What to Wear to a Casual Internship Interview

You’ve written your cover letter, submitted your resume and finally been selected for an interview to land the internship of your dreams.  After arriving the standard 15 minutes early with your confidence in tow, you’re shocked to see that the office is significantly more casual than you anticipated.  While you’re fully decked out in a business suit,

Professional Outfityour interviewer is wearing faded ripped jeans and a T-shirt that looks like it’s been put through the wash one too many times.  Despite all the research and preparation that goes into an internship interview, an inappropriate outfit—even one that’s too formal—can hurt your chances of landing the position.

 

Whileit’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed for an interview, dressingout of sync with your interviewer can give the impression that you won’t fit inwith the company’s work environment.  Manyindustries, such as nonprofit and new media, tend to be pretty casual, so makesure you dress accordingly.  Many small publicrelations, advertising, design and most media companies fall under thiscategory.  In order to prevent anyunnecessary panic attacks, make sure you research the company’s dress code inaddition to their mission, history and services.  Check the organization’s website for anyexecutive or employee photos, and plan your interview outfit based on whatthey’re wearing.  If you find thateveryone is in jeans and sneakers, you can hang that suit back up in thecloset.  If you aren’t able to find anyemployee photos, try researching other similar organizations (i.e., same size,same location, same industry) to see what type of outfit will be appropriate. 

 

For meninterviewing in an office with a casual work environment, fitted dress pantsand a button-down shirt can be appropriate.  In cold weather, try a sweater or blazer withkhaki pants.  Options for women includedark dress pants and a printed top, a belted shirtdress or a pencil skirt and aknit top.  Add a pair of closed-toe flatsor low heels and your casual interview outfit is all set.  When considering your interview outfit, rememberthat what you wear can be an indicator for how much you want the position, soalways look neat and put-together.  Whenyou find that perfect outfit that blends interview professionalism with theorganization culture, it will reflect your extensive research and show that youare a motivated and thoughtful potential hire.

 

If youdo find yourself face to face with an interviewer who looks ready to attend abaseball game while you look ready to meet the president, try to make somequick alterations so that your outfit is more casual.  For men who arrive at the interview in a suit,remove the jacket and tie.  For women whothought a dress suit would surely land them the internship, try taking off the jacketand letting down your hair.  Keeping a pairof flats in your bag to swap in for the heels you were sure would make a greatimpression but ended up just hurting your feet is also a good idea.  Your appearance will instantly become lessstuffy and your quick thinking will show that you can adapt to any situation.

 

Whilecasual offices give you more leeway in terms of what is appropriate interviewattire, that doesn’t mean that anything goes.  Take note of the following list and make sureyou don’t arrive wearing one of these don’ts:

 

CasualInterview Attire Don’ts:

  • Shorts
  • Sneakersor flip-flops
  • Skimpy/tightclothing
  • GraphicT-shirts
  • Baseballhats
  • Rippedor dirty clothing
  • Tanktops
  • Stretchpants

Nomatter how relaxed the company’s dress code is, wearing something tootight/short/dirty will definitely create a bad first impression.  You want to maintain a sense ofprofessionalism and maturity while also demonstrating that you’re a match forthe organization—but it’s still an interview, after all.  Remember, casual doesn’t mean messy.  You don’t want your appearance to undermineyour qualifications, so make sure your interview attire isn’t speaking louderthan you are.  Comb your hair, iron yourshirt and remove any scuff marks from your shoes.  The dress code may be casual, but it’s stillan office.

 

So the next time you’re preparing for an interview, make sure your outfit isn’t giving the wrong impression.  Spend some time considering not only what you want to say about yourself, but also what you want your clothes to say.

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