won’t help you.”

4. Putting Your Best Feet Forward

Want to show you’re a polished candidate? Throw some polish on your shoes, it could just help you get a foot hold on that new job.

Along with avoiding scuffed up loafers, you definitely want to leave flip flops and sneakers in your shoe bin.

“Foot wear needs to be impeccable and polished and needs to match your interview,” Drexler said. “If it’s corporate finance, you might want to have old fashioned wing tips. You want to air on the more formal, than less formal.”

Even if you know a company boasts casual attire for its employees, slipping into something more comfortable for an interview is a step in the wrong direction. “You’re a candidate. You’re not an employee yet,” Drexler said. “They’re not going to fault you for being overdressed.”

For women, open toe shoes can be a nail in the coffin and if you want to wear a heel, keep it on the down low.

3. Don't Reveal Too Much

You wore that low-cut blouse to a dinner party and the raves kept coming. But wearing anything too revealing to a job interview can expose you – and not in a good way.

“If you’re a woman and you’re interviewing with a woman, you don’t want to be too showy,” Drexler said. “How you dress should be targeted to who you’re interviewing with and what type of job you are trying to get.”

Jobs in finance and academics call for a more conservative approach. “You have to tailor it toward the person who is doing the interview,” he said. “You really have to gear your dress to the type of job.”

There are times when it’s OK to be a little more daring. For example, if it’s a sales job you’re after and getting someone’s attention is important. “You can be slightly more provocative,” Drexler said. “After all, that’s what sells.”

2. Don't Be Too Flashy

A green jacket may be something you strive for at the Masters, but when it comes to what to wear to an interview, avoid flashy colors and out-of-date styles for suits and jackets.

“You should have a suit,” Drexler said. “In certain parts of country you can get away with slacks and jacket, but you have to invest in quality clothes that fit you well.”

Poorly tailored clothing that comes easily untucked sends a message to the interviewer that you lack detail and that you don’t care enough about yourself to care about the job you’ll be asked to do.

“You need well-tailored, impeccable clothes,” Drexler said. “They will judge you on that.”

Accessories can be just as important. If it’s a job in finances or high-end products, you may want to wear a shirt that requires cufflinks. If it’s a job in the fashion industry, the clothes, shoes and accessories have to be trendy.

Depending on the type of job, it may be just as important to tone it down. “Don’t show up in a $1,000 suit, if the job pays $40,000 per year,” Drexler said. “You don’t want to be too trendy for a back office type job. That’s off-putting.”

1. Don't Hang by a Thread

Those black slacks that you bought three years ago still fit well, but time has taken its toll on the stitching. Should you wear it anyway? Frayed? The answer is a resounding no.

“You don’t want to look like your clothes came out of the back of the closet,” Drexler said. “You don’t want to wear clothes that are frayed, old or clothes that don’t match the job.”

For women, all that glitters is not gold when it comes to jewelry. Keep it simple and avoid things like heirloom brooches and gaudy belt buckles.

“You shouldn’t wear anything that will distract the interviewer,” Drexler said. “They’re going to judge you by the clothes you wear so they have to be impeccable.”

Remember, it could be all over in seven seconds.

Get the Interview, Dress the Part, Then Negotiate

In addition to helping out with your fashion choices on job interviews, Salary.com can help you get paid fairly what you do.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.