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What to Wear to Return-To-Work Interviews

When you are returning to work after a career break, it is often hard to know what to wear for interviews, especially if you have been out of the workplace for a number of years. With so much having changed over the last couple of years with the pandemic, we know that many returners feel that even more acutely now. But we also know that feeling comfortable and confident at interview is really important and can help you to perform at your best. Ella from Smart Works recently joined us for a webinar for members of our Professional Network to discuss how to feel at your best when dressing for an interview. These are her 3 top tips:

1. Wear colour

If you like wearing colour, then you absolutely should wear it to your interview. Wear colours that make you feel confident and that suit you. Even if you have to keep an overall neutral or darker colour palette, add a splash of colour with your top or accessories. As many candidates stick to a more neutral palette, colour can be another way to stand out and help the recruiter to remember you.

2. Buy for the longer term 

If you can afford it, choose high quality clothing that will work for your interview and beyond. Think about options that can be restyled with accessories for different occasions and that could form a good part of your usual working wardrobe.

3. Dress for a virtual interview like for an in-person one

Dress fully from head to toe.  Even if the interviewer is likely to only see part of you, dressing fully helps you to be in the right frame of mind. That means no pyjama bottoms or anything else that fails to put you in your most professional mindset!

Natalie Hunter, a trained Colour/Style Consultant, adds her advice.

4. Dress as though you already work there

Research the organisation to understand the usual dress code. Follow them on social media and see if there is a kind of ‘uniform’ or a more diverse range of outfits.  Dress so that the interviewer(s) can see you immediately as someone who would fit in. If the dress code looks to be very informal, e.g. jeans, err on the side of ‘smart casual’ such as a tailored pair of trousers with a top/jacket in a colour or a more creative dress.

5. Choose something that reflects you

Find some common ground between what sort of outfit would reflect the brand and what feels representative of you. For example, if you are interviewing with a traditional city firm, and yet your natural style is more contemporary, choose a tailored dress or suit with a more cutting-edge style and team it with a statement necklace or a coloured bag. While you want to fit in, you want to retain a sense of who you are and be remembered for this.

If you usually live in jeans and jumpers, find a smarter outfit that still feels comfortable. There are lots of work clothes that fit this brief, eg tailored trousers in soft fabrics look great with a crisp shirt/soft silky top, gently structured jacket and brogues or loafers (flat or heeled). Now is perhaps not the time to experiment with a whole new look that doesn’t feel like you.

6. Update yourself

Some ‘classic’ work clothes that you’ve kept may stand the test of time but, more often, some details (eg width of collar, shoulder padding) will make them look dated. Wearing dated clothing might affect how comfortable you feel, so aim for a more contemporary look. Research online to see the latest styles. Pinterest pulls together lots of ideas in one place, saving you precious time.

7. Choose colours that flatter you

Your best colours will be those that match your natural characteristics on the following 3 scales: Deep or Light, Warm or Cool, Bright or Muted. So, if your natural colouring is Light, Cool and Muted (not much contrast between eyes, lips, hair, skin tone) consider greys and blues without much contrast between them, as opposed to black. Black tends only to suit those who have Deep, Cool and Bright characteristics. For the rest of us, it can drain us and cast unflattering shadows on our faces. Cool colours are considered to be more business-like (i.e. colours with more blue in than yellow) so, if you suit warmer colours, try to find warmer versions of, for example, navy and grey.

8. Be comfortable

Give your outfit a test run by wearing it at home for a while to check that it’s comfortable, both when standing and sitting. Make sure that buttons on shirts/blouses don’t gape, skirts don’t ride up when you sit down. Check hems are in place, no loose buttons or marks/creases, etc. Choose shoes that are comfortable to walk in (flats shoes are much more usual now, even for city roles).

9. Plan your outfit in advance

Choose your outfit well in advance, so you can then give your full attention to the most important aspect: mental preparation and avoiding a last-minute panic. Above all, spending some time choosing the right outfit will enable you to look and feel more confident on the day.

This is an updated version of an original blog by Natalie Hunter, a trained Colour/Style Consultant with additional tips from Ella of Smart Works. Smart Works is a charity which provides an Interview outfit, free of charge, as well as an hour of one-to-one Interview coaching by a trained volunteer for unemployed women referred to them by job centres and other charities.