Paper: How not to stuff up your job interview

The second most important question is about what to wear. If you don’t want to ask, or if the answer is vague or unhelpful, or if the company’s social media pages do not give suitable hints follow this:

There is a huge debate around this subject all over the world. Some say that an interviewer should not be influenced by the candidate’s clothing. Others say that the candidate should express himself freely. Still others say that the candidate should dress in a manner consistent with the style of the company he wants to join.

I’m the worst person in the world to advise on this because throughout my working life I have used clothing as a weapon. I have worn certain clothes with the specific intention of causing a degree of instability in meetings, I have worn accessories with the intention of distracting a judge or endearing myself to him, I have worn scruffy clothes to sit on highly professional platforms at high-level conferences for the precise purpose of proving that, when it comes to assessing a person’s merits, presentation is not a guide.

But, in relation to employment interviews, as an employer, I always tended to a combination of two views.

First, I want candidates to recognise that if they work for me, when they go out, they represent me, my companies and our ethos. It’s basically the same basic principle as the idea that pupils represent their school whenever they wear the uniform and must abide by standards set by the school.

Secondly, I would not expect a student to spend a lot on an outfit for an interview.

My basic rules would be:

First: do not wear clothes that make a statement, no matter what that statement is. While some employers might agree with your statement, many more either won’t agree or will not approve of the making of it in office hours. So, statistically, you should leave your opinions, beliefs and culture at home.

Maybe, once you are in the workplace, there might be wider acceptance, even a welcoming but at interview time, play safe unless your research into your interviewer reveals a preference that accords with your own. Then you might find dressing to that preference works in that specific instance.

For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not saying to dress in a way that offends your beliefs or culture: but there are ways of dressing which respect those but which do not say “this is what I stand for above all else.”

For men: no shorts, jeans or casual shirts. Do wear proper office shoes with socks, office trousers and an office shirt. They should be clean and, ideally, not crumpled.

I do not, in this climate, expect a jacket and tie but, ironically, local bosses generally do for any executive post.

Wear a subtle watch and, if you choose, a wedding ring.


If you carry a handbag, and many men do – I have since the 1970s – that’s fine but be aware that you may have nowhere to put it in the interview room. Women can wear them on a strap; on a man it looks silly.

These days a plain, dark backpack that you can put on the floor next to your chair is a very acceptable alternative.

Wear after-shave or cologne if you wish but do not wear strong smells.

Do not put anything in your top pocket, be it shirt or jacket.

And think.. interview kit can be expensive, especially if you have to buy a suit and a bag.

So share: a group of you who have similar sizes can go to shops like Marks and Spencer and buy one pair of identical trousers each and one jacket between you. Single breasted jacket sizes aren’t especially noticeable for e.g. a 36 inch v a 38 inch chest.

And as you will each only wear it for about an hour per interview, sharing really isn’t an issue.

You could even try it with shoes. Before you say “ewww” – remember that many, many people rent their suits for weddings and rent a dinner jacket for formal events.

Many women rent wedding dresses and evening gowns.

It’s not ewww.. it’s sensible.

And, while everyone would notice if multiple women attended for interview in identical clothes, absolutely no one is going to see beyond the colour of a man’s suit so just choose a plain dark grey or blue without stripes or patterns and you are good to go.

Do not wear a bold tie: your objective is to get the panel to look at your face, not below your chin.

For women: a plain colour straight skirt or pair of tailored trousers and an office-shirt style blouse or a below the knee dress are ideal. You can pair that with a jacket if you wish. Do not wear a tight skirt. If it pulls over your tummy or bum or, worse, shows a visible panty line, it’s too tight. You’ll look like an aunty trying to fake being young. Just don’t do it. And don’t wear yoga or ski leggings, either. Again, just don’t. Unless you wear a skirt over them and if you do, not a micro-mini.

Stick to neutral colours without bold patterns. If you have long hair and choose to wear it loose, wear it down or in a pony tail. Do not use pigtails or tie it up as if you are working for an airline.

At a push, a French plait can work but it’s a pain to do well and the last thing you need on the morning of an interview is to have stress over your hair.

Wear a subtle watch and wedding and/or engagement rings only. If you really must wear earrings, keep them small. Wear court shoes. The same goes for perfume as for colognes.

Never, ever, turn up in training shoes or flip flops. Do not display tattoos or piercings unless they carry a religious significance and their absence would be noticeable.

Keep jewellery subtle – you want the interviewers to look at your face, not at your bling. As a woman, the last thing you want is a man staring at your chest trying to work out the design of your necklace. Which I guess also tells you what you should think about with necklines.

Both men and women should pay attention to their nails: they should be clean and tidy and, ideally, a little bit shiny. A buffing block is a few ringgit at Body Shop and it lasts for years. Hair should be clean. If it’s dull and lifeless and dying at the ends, get it trimmed.

Make sure your shoes are clean, including the soles and the heels. Shiny is good, mirror finish is a bit over the top.

If you smoke, do not smoke on the day of the interview and do not go where others smoke until afterwards. Do not let your clothes or your breath send out a stinky message. It’s probably best not to eat at a fried food stall just before your interview, for the same reason.

Control your sugar intake, too: be a bit cautious with how many teh tariks you have on the way to the interview. You do not need to be bouncing off the walls.

Don’t turn up at the building wearing a cap or a hoodie, for example. Remember that many companies have CCTV outside and in their lobbies. Your attitudes, style and behaviour can be examined from long before you appear in the interview room.

Also, remember that while you can check up on the company on social media, they can check up on you, too. Review your social media content before you start the process of looking for a job.

Photographs with bull-horn signs, tongues out, loutish or loud or otherwise inappropriate behaviour are unlikely to improve your chances.