If The Shoe Fits: Dressing For Interviews And The Workplace

Don’t know the difference between black shoes and brown? You’d fail your investment banking interview before it even started. Take our advice on interview and workplace dressing, and you’ll look sharper than Patrick Bateman on a good hair day.



Perhaps you’re up for a City job, or you’re a budding graphic designer. Just as different companies impose different dress codes on their employees, every new job description requires a fresh approach. So what to wear for that all-important meeting?

Let’s start at the far end of the scale: life sciences and investment banking. If you’re up for a job in a highly corporate field like this, don’t skimp on the detail. Studies show that black shoes, well-fitting suits in blue or grey, and dark socks are a must. For boys out there a beard, whether culturally-motivated or otherwise, can reduce your chances of that job offer. Girls, I’m sorry, but wear heels. The aim here is to show that you’re a good ‘fit’ for the interviewer’s workplace. Walking in with a bright yellow tie/eyeshadow and flat, brown shoes is like taking a secondary school class dressed as Katie Price – inadvisable.

For less formal business and banking roles, similar rules apply. A job interview is not the time to drag out that novelty Bugs Bunny shirt your mum bought you for Christmas. For companies with a smart casual or more formal dress code, go for a suit. Wear a pale shirt, probably white or blue, with dark socks, black shoes and a sober tie. Ladies, don’t be whipping out that vampy dark lipstick; you want to look natural but enhanced. Play up one feature at most, and subtly at that.

For a company with a ‘casual’ dress code, they will usually warn you of this beforehand. Do not be fooled – if you turn up in a crop top and hot-pants, you will be judged. Boys, avoid hoodies and sweatpants; you’re not Mark Zuckerberg. Safe bets are trousers that aren’t jeans; girl can opt for a knee-length skirt. If you want to wear something shorter, layer it over opaque tights – your interviewer wants to see your potential, not your thigh gap. No stomachs, no cleavage, no ankles, no back-flesh. If the interviewer doesn’t specifically say to ‘dress casual’, play it safe and don a suit.

As a general rule of thumb, whatever the role you’re going for, make a little more effort than the company’s dress code demands. Recently, on the Today Show, top CEO recruiter James Citrin was asked how a graduate can best dress for an interview. His answer? “A grad should do her homework and then be 25% more formal than the prevailing dress culture.” So do your research into what they’re looking for, and surpass it – but not by too much.


The Workplace

Congrats! You got the job. Now to navigate the office politics, the water-cooler gossip and… workplace dress codes.

There are, roughly-speaking, four classes of workplace dress code: business formal; business casual; smart casual; and casual. Recently, more formal companies have been gravitating towards the relaxed end of the scale. Accenture and PwC have both implemented ‘Dress For Your Day’ policies, where employees dress as required from day to day, and JPMorgan Chase has switched from business formal to business casual. What’s important is that you find your employer’s policy, Google it mercilessly and work within those guidelines. Looking out-of-place at the office is a major faux pas, after all.

That said, it’s important to bring a little of yourself to the mix. You’re not a corporate clone; people want to see the real you. Whether it means wearing a patterned tie, or donning a red lip, you’re not at interview stage anymore – play with your work outfit and try to find something that is on-brand you.

On the subject of high-heels… Ever since PwC sent Nicola Thorp home for wearing flats, the heels-in-the-workplace argument has raged. We think that, in a casual or smart casual environment, flats are best for our go-getting girl grads. Comfy heels that can see you through the day are also good. However, in a more formal workplace, sometimes heels become necessary. You don’t have to wear them all the time, and please don’t lame yourself with a five-inch stiletto. But for meetings and other formal occasions, heels are often judged as appearing more ‘in-place’ than flats – and ‘in-place’ means ‘professional’.

Finally, it’s important to look and feel good – and not just because that cute gal in accounting might walk past your desk. Thanks to something social psychologists term “the halo effect”, we assume that people who look good also possess other positive qualities. I’m not saying you need to look like Tom Cruise. But if you want to seem committed, capable and intelligent at work, make an effort.

So there you go! There are some interesting studies on workplace dress codes, proving that different styles of outfit promote different styles of thinking. But, as a grad recruit, your most important job is to fit in and excel. Don’t let some fashion faux-pas stop you nabbing that tasty interview, and your dream job.


Susanna Quirke writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment firm which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs London, visit our website.