How to Dress and Impress at an Interview

How to Dress and Impress at an Interview

Before I set up Born Elegant, I spent a long career as a Headhunter working for Financial Institutions in the City of London. This is known as Executive Search and is when you are asked by a Client to fill a role. You go out and look and speak to sources in the market to find suitable Candidates for the role (most who are already working but you approach them with the prospective position).

Therefore, I spent many years interviewing people and know what Companies expect and how to make the best first impression. So, I thought I would pass this information on. Some things I state are the obvious but it is amazing how many people fail because they have not taken enough time on their appearance and preparation despite having a wonderful CV. Or have not behaved correctly.

I don’t want to stifle individuality, however, these are tips for getting hired. Once you have the job you will see what the dress code is and what you can and cannot do.



  • Only wear ONE pair of earrings (even if you have multiple piercings). Small studs – not large hoops. No nose rings. If you are a man then don’t wear any earrings for the interview. The interviewee should not wear lots of jewellery. Keep it minimal for the interview.
  • Hide your tattoos. Wear long sleeves. Obviously if the interview is to be a Tattoo Artist then have them on display!
  • Have clean and tidy hair. If you are a man with long hair then tie it back. However, many institutions that are more formal would want short hair. If you are a woman and its very long hair then tie it back in a bun or pony-tail. If you have bright pink coloured hair then depending on the job you are after – you may have to die it to a natural colour. It won’t be right for a job in a bank. However, you may get away with it in a very creative environment.
  • Wear clean shoes. If you are a woman do not wear heels any higher than 3 inches (worth keeping to this height at work – stick to the really high heels for when you go out after work). No bright coloured shoes (you can choose other colours and styles once you have got the job). Black, brown, navy or beige. Classic court shoes. For a man, ideally go for black smart shoes (eg brogues/black lace up).
  •  FOR A WOMAN dress in either a smart suit or dress. NO low cut tops. See ‘Work Dresses’ on Born Elegant for ideas. Do not wear heavy make-up and look orange with fake tan.
  •  FOR A MAN dress in a dark grey or dark navy suit – looks smarter than black. Wear a shirt and tie. If you are applying for a job in a more creative atmosphere then smart chinos, shirt and tie and a smart jacket is fine. It is better to over dress than under dress for the interview. It shows you have made an effort. Gives a better impression.

If you are on a tight budget and do not own any of these things and simply cannot afford to buy something new then check out charity stores. You never know what you could find. However, make sure they are cleaned before you wear them and if you are wearing a shirt that it is ironed.



  •  If you are met at reception by the Interviewer, then stand up as soon as you are approached to be taken into the interview room. If you have already been taken into the interview room by an Assistant then sit in a chair facing the door, take your overcoat off (not your jacket). When the Interviewer comes into the room stand up and introduce yourself offering a firm handshake.
  •  ALWAYS arrive at least 5 minutes early for the interview. If for some reason you are going to be late because there is an unforeseen incident then call their office and explain what has happened and that you will get there as soon as you can.
  • Bring with you 2 clean, unfolded CVs which the Interviewer/Interviewers can keep. For details on how to write a CV then a very good guide is one provided by Recruitment Consultancy, Michael Page.



  • Google for ‘News’ about the Company which you are interviewing for. Know their competition. In the ‘News’ part on Google you may read that they have just acquired another Company or won a big contract. Somehow mention that in the interview. It will impress them.
  • Preparation for the interview helps when they ask you the question – ‘So, why do you want to work for x Company?’ Know your answers and sell yourself by explaining your background and why you feel you are right for the role. For more junior roles they often ask the question. ’What are your best qualities and your worst ones?’. The first part is easy and most people say they are hardworking, work well in a team etc. The second part is trickier. I always used to say I was a perfectionist (which I am) and so I was conscious I had to be strict with myself and my timing to ensure I got things done in time. However, as I was aware this was a weakness – I would always reach the deadline.
  • A great book to buy and read before you start job-hunting or going for interviews is ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ By Susan Jeffers. It’s a paperback.   I bought it before branching out and starting my own business. You can apply it to any part of your life. It gives you the confidence to take action and not fear the outcome, whether it be going for a new job, changing careers or whatever. As you read it highlight the bits that really have meaning to you – that way when you re-visit the book you don’t have to read it all over again. I am always picking up the book if I have a wobble and need that extra push to do something.



  • When looking for a job decide which companies you would want to work for and check out their websites as often they advertise positions online. If you have experience then sign up with recruitment agencies. However, BE PRO-ACTIVE and don’t sit back and expect them to be calling you with regular updates. Better to be master of your own destiny. Nothing worse than sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.
  • Particularly early on in a career – even if a company is not advertising a job, try and get work experience as it may be a way in as they may ask you back in a couple of months to interview for a role or even offer it to you outright.
  • The Sunday Times publish a list of the best big companies to work for in a survey – should you want to check that out online. Or just Google best companies to work for and see what is written. If you live in London there is a Library called the City Business Library that should have information on big corporations, legal firms etc.
  • The internet is a precious tool for getting names and titles. So, if you want to work in Marketing for X company then google Marketing director of X Company and look for a name. Type a covering letter and enclose a CV. Sign it with a blue or black INK pen. Plus this is a key thing to do. Write in INK the name, address, title and company address on an A4 white envelope, writing in the top left hand corner ‘Private and Confidential’. Send the letter recorded delivery and signed for. When you do this the secretary does not open it and the recipient does. You might get them on a good day and they take the time to look at your CV and invite you in for an interview. Do this for job-hunting and when wanting work experience. I used to send letters on a Wednesday – so it was almost the weekend when they received it and so they were most likely to be in a positive mood opening it.
  • For a young person just starting out – once you have your list of companies you want to do work experience with then ALWAYS type a letter specific to each individual company. Show you have knowledge of them (eg they have just bought x company etc) and explain why you want to work with them. Make it more personal – not a round robin one. Companies know. You need to stand out. So, send a covering letter and a copy of your CV. If you are starting out in your career then do not make your CV too long. In Hobbies and Personal Interest at the end – if you have done something interesting then put it down, such as worked for a Youth Club in your spare time, raised money for x charity by climbing Ben Nevis, Ran the London Marathon for x charity. Backpacked all around Asia etc.
  • It may seem old fashioned to you to send a cv by post but it makes you stand out and gets to the right person. You can always send another CV via the internet at a later date should they want it in this format. If you have not heard back from them after 2 weeks and are applying for work experience call their office. Hopefully you will get through and politely introduce yourself and explain why you are calling ie about the letter you wrote. What is the worst that can happen – they may say they do not do work experience placements or they may be impressed that you have the confidence to do this and invite you in for an interview.

Finally, if you don’t get asked back for a second interview, don’t despair. Practise makes perfect.

After all, Churchill was quoted as saying

’Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts…’