Sure, we feminized it with a nondescript scarf or (heaven forbid) a little tie in a bow. We may have been told we could be more poetic if we were interviewing in one of the creative fields, like advertising. But today, as with so many other things, everything is as reconfigured as your new rebuilt MacBook, and strict dress codes are mostly outdated. Things have changed drastically, and yet, some old rules still apply. Here’s where we’re at in the new world order of interview attire:
If you’re interviewing in the “old money” fields, like banking or finance, a suit may still be relevant. Say yes to a pantsuit and no to a skirt and matching suit jacket. No need to look like a 1980’s powerbroker. If you go with navy or even a chic pinstripe, then accessorize with color. Fuchsia and navy blue are compatible stepsisters and look gorgeous together. Or play off the color with suede violet pumps — just enough of a jolt for them to notice you don’t take yourself too seriously (at least, not all the time). Another suggestion is to tuck a colorful but tasteful statement necklace under the slightly popped collar of a crisp white button-down shirt. Your goal is chicness with direction. A fine watch and diamond studs (fake or real) and you’re good to go. Follow the money, that is.
Be careful here — stay away from church-lady territory by keeping the overall look polished. No mohair cardigans over fussy blouses or they’ll be looking for your glasses on a chain. Keep everything sleek. Think pencil skirts in saturated hues stabilized with cool cropped jackets. Or go jacket-less and choose a new blouse with slight bell-sleeves and a few thin bracelets. Belt it for further polishing. If you do the look with pants, add a neat non-voluminous circle sweater with some knit-in detail for flash. It turns professional with tone-on-tone heels to match the pant color. You’ll be comfy, too, with the ease of a looser sweater. All interviews need a little help.
Okay, so if this is one of those fields with a softer company culture, how casual can you go? Our advice — not very. You’re still on a job interview, and like it or not, your clothes will be scrutinized in those first-impression moments. Make them count by sticking with the prescribed formula but leaving off an element or two. If heeled shoes are too intimidating, go with high-quality black flats. Make sure they’re polished and clean. Keep the pant line slim and to the ankle. Add an accessory that says who you are: a poetic bohemian belt, off-beat colored glasses, or chunky silver cuff. Only one accessory, though; you can show off what’s in your closet once you get the gig. The point is to ease up on strident rules and show off just a little bit, something that today’s business casual (thankfully) allows for. The advertising and art world can handle it because that’s what they want from you. Just don’t overdo it.
Even today, there are still basic Do’s and Don’ts. Yes, the rules have changed, but there are still some things that will send you to the back of the line. Here are our Please Don’ts:
- Don’t wear leopard or other animal prints. It can be off-putting on a first interview and may indicate aggressiveness to long-time hire managers.
- Modesty when dressing for job interviews is one quality that definitely hasn’t gone out of style. Stick to knee-length skirts (or even a chic midi-length one), if you’re going that route. Remember, you ultimately want to be remembered by the interviewer for your super-star qualities — not for being the one whose interview outfit could’ve moonlighted last Saturday.
- Don’t wear anything that’s not ironed to within an inch of its life. Call Mom for best practices, including steaming, settings, crease-making, etc. Neatness still counts!
- Don’t clang. Save the charm bracelet that Grandma gave you and all other tinkling, chiming, and otherwise noisy accessories for the weekend. You may be interviewing with someone you’re going to cube-share with and she’s going to be sizing you up for your roomie qualities, too.
- Don’t carry a messy bag. You know what they say: messy bag equals messy desk (or messy brain). Everything you carry to the interview should be sleek and slick. Ditto for key chains, pens, portfolios. Show them how put together you are.
- Don’t wear a lot of makeup. We know you love the stuff but blend, blend, blend. Lipstick is great but no one at your potential new workplace will appreciate it you’re made up like “The Little Mermaid’s” Ursula. Don’t shock them with your finesse in mixing eyeshadow colors either. Keep it simple, subtle, and professional.
- Don’t wear a heavy fragrance. If you’re just not you without your signature scent, hit two pulse points and that’s it. You want to linger because of your polished flair and brilliant resume — not because of your wore-it-on-my-birthday-pub-crawl perfume. As nice and costly as it is, it’s not a wise interview accompaniment.
Now you know that although it’s a brave new world out there where yoga pants dine out regularly, some things have not changed all that much. First impressions matter, especially on a much-anticipated job interview. Remember who your audience is: the person who will, hopefully, be signing your paychecks for a while. Show them with the right interview outfit that you’re worth every dollar on that check!
Donna is a freelance writer with a particular interest in the issues, struggles, loves, and dreams of women. She writes all about it on her blog, alovelyinconsequence.blogspot.com.