Dress for Success

First impressions are really important whether you are going to an interview, attending a networking event, job fair or meeting with an employer for an information interview. One important part of first impressions is how you are dressed. Here are a few things to remember:

Basic Expectations

Each interview and event’s expectations will be different. Before you attend an interview or event, take the time to research the expectations. We suggest that you dress a little better than the basic expectations so that you leave a good impression.

  • Interviews Consider the organization and position for which you are interviewing. We recommend that you dress the way you would on the most important day of the job (e.g. meeting the CEO or most important client). If you are not sure about the dress code, you can visit the organization’s website. If you have visited the organization before, think about how staff dress on a daily basis and model your outfit based on the best dressed person.
  • Networking Events. Read the posted information carefully. Most events will mention whether they are Business Formal or Business Casual. Any event that is organized by the UTM Career Centre will clearly state the dress code.
  • Job Fairs. While most job fairs are Business Casual, consider the position for which you are applying. If it typically requires a more formal dress code, you can consider being dressed in business formal attire.

Employment Laws

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission

  • When setting out dress codes to meet business needs, employers should not rely on stereotypes or sexist ideas of how men or women should look. They should think about a range of clothing options. Dress code policies need to be flexible and include everyone, regardless of their sex, gender identity, race, disability, gender expression or religious faith. Employees should be able to choose from this range of options without pressure or coercion.” These principles apply to all aspects of your job search and networking.

Business Formal and Business Casual

What is Business Formal/Formal Dress?

Business formal tends towards more conservative. Both men and women should wear a clean, pressed, button down shirt with a collar. The shirt must be worn tucked in. This generally includes a jacket and closed toe shoes. For those who identify as male, a solid tie and belt are generally required.

What is Business Casual/Casual Dress?

Business casual is attire that is appropriate even for a chance meeting with the CEO, or your boss. This means clothing such as slacks or a skirt, a blouse or shirt (a tie can be worn) with a collar and closed-toe shoes. Some sweaters are also appropriate. It is not clothing you would wear to a club or for athletic purposes; as are baseball hats, flip-flops, jeans and hooded sweatshirts.

More information on gender inclusive professional dress guidelines, and check out the Dress for Success infographic courtesy of Stetson University).

Grooming Tips

  • Clothing Fit: Clothing fit is extremely important. If you are unsure about fit, ask a friend or family member to take a look. You don't want your suit to be too snug or too loose. Minor adjustments such as adjusting sleeve length or taking in the back seam can yield impressive results. Most shopping malls have at least one tailor shop, and many dry cleaners offer alteration services as well. Ask for a cost estimate, and be prepared to try your outfit on, including shoes. If the cost is within your budget you may just find yourself with a perfectly tailored suit!
  • Hair: Ensure your appearance is presentable and professional for your industry/work environment, including hair and facial hair. You are selling yourself so first impressions go a long way.
  • Deodorant, Anti-Perspirant: Ensure that you take a shower and wear deodorant or antiperspirant.
  • Perfume, Cologne and Body Spray: Many workplaces are implementing scent-free policies to ensure a comfortable work environment for everyone. It is best to avoid wearing cologne, perfume or body spray fragrances for the following reasons:
    • the people you are meeting with may have allergies/sensitivities to fragrances
    • you don’t know how big or ventilated the space is where you will be meeting
    • if you wear a scent frequently you may have become accustomed to it and not notice its strength
    • People may not be able to tolerate your company for very long regardless of how great you are; after you leave they may recall the scent of your perfume instead of your skills and charm. If you still choose to wear a scent, do so sparingly and ask for honest feedback on its strength before you leave the house.
  • Smoking: Don’t smoke prior to your interview or event. Tobacco odours linger in your clothing and hair, as well as on your skin.
  • Breath: Make sure you have fresh breath. Do not chew gum. If you choose gum to freshen your breath get rid of it before you enter the building or meet anyone.

Other Tips

  • Tattoos: If the workplace is conservative, consider how you will display your piercings or body art.
  • Piercings/Earrings: If you have earrings or other piercings try to avoid dangling or oversized rings and stick to something small and discrete.
  • Cell Phone: Pretend that it doesn’t exist. Turn off your cell phone or place it on silent (not on vibrate) before you arrive at your event or interview. Do not place the cell phone on the table as though you are expecting a call, and do not take it out of your pocket or bag to check it. Give the other person your undivided attention. Leaving your phone in your pants pocket may cause it to fall out when you sit, so you may want to leave it in your bag or in your inner jacket pocket instead.
  • Bags, Padfolios and Purses: Depending on the situation, you may find that you need a place to store things that you bring with you to the interview, the meeting or event. Regardless of the event, do your best to avoid bringing a backpack; leave it in a locker or with a friend. A structured bag will make a better impression than one that is wrinkled. Aim for a professional padfolio, or professional-looking tote bag such as a nice laptop bag. If you have a purse, keep it small. The purse should be large enough to hold 8.5" x 11" papers and other items, but not much larger than that. The bag should not be too colourful, flashy or intricate. Stay away from bags that are woven, knit or straw as they convey a more casual feel. Appropriate materials include leather, or fake leather, or a finely woven fabric such as microfiber.
  • Umbrella and Outerwear: Check the weather and be prepared. It would be disheartening to spend so much time preparing for your meeting, only to show up in a soggy suit because you forgot an umbrella! Don’t take chances with interviews and opportunities that are important to you. You may wish to wear a coat or jacket of some sort if it’s cold or raining outside. In this case, pick a jacket that is clean and in good shape. Generally, there will be somewhere to hang it up or you can lay it over the back of a chair.


Employers are aware that many students have a limited budget for clothing. You won’t need to have more than one or two outfits for your interviews and events. You can also save money by mixing and matching clothes and by shopping at vintage clothing stores.

The Career Centre can help if you have any concerns regarding business clothing affordability. Please contact us at 905-828-5451 or come into DV3094.