What to Wear for Informal and Informational Interviews

informational interviews

2017 Update: We still stand by our advice on what to wear for informal and informational interviews, but you may also want to check out The Ultimate Guide to Business Casual for Women.

What’s the best way to dress for informational/informal interviews that may or may not lead to “real” job interviews? Should you play it safe and wear a suit, or is it appropriate to dress a bit on the casual side? Reader L wonders…

I was invited to have “a conversation” with a very powerful woman at a foundation where I would love to work. For the initial conversation, I was advised to wear business casual. I felt my choices were right on — sleek understated black pants, closed-toed shoes with some skin showing, a high-end plum jacket in wool crepe, and some very interesting but not flashy jewelry. My conversational partner wore exactly the same components, but my choices were a couple steps dressier than hers.

The conversation went well, and we will continue our discussions. My question is what to wear to the next meeting. I have a summer suit I would be inclined to wear; even though it’s casual (navy/white linen tweed pants with a matching open jacket), it is more serious than anything I’ve observed at the foundation. But, I’m not sure if this meeting is the time to wear it. What if this meeting is then followed by a formal interview? I will already have worn my best choice for an interview suit.

Congratulations on starting the conversation, Reader L! These casual interviews are always nerve-wracking, whether they’re informational interviews, internal interviews, or even everyone’s favorite, the “not-an-interview interview over coffee.” Previously, we’ve talked about how to dress for a kind of “pre-interview” that might lead to a real one, what to wear for an “informal” interview, and what to wear for a networking lunch, and I think your outfit instincts sound spot on thus far. A few notes though:

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Emergency Reader Mail: What to Wear to an Informal Interview?

 Elie Tahari Exclusive for Nordstrom 'Ava' JacketWe haven’t answered this kind of question in a while, so we thought we’d answer reader K’s question…

My dream job has requested an “informal” interview for this week. The purpose is for the potential new boss to become familiar with my communication style; a formal interview would follow if I am successful. He is looking to meet at a coffee shop anytime during the day, evening, or even on the weekend.

How do I dress for an interview that is labeling itself as low-key? I’m not a JD or MBA, but I do have an advanced degree in a profession known for being a bit more casual. I feel like a cardigan should be included, but beyond that, I am clueless. Thank you!

First off: congrats on getting the informal interview, and good luck on the interview whenever it takes place.

Second:  Avoid the weekend interview at all costs. Talk about a confusing dress code!  On a weekday interview, if you’re overdressed, then maybe it’s because of your current job’s requirements.   It doesn’t matter if it’s in the evening or during the day, but the important thing is that you are coming or going to your job.

For my $.02, I would avoid a cardigan for a job interview. It doesn’t convey authority, competence, or intelligence — or really any of the general things you want a prospective employer to think about you. It might convey that you’re demure — it will definitely convey that you’re chilly. (I have no problem, obviously, with wearing a cardigan to work — I am wearing one as I type this.) I think that for an interview — particularly a first one — you want to make the best impression possible, and that, to me, means a blazer at the very least.

That said, were it my dream job, I would bust out a full suit.  (Pictured, Elie Tahari Exclusive for Nordstrom ‘Ava’ Jacket, available at Nordstrom for $298. Also, be sure to check out our guide to interview suits here.) I’d probably stick with a pants suit for the “informal” interview — perhaps even in a “friendlier” color like a gray or a brown — and amp up to a skirt suit in a more severe black or navy for the “real” interview, but that’s me.  If it’s a job that really, really does not entail any sort of professional wear then I might go with a sheath dress and blazer, or perhaps a pair of non-matching trousers, paired with the blazer.  (Incidentally, I’m hard-pressed to think of a career that doesn’t require a suit occasionally — even a kindergarten teacher, who may be working on/near the ground with kids, would wear a suit from time to time.  I often think of doctors as being fairly casually dressed in real life, but I would still think a suit would be appropriate for an interview.)

Readers, what are your thoughts for reader K’s informal interview attire? Can anyone think of a career where a suit wouldn’t be appropriate?

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