How to Dress for a Design Job Interview

Business people shaking hands in meeting
Getty Images/Robert Daly

You may consider yourself an artistic free spirit, more interested in the color on your screen or canvas than whether or not you're wearing a color-coordinated skirt and blouse. Or, perhaps you've chosen to freelance from home specifically because you want to wear your pajamas all day while working in the cloud. However, even for desktop publishing and graphic design-related jobs, you'll probably fare better if you ditch the paint-splattered smock and house shoes when hunting for an in-house or agency job or freelance clients.

For job interviews, you'll rarely go wrong with good basic business attire. How formal or casual you go depends both on where you are interviewing as well as your own comfort level. If you feel strangled by a suit and tie or can't walk in heels, it's going to affect your demeanor and could make for a very uncomfortable (and perhaps unsuccessful) interview. Lucky for you, suits and heels aren't your only options.

Here are a few tips tailored to designers from a variety of sources. They include specific examples (and sometimes pictures) to help you put together the perfect interview outfit.

Dressing for Success for Women and Men

Men: A suit and tie may be considered the most formal of business attire but it's the rare graphic design job that requires quite that much formality. In a more relaxed corporate environment, leave the tie at home. If applying to a design agency or other more casual workplace, jeans could even be appropriate as long as they are clean and free of holes or tears.

Whether you opt for a suit or jeans or something in between your clothing should always be clean, free of stains, rips, or missing buttons, and be well-fitting.

If your pants have belt loops, wear a belt. Don't forget dark (matching!) dress socks and clean, polished shoes (no old sneakers allowed, no matter how comfy, and definitely no sandals).

A button-down shirt is always good. T-shirt -- not so good. Even in an extremely casual environment, put away the ball cap and the sunglasses, at least until after you're hired. If you carry a briefcase, messenger bag or portfolio case (no backpacks, please) it should be clean and in good shape -- not all scratched up, covered in stickers, or with contents spilling out.

Comb your hair, neaten up any facial hair, and keep your fingernails groomed. Don't drench yourself in aftershave or cologne. 

"Not sure if the company you're interviewing at requires a business casual, or business formal type of dress? Find the middle ground with a khaki blazer and coordinating pants." Interview Outfits for Men — Alison Doyle

"For agency, a nice pair of dark jeans paired with a dress shirt and blazer is perfect. No rips or tears in the jeans! No tie required." Natalie Gonzalez in Interview Attire for Designers: What to Wear -- John Luu, AIGA Houston

"Never wear a tie unless you’re interviewing with a corporation for an in-house director position or higher, or unless it’s a really cool tie and the rest of your get-up screams “I’m creative.” Agency folks should never wear ties, in my opinion." Chris Hungate in Interview Attire for Designers: What to Wear -- John Luu, AIGA Houston

Women: There are so many options for women. The most formal or conservative look would be a solid color suit (matching jacket and skirt), but women aren't limited to skirts or dresses. Business casual attire includes slacks and even nice jeans in some business environments. While a jacket isn't absolutely necessary, it is best to avoid showing too much skin -- whether that's from sleeveless shirts, short skirts, or low-cut blouses. Also, watch out for blouses that leave big gaps between the buttons.

Whatever you wear it should be clean, free of rips or tears, no missing buttons or broken zippers, and well-fitting. Undergarments should never be visible (no mini skirts or see-through blouses) and beware the VPL (visible panty line). If you wear pantyhose, they should be snag- and run-free -- carry some clear nail polish for a quick repair if needed.

Accessories can make or break the look. Large, dangling earrings or jingly (read: noisy) charm bracelets are a distraction. Avoid sloppy or oversized purses or handbags. Your portfolio case might not be an everyday accessory, but it becomes a part of your attire during an interview. It should also be neat and attractive with the contents secured (not falling out).

Clean fingernails are a must -- polish optional. Many experts advise against wearing perfume and other fragrances (although a dash of mouthwash for fresh breath is not a bad idea).

"Once you have a good pair of dress pants, it's easy to dress them up, or dress them down. You can pair your dress pants with a button down or blazer for a formal look, or with a sweater for a business casual look." Interview Outfits for Women -- Alison Doyle

"If it is a corporate design or creative services team, I would focus on business attire -- skirt or pants, nice top with a jacket or blazer, hose, and conservative, closed-toed shoes. If it is a more relaxed environment like an agency or design firm, I would still stick with business attire, but you can get a little edgier with bolder prints or accessories. A jacket isn’t necessary, but use discretion with sleeveless tops. You can also be a little more creative with fun shoes as well. Open-toed shoes are usually OK." Interview Attire for Designers: What to Wear -- John Luu, AIGA Houston

"Although you’ll likely be able to dress casually if you land a job in the graphic design field, you should dress professionally for the interview. You can avoid anything that looks too “buttoned up” or corporate, but you don’t want to wear anything too fun or funky that might be distracting. In other words, dress stylishly, but not too trendy; professional, but with a bit of personality." Jennifer Davidson of stylebakery/sixated.com

"But I'm a Creative!"

Yes, you are -- and your resume and portfolio, as well as your presentation during the job interview, should show that. For the freelance designer meeting with potential clients, more creative attire may be acceptable even if the client is a somewhat conservative business. Some clients expect designers and other creatives to be a little off-the-wall and they make allowances for extremes in dress. You can also show your creativity with your color choices while still sticking with the basic, conservative business look.

"You might be tempted to say, “But wait, I express my personality with my clothes.” This is fine, but during an interview, the only statement your clothes should really make is that you’re professional.  You want them to remember you, not your clothes. Instead, let your personality come through with what you say and do." Interview Attire for Designers: What to Wear -- John Luu, AIGA Houston

"I’ve found that if I dress in clothing that suits my personality I end up getting more clients than if I dress in conventional business clothing. Maybe it’s because I’m more relaxed and thus more confident; maybe clients are looking for a certain level of creativity in whom they hire and thus skip over the guy who showed up in a suit." What Should a Graphic Designer Wear? -- eightyone design.

Bottom Line for Interview Success

For the interview go with clean, well-fitting clothing that is relatively conservative in color and style. Business casual is a good starting point then dress it up or down depending on the business/client and your own comfort level.

More Job Interview and Client Landing Tips

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Bear, Jacci Howard. "How to Dress for a Design Job Interview." ThoughtCo, Apr. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/dress-for-design-job-interview-1078774. Bear, Jacci Howard. (2017, April 24). How to Dress for a Design Job Interview. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dress-for-design-job-interview-1078774 Bear, Jacci Howard. "How to Dress for a Design Job Interview." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dress-for-design-job-interview-1078774 (accessed December 17, 2017).