Do you need to wear a suit to a job interview?
Probably. But maybe not.
But if you’re unsure, then yes.
Here’s the deal with suits and job interviews: You need to know the norms for interview dress for your own field. And not just your field in general, but your field in your particular geographic area. The norms for banking jobs in California can be different from the norms for banking jobs in Chicago. So you need to know your field, and how it plays out in your particular area.
When you are unsure and can’t seem to find out, wear a suit … because the vast majority of candidates applying for professional jobs should be wearing a suit for interviewing. Exceptions include parts of California (not all of it), parts of tech and design (not all of it), and a small number of others. But most people should be wearing a suit to an interview.
The problem is when someone doesn’t know and listens to someone not in their field or geographic area, and that person tells them a suit isn’t necessary, and that advice turns out to be wrong for the field/location.
Here are some other problematic things I hear when this topic comes up:
* “But their office is business casual.” Sometimes people think that if you don’t wear a suit while working there, you don’t need it for the interview either. But that’s wrong — many places expect you to interview in a suit even if their day to day is less formal. In that context, it’s about understanding and respecting professional norms, and those norms often still say “wear a suit to interviews.”
* “Why should it matter as long as you look professional?” Sure, you can find people who really don’t care at all as long as you look professional — and then there are lots of people who firmly believe that if you care about looking professional at a job interview, you wear a suit. Period. And that reality means that job candidates should wear a suit (with the exception of the caveats above) — because they have no idea who they’re going to be interviewing with and how that person will feel. (People would probably guess that I wouldn’t care. I do.) It’s a silly thing to risk your impression over.
* “I don’t really care if candidates wear a suit.” That’s fine, but you are not everyone. Plenty of hiring managers do care. Most candidates stress so much over truly meaningless aspects of job searching (who do I address the cover letter to? should I attach the cover letter to my email or put it in the body of the message?) that it would be silly not to pay attention to this one aspect that actually does still carry weight for many people.
* “In my industry, you’d look ridiculous for wearing a suit.” That’s great — but irrelevant to people outside your industry! People outside your industry should not take that as a sign that don’t need to wear a suit, nor should you encourage them to.
* “I wouldn’t want to work somewhere that cared whether I wore a suit.” That’s totally your prerogative.
* “I’ve always gotten hired without wearing suits.” Cool. If it’s working for you, I’m not going to push you to change it. But people also get hired without writing cover letters. That doesn’t mean that other candidates shouldn’t write them. It’s about giving yourself the best possible chance to be offered the jobs you want.
In sum: Know your field, know your geography, and default to a suit if you’re not sure and aren’t willing to risk making a bad impression. And don’t be swayed to believe the opposite by people outside your field or in a different area of the country.