How to Choose the Right Suit for the Job Interview, and the Job

Military Transition

After a week of nonstop Syria news and speculation, it’s time to slow things down. Many Daily Intel readers are transitioning out of the military and into their first civilian jobs. The interview process can be as intimidating as a promotion board, but making the right impression by dressing the part will help you get through it.

I’ve seen you at the job fairs, in your ill-fitting suit and shirt, bad haircut, and cheap tie. You were trying, but trying too hard.

Wearing a uniform is easy. It just is what it is. It requires no thought. Dressing for business is much different. So here’s the first installment of my handy guide for guys who have never had to choose a business outfit.

You’re likely going to be interviewing with people who are much older, so forget the things you see in the men’s magazines. A colleague once walked past my office and remarked, “You look like a Boston banker.” I thanked him, because that’s exactly what I was aiming for. You should, too.

Buy as much suit as you can afford

I’ve owned suits that cost $100 and suits that cost $1,000. Trust me, there’s a difference. Yes, grand is way beyond the budget of most younger transitioning veterans, but you should always buy the most expensive suit within your budget. First, it should be all wool. Synthetic fibers like polyester and rayon make it look shiny. You want your suit to look good, but not scream “Look at me!”

You can visit Joseph A. Bank or the Brooks Brothers Factory Store and get a fairly decent looking suit for between $200 and $400.

Skip the black suits and the peaked lapels. Those are only for undertakers and mobsters. Navy blue is your best choice, with charcoal gray a close second.  Avoid the pinstripe suits for the interview, and save them for after you get the job. You don’t have to buy made-to-measure; that’s a huge expense. But make sure  you have a salesperson help you select a suit that fits properly, and take advantage of any alteration services the store offers.

Do you remember what President Trump’s first press secretary, Sean Spicer, looked like in his first briefing, when his suit left a big gap behind his neck? That is the mark of a suit that doesn’t fit well. Your suit collar should rest against the back of your neck when you move around.

Whenever you stand up, button the suit jacket. It just looks more professional, and when you visit the restroom, it will keep your tie out of the sink. If the suit is a two-button model, button the top button only. If its a three-button model, and you’re not a former NFL wide receiver, only button the middle button.

Next week, I’ll help you choose the right shirt, with the right fit, and choose the right ties. You’ll be dressing like a Boston banker in no time.

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin