Etiquette and outfit: What you absolutely need to know

The Right Dress Code for an Interview

Tie or open collar? Pantsuit or skirt? The dress code in an interview plays a decisive role – this is precisely where the clothes make the man. Anyone who has made it as far as the job interview for his dream position has already proven his professional qualifications. Now it depends on his personality and the right appearance. There’s no second chance to make a first impression, so what are the most important dos and don’ts in an interview?

The optics – that is clothing, body language, mimicry and gesture – make up the main part of our effect on others.

The first impression counts

Professional qualifications are the entrance ticket to an interview. The next hurdle is getting to know your interviewer and letting your personality shine through. “The appearance of an applicant influences the expectations – like the cover of a book or the label on a wine bottle: the optics – that is, clothing, body language, facial expressions and gestures – make the main part of our impact on others. When the clothes are appropriate and the candidate well-groomed, this shows appreciation.

If one is positive with a friendly, open attitude and with good manners, this is very engaging. However, if you leave a negative impression, there is hardly a chance for a call back. That is why the importance of image in the interview must not be underestimated under any circumstances”, explains style and image consultant Renate Sperber.

“The first impression counts!” Says Robert Harrer, Head of Engineering at MINT Solutions. “As an interview is a professional business meeting, applicants should present themselves professionally. It is also important to remain true to yourself and your style, and not try and wear a “disguise”. For example, a pin-striped suit and lacquer shoes don’t fit a candidate who’s applying to be a developer”, says Harrer.

Virtues: punctuality, courtesy, and appreciation

What virtues in appearance should be taken into consideration? Needless to say, good preparation for the interview, punctuality, courtesy, appreciation and respect are of course indispensable. In no case should the applicant be arrogant, even if he feels like a top candidate for the job. “Give a warm welcome and offer eye contact to each person you meet in the building. When first meeting with your potential future supervisor, offer a cordial handshake with longer eye contact and a nice smile. This communicates that you are self-confident and sympathetic”, advises Renate Sperber.

Style and image consultant Renate Sperber

Good manners are also important, including not interrupting others, sitting down after a seat has been offered to you and keeping eye contact. If your hands remain visible and are not hidden under the table, this shows an open attitude. An upright posture also suggests an upright and self-assured person.

No-Gos: The things to avoid

The absolute No-Gos include arriving late, not having sufficiently informed yourself about the company, appearing unsuitably dressed, looking away during a handshake, or looking at the next interviewer before your hand has been released by the first, Sperber said. It is also a good idea to avoid leaning back too easily in the office chairs and, if possible, avoid crossing your legs. Make sure not to try and perform too hard, especially by interrupting your interviewers or trying to teach them something about their business.

Balancing between a courteous and arrogant appearance

Those who apply for a position as a leader must also bring with them a certain degree of self-confidence and assertiveness. But how can the balance between courtesy, which might be interpreted as submissive, and arrogance be found?

“I would not equate courtesy with subservience. On the contrary. If someone has pleasant manners, this in combination with self-confidence is very professional”, says the style and image consultant. Attention and respect should be earned and not forced. Appreciation, recognition, being able to listen well, taking others opinions seriously, and then making sure and confident decisions – these are modern management qualities for Sperber. Arrogance would be completely out of place.

Why it is dangerous to underestimate outward appearance

Particularly among technical specialists and executives, such as engineers and IT experts, there are always highly intelligent and highly qualified people, who are not necessarily considered style icons. Why can it be dangerous if applicants consider their qualifications far more important than their appearance? “That has changed in my view. I’ve seen very well-dressed engineers at the fairs in recent years”, says Sperber. But there are also men and women who seem to put little thought into their appearance. “This is very unfortunate, because they are often underestimated or even considered quirky”, says Renate Sperber.

In old-fashioned suits, one looks a bit more backward and less worldly. If the fit is not correct, you won’t fill out the suit. This can make someone seem insignificant and less dynamic. If the tie is old-fashioned colorful and wide, it sometimes looks embarrassing, perhaps also extremely economical or as if you had not put on a suit for years. What is bad is that others see it, but the applicant does not know how unfavorable it is, and consequently wonders why their applications have not been successful. Your clothes should not invite any potential for negative attitudes and prejudices, according to Sperber.

“Engineers and IT experts should appear in suit and tie. Now and then the tie can be omitted, but it depends on the position and the company culture. For instance, it can be more relaxed in a start-up than in a traditional company. With women’s suits – the skirt should be at least knee length – or a pant suit also works, “says Robert Harrer from MINT Solutions.

Robert Harrer, Head of Engineering at MINT Solutions

The ideal outfit for an interview

The dress code also depends on the industry and the job. The website of the company provides a good, first source of information. Here one can see which clothing style is preferred, as the professional and managerial staff themselves are represented. One should also make sure that the outfit they wear to the interview differs from the outfit on their application photo. Otherwise it can be interpreted that the applicant has only this one chic outfit. It also depends on whether one has customer contact or whether it is a leadership position they are applying for. Nevertheless, there are recommendations that generally apply, says Sperber.

Dress code for men

  • Business shirt: Monochrome in a subtle color or with small uniform patterns. No big patterns, bright colors or short sleeves.
  • Trousers: Look for a good fit. Your pants should reach your shoe and make a kink at the front where it rests on your shoe.
  • Jacket: Look for a good fit. Currently, it’s fashionable that jackets aren’t worn too loose. Shoulder pads should be narrow, and sleeves should cover the wrist but not a part of the hand. Jackets should just cover a man’s backside, but not hang any longer. Fashionable jackets are now even slightly shorter, however that style only suits very slim men.
  • Suit: The darker the suit, the more professional the effect. If you prefer classic business colors such as a very dark blue or anthracite, it looks reputable, elegant and trustworthy. Black suits can quickly make the wearer seem self-involved and dominant, which is particularly unfavorable in sales. The jacket should fit the pants – Either the fabric and color tone are exactly the same, in which case it’s a suit, or the jacket and pants are distinctly different, called a combination. Combining similar colors for jacket and pants, that are not in themselves a suit, never looks good. Very crucial is a perfect fit. If you do not fill the suit, your interviewer may have the feeling that you could not fill the position.
  • Shoes: Well-groomed leather shoes, polished, not too wide or thick.
  • Belt: Suitable for your shoe color and not worn-out.
  • Tie: If a tie is necessary for the suit, you shouldn’t phone it in. The current trend is actually moving towards leaving ties behind completely. But, if you feel safer with a tie then it should be a chic one. If your tie is more than four years old, buy yourself a new one. Monochrome ties always look very elegant. You can also choose a discreet pattern. A monochrome tie should have a different color than your shirt or suit. If the tie is patterned, a color should reside in the shirt or suit.
  • Overdressed: Too much of the good thing can quickly become a bad thing. Typical things considered overdressing for an interview include men with handkerchiefs, tie pins and/or striking cufflinks.
  • Underdressed: No-Gos are sneakers or sandals, casual shirts, broken jeans, corduroy, everything that resembles sportswear, sweatshirts, t-shirts, coarse knit sweaters or jackets, and/or clothes with tufts.
  • Well-groomed appearance: Pay particular attention to well-groomed hands, body care and an appealing hairstyle.

Dress code for women

Ladies have a wider range of possibilities. Renate Sperber recommends an easy win with pants or skirt – the blazer. “I find blazers simply ideal and would prefer them to any other options, such as a cardigan or sweater. Applicants look very competent and confident in a well-fitting blazer”, says Sperber. If the blazer has a lapel or shawl collar, a colored shirt can be worn underneath it, preferably monochrome, instead of a blouse. The color can be white or cream, but also slightly braver, like royal blue or burgundy.

Wear pantyhose, even in summer, and a chic shoe. It can be flat or have a heel, but no ballerinas. The ideal fit of the clothing is also crucial here. It should not be so tight that the underwear lines show, but also not too loose. Pay attention to the correct sleeve length: the sleeves should just cover the wrists and not overhang.

A subtle chain, a chic watch, a ring and small earrings make the outfit complete. The hair can also be worn down, if it isn’t too long. Absolute no-gos for women are short skirts, low cut tops, too playful of clothes, striking nail polish and too much make-up.


Like the label of a good bottle of wine, people are also judged first according to their appearance. That is why good manners and a suitable outfit play an important role in the interview. Those who respect the basic rules cannot go wrong. One thing you should not forget, however, in addition to all the good advice: Don’t try too hard and remain authentic!

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