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Style SOS: What do I wear to a job interview at a startup?

Style SOS: What do I wear to a job interview at a startup?

"I have an interview next week at a startup, but I've always worked in corporate settings. How can I look smart while still looking like I'd fit into this new culture?” - Stephen via Facebook

If you’ve got a job interview coming up, then clothes probably land somewhere low on the list of things you want to dedicate headspace to worrying about. But after you brush up on the answers to your interview questions and slip a few impressive company facts into your back pocket, we’d pay a fair amount of mind to what you turn up to your interview in. Why? Because proving you care about the role extends to how you present yourself, and if you show up in you over dress, it may indicate you don’t understand the company culture. 

That said, dialing things down doesn’t have to mean dressing carelessly, or casually – even if your interviewer is dressed in the signature startup uniform of jeans and a hoodie. To help you nail the right look, we’ve shared some easy tips for dressing thoughtfully to your interview. We wish you a professional future filled with nap pods and plenty of complimentary snacks. 

Strike the smart casual balance

You don’t need to ditch all of your smart pieces just because you’re trading in corporate life for a startup. In fact, at least one of the items in your outfit should feel smart, whether it’s a crisp Oxford shirt or tailored trousers – whatever you feel most comfortable and confident wearing. From there, offset that smart piece with more casual essentials. For instance, pair your Oxford shirt with a pair of straight-leg jeans, or balance a pair of relaxed trousers with a knitted jumper. 

Keep it neutral

At an interview, it’s important to choose pieces that won’t distract from your impressive CV. That’s why sticking to neutrals, like olive, navy, and khaki, is a safe bet. If you’re a bold dresser, you can still incorporate some subtle pattern, like stripes, or colours (think light blue) into your look. Just make sure your other pieces are fairly neutral.. You want your interviewers to concentrate on what you have to say, not your neon green trainers. 

Pay attention to detail

As with any smart casual outfit, consider how each piece will complement the rest of your look. For example, if you’re wearing jeans, you should avoid distressed or ripped styles. If you’re not sure whether your jeans are smart enough, chinos may be a more comfortable option. 

If a structured blazer feels too formal, a chore jacket is a nice replacement layer over a shirt or t-shirt. You can incorporate a hoodie as long as you pair it with elevated pieces, like a blazer and smart trousers. And avoid sweatpants altogether as they’ll look a little too laid-back. If you’re wearing trainers, make sure they’re fresh and clean – showing up in dirty shoes isn’t the best way to put your best foot forward in an interview

Layer up

Layers are a good choice just in case the interview room happens to be especially hot or cold, but make sure each of your layers is considered. For example, don’t put an old tee under a chunky rollneck unless you need to take it off. A jacket over a nice shirt, with a plain t-shirt underneath is the best option in the eventuality that you need to de-layer. Layering is also an easy way to dial down your look if you show up in an outfit that feels too smart. If that's the case, simply remove your more formal piece, like a blazer, and then push clothes to the back of your mind and go nail your interview. 


Words: Ella White
Illustration: Ryan Gillett