Suit up or dress down? What to wear to a formal or casual interview, revealed

Jan 25, 2018
Know how to dress appropriately for your job interview. 

IT'S common knowledge that you should at least try to dress well for a job interview.

But sometimes, “dressing well” is so vague that job seekers tend to ask, “Formal or casual?”

No need to be confused now, because according to our expert, your interview attire highly depends on the company you’re applying for. And rather than “dressing well” what you should keep in mind is “dressing appropriately” instead.

“By dressing appropriately, we mean something that should fit either any of these factors: 1) the industry you are a part of, 2) the position you are applying for, or 3) the company you want to be part of,” explains Mark Nichol Turija, marketing communications specialist at JobStreet Philippines. “Since the job you want is primarily affected by the company offering it and the industry it is part of, you may have to calibrate your clothing choices based on them.”

Now, here’s a cheat sheet to find out whether you’ll go formal or casual (AKA business casual attire):

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Formal = Corporate Industry (or if you’re applying for the managerial roles or senior, executive levels)

Casual = Creative / Startup Industry (or if you’re applying for entry or experienced levels)

If you’re applying for a corporate position, these should be your go-to items to achieve that formal look:

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Suit in a solid color (black, dark grey, or navy blue)
Long sleeved shirt (white or colored, preferably plain)
Leather belt
Leather shoes

On the other hand, if you’re going for a job interview which asks to dress casually, take note of these:

Pants in a solid color (khaki, navy blue, black, or dark grey—no maong jeans, please)
Button-down shirt (checkered or colored)
Leather shoes
Leather belt

Before going to the interview, it’s best to research the company you want to be part of—from the department, the people, and to the culture.

“Knowing these things give interviewers the impression that you want the job bad enough to exert effort in researching and finding out more about the company, including the appropriate attire for their office, as well as making yourself look like you already belong in the organization from the get go—because you already dress like them!” Turija says.

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Aside from the outfits mentioned above, minor details actually matter more to interviewers.

“Remember to double-check on nails, unpolished shoes, sweat marks, and uncombed hair,” Turija says.

Speaking of hair, men with long locks should still keep their hair in a slick ponytail—even if you’re applying for a creative job.

“It may be 2018, but unfortunately, there are still companies that may frown upon men wearing long hair or applicants with tattoos that cannot be hidden by clothing," Turija adds. "This is where the importance of researching on company culture steps in. If you are not comfortable with a company’s restrictions on attire and appearance, then it may be best to look for opportunities somewhere else.”

And as much as possible, avoid wearing the company colors—most especially when the company has uniforms or when you’re applying in the service industry, Turija cautions. He recalls a funny situation about a job seeker who tried too hard to blend in with the company she wanted to join.

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“I have a friend who had an interview for a hotel where she wore red, thinking it might be well-received by her interviewers since it is the hotel’s color as well. On her way to the HR office, she was stopped by an elderly hotel guest, asking her for help on particular details on her room,” he shares.

He adds: “Because she didn’t have a clue on how to answer the guest’s questions, she tried to apologize, but she was already cut by the guest who then went to the receptionist and demanded to talk to a manager to complain about the incompetency of my friend, whom she thought was wearing the hotel employees’ uniform!”

And you guessed it right, his friend didn’t get the job. This is a case of taking "dressing appropriately" to the next level. But be warned: don’t be too obvious that you’re trying hard!

This story originally appeared on

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