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8 Things You Shouldn’t Wear to a Job Interview, According to CEOs

Even if your qualifications make you the perfect candidate, wearing the wrong interview clothing could damage your credibility—and cost you a job.

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First impressions are always important, but in hiring processes that only consist of one or two interviews, your first impression will often determine whether or not you get the job. Baron Christopher Hanson, CEO of RedBaron Consulting LLC, explains that appropriate interview attire varies based on the interview setting. However, “how you as a candidate show up dressed, groomed, decorated, and accessorized overall is going to be inspected in detail for your ‘perfect appropriateness’ for each occasion and meeting,” Hanson says. Here’s what not to wear in an interview, according to CEOs.

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Styles that don’t fit the company culture

It’s important to be mindful of the dress codes and expectations that exist in each office environment when choosing an outfit for a job interview. “Your wardrobe, accessories, and grooming decisions should be about the company and your role, not your lifestyle or activism or persona outside of work,” says Hanson. While dressing for an interview does require a certain amount of estimating, Hanson explains that “it’s important to do your homework and try to gather as much visual evidence as to how the company culture and dress code is at work or where your role will predominantly be based.”

If you’re still uncertain about the dress code after researching the company, Laura Hertz, CEO of Gifts for Good, suggests overdressing. “I’d say a good rule of thumb is to dress one level above what the folks at the company wear,” says Hertz. For wardrobe inspiration, Hertz recommends using Glassdoor, social media channels, and other sites related to the company.

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Heels that make you trip

Heels can make you feel powerful, confident, and professional—until you wipe out in front of your prospective co-workers. Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, recommends that “if you do choose to wear heels, they should be comfortable, stylish, and easy to walk in.” If you’re looking for a heel that conveys your qualifications and poise, keep your feet close to the ground. “Avoid stilettos or particularly spiky heels, especially if you struggle to walk around in them,” warns Sweeney.

If you don’t feel comfortable in heels, there’s no shame in benching the shoes altogether. The best way to demonstrate your skills is through knowledge and work ethic, not your balancing skills. According to CEO of ExpertSure Oliver Smith, “a great pair of black flats will do the trick!”

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Overwhelming amounts of color

“Wearing a bright color to an interview is completely acceptable if it correctly represents your personality,” says Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics. While clothing can be a powerful medium to express yourself, Masterson suggests “wearing only one bright item, whether it be a piece of jewelry or your blouse.” This will avoid distracting potential employers from what is really important: your qualifications. Masterson warns, “If the entire outfit is bright, you may scare your employer.”

It’s also important to consider the type of job you are interviewing for when assembling your outfit. CEO Deborah Sweeney explains that “a corporate office for an account executive role would be a good fit for neutral tones, while a startup seeking a graphic designer may lean towards a pop of color in their interview outfit.” The same goes for printed or patterned clothing.

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Bold or flashy jewelry

While diamonds are a girl’s best friend, you may not want to bring your friends to a professional job interview. CEO Deborah Sweeney advises to “keep it simple and tasteful. A nice watch or a wedding ring/band is enough.” If you think an interviewer may be distracted by your jewelry choices, minimize your accessories and keep the conversation focused on your skills. According to Sweeney, a great way to check that your outfit is appropriate is to “follow the Coco Chanel bit of advice to look at yourself in the mirror before leaving the house and remove one thing (whether it’s jewelry or an accessory, like a scarf) from the ensemble.” To enhance your outfit, try out these easy wardrobe upgrades that make you look expensive.

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Clothes that show too much skin

Employers normally don’t expect you to wear turtlenecks to the office, but you should be mindful of wearing low-cut shirts, short skirts or shorts, and other clothing items that may be inappropriate for the workplace. CEO Laura Hertz is “a big believer in being yourself and wearing whatever you feel best represents who you are as a human being.” That being said, Hertz admits that “some wardrobe and grooming choices are red flags for any employer, though, like showing off too much skin, wardrobe malfunctions, wrinkled, stained, ripped, or ill-fitting clothing.” CEO of FemFounder Kristin Marquet adds, “Tacky makeup and nails are also red flags (unless it fits into a company culture).”

Although your experiences and skills are undoubtedly more salient than a perfectly pleated pantsuit, interviewers appreciate clean, fresh, and conservative outfits. John Crossman, CEO of Crossman & Company, considers the impressions that his “top clients” would have of each candidate when he meets them. For many CEOs, style is an easy way to measure the initiative, responsibility, and seriousness of candidates. Avoid these outfit mistakes that make you look messy.

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A bulky bag

After carefully curating your interview outfit, it’s important to complement the ensemble with an appropriate bag. According to CEO Deborah Sweeney, “the bag should be nice and in a simple color. Keep it on the small side, if possible—nothing too big that it gets in the way or demands its own spot at the table.” If your bag fills up too much space between you and the interviewer, you may be perceived as withdrawn or difficult. In order to communicate flexibility and friendliness in an interview, be sure to pack light and keep your bag off the desk.

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Distracting backgrounds during online interviews

In this digital age, it is increasingly common for interviews to occur online through video calls. Renee Fry, CEO of Gentreo, explains that in these instances, companies still expect their interviewees to be “well dressed.” However, your clothing is not the only thing that matters. “If you are doing an interview online, the interviewers are looking all around the background to see what they can learn about you,” Fry says. In order to display your professionalism, choose a quiet setting with a neutral background for your call.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Carley Lerner
Carley Lerner is a freelance writer and former editorial intern for Reader's Digest. She is a member of the Class of 2021 at Duke University, where she writes for the school newspaper, The Chronicle.