Fashion Friday: Dressing for Interview Success

Posted on November 20th, 2009 by

If you’ve been following Fashion Fridays, you already know the four major dress codes workplaces enforce.  You know what to wear once you get the job, but what should you wear to the interview?

The Washington Post recently wrote on the subject, and rule of thumb is always to dress from the level above the organization’s dress policy – Thus, if you are interviewing at a casual dress company (lucky you!) make sure to wear a business casual outfit, if the company is business casual dress in business formal attire, and so on.

Don’t worry if that seems too complicated.  In all honesty, there is really no reason to be concerned about what to wear for your interview.  The answer is straight-forward and basic.  You want to present a professional, blank slate so that your experience and personal qualities will speak for you rather than allowing your clothing to make the first impression.  So a boring but highly presentable outfit is always the right answer!

Let’s talk about women this week, and guys next…

Here is what every woman needs to interview (and no more!):

1) A Suiting Jacket with either Suiting Pants or a Suiting Skirt.  You can choose which you prefer, although the skirt is the more formal and professional option.  Stick with a dark neutral such as gray or navy, and black is best for conservative work environments.  There are so many ways to wear a suit that you only need to have one to interview – Different tops and accessories  can allow you to wear the suit again to a second interview without raising eyebrows.

2) Tailored Blouse or Shell.  A button-down works too, but a blouse will look nicer and as if you put a little more thought into your look.  Avoid too many ruffles and don’t do a bright color or strong pattern.  Remember that you are a blank slate – a simple silk top is perfect.

3) Closed-Toe Pumps.   The heel should be mid-range (three inches or less) and you should be able to walk with ease – Stumbling is not a good way to start off!  Don’t do an open-toe or peep-toe shoe until after you have been hired.  Again, stick with a dark neutral color palette.

4) Briefcase or Portfolio.  Leave your giant logo bag at home!  You’ll want to invest in a black leather portfolio to carry extra resumes, a notepad, business cards, and just a few other essentials.  If you are interviewing for a job dealing directly with technology, you may want to bring along your laptop in a briefcase so you can show your work immediately.  As you can see above, briefcases can actually be feminine and really great looking.  Only bring into your interview what you will need!  Leave all make-up, etc in the car (More on this in another post).  If all else fails, you can use a small, discreet purse in an interview as well.

5) A Watch and Minimal Jewelry.  A not-too-flashy-watch will make a very professional impression and can be one of the few ways to accessorize in an interview.  Beyond the watch, keep jewelry as small as possible to just don’t wear any.  Stud earrings only – nothing dangling, and nothing that will jingle (stack of bangles).  If in doubt, don’t put it on!

Now that you know what your clothes should look like, how about the rest of you?
 – Keep your make-up simple (No strong eyeliner or bold lip colors – This is not the time to start a new make-up routine).
– Same with your hair (No elaborate curls or “creative” up-dos, and on the other end, no ponytails).
– This is a great excuse for a manicure!  Make sure nails are trimmed and on the shorter side – either without polish or in some pale nude color.

If this all sounds too standard, that’s because it is.  You don’t want to separate yourself from the other candidates through your style (although you can look more professional than them!) but rather by what you will bring to the job!

**One large exception to the above rules – If you are applying in a field that highly values creativity (fashion, graphic arts, etc) you have a lot more leeway.  Keep professionalism as a top priority, but you get to play around with patterns and colors and styles much more than everyone else!  Hooray!




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