Getting Started Job Interview Tips

Interview Wardrobe Mistakes That Will Cost You the Job

Written by Miranda Pennington

I remember one nerve-wracking moment in a recent interview I went on. I was wearing a perfectly appropriate dress, with a tidy tailored but still feminine vibe. But I accidentally took off my sweater with my raincoat, and realized as I reached for my folder of resumes that I was now wearing short sleeves, which wouldn’t have been a big deal… except for the tattoo I’d recently gotten on the inside of my bicep.

Fortunately, it was for a college-level teaching job where they valued my professional abilities and enthusiasm as much as my presentation; in a more conservative venue, it might have been a deal breaker. Now, it’s also true that I probably wouldn’t want to work anywhere that wouldn’t hire me because of my artwork or my jewelry, but that’s easier said than accepted when you need a job to live and, you know, eat.

That being said, here are 5 interview wardrobe mistakes that will cost you the job:

1.You forget to cover up any tattoos or body art


A wardrobe misstep shows a lack of judgment to a prospective employer. You want to show your personality, but in measured, deliberate ways. Even though I’m not embarrassed about my tattoos (they’re colorful and fun, like me!), I went into the interview expecting to not to reveal them, and I was flustered when I accidentally uncovered them. Know your outfit well enough that it can’t surprise you!

2. Your interview wardrobe isn’t industry appropriate


While covering my tattoos up wasn’t a mandatory gesture in the kind of teaching job I was interviewing for, in another job it might have been. On the other hand, the tailored dress I wore might have been too stuffy or formal for a more creative and casual environment.

On another recent job interview, I was over-dressed and it rebounded on me in more ways than one—the office was a zillion degrees and there was only so far I could push my sleeves up! Prepare for interviews the way you prepare for the Pacific Northwest. Light layers, coordinated colors.

3. Your interview wardrobe reveals too much skin


Avoid anything that’s distractingly short, ill-fitting, or tight. An interview is not the time to squeeze into your aspirational pants or the dress the dry cleaners shrunk that you’re still in mourning for. Get a second opinion from a friend in the know, whenever you’re in doubt. If I’d asked around, my colleagues elsewhere in publishing could have told me that dark slacks and a blazer would have been more appropriate than my erstwhile suit look.

4. You put your outfit together the morning of the interview


Practice ahead of time— try on your outfit a few days in advance! Make sure everything is pressed, clean, tucked in, and that your shoes match. Know how to get your briefcase or your folder open easily.

And stay calm! You’re still you, no matter what you wear—just put your best foot (and sleeve) forward.

About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.