Full disclosure — I will always advocate overdressing for an interview. I have also gotten every job I have ever interviewed for. Coincidence? I think not.
Okay, that is total bullshit. While it is a factually true statement, I think my sparkling wit, endearing charm, fabulous charisma, and of course, my obvious humility (and by humility I mean the exact opposite of that; I have an incredibly inflated sense of self), played a decent role in securing my positions. The clothing and presentation don’t hurt, though, and I am an advocate of always erring on the side of “more professional.” This doesn’t mean stuffy black or navy suit, white button-up, sensible 2-inch max heels and a pearl necklace, though. This also doesn’t mean you can’t let your personality shine through. What it does mean is that people interviewing you will judge you based, in part, on your appearance. We can argue all day about the fairness of that (it’s often not), how one’s qualifications should be the only thing that matters (they should), and that any judgment based on physical appearance is bullshit (it is). However, we live in the world as it is, not as it should be, and while we will all keep fighting those bigger battles, the reality is that first impressions count and mama has bills to pay. So let’s find some outfits for getting paid, y’all.
Polyvore is the easiest way to put these little outfits together, and I try to keep the pieces reasonably priced. However, suits can be found at places like Ross, Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, and the like for under $100. Always, ALWAYS make sure the jacket fits in the shoulders. Sleeves can be shortened, pants can be hemmed or let out, but the shoulders have got to fit. I advise ignoring the size label completely— that is actually good advice for ALL clothing— and buy what fits. Pieces can be tailored for minimal money, and a cheap suit tailored to your body will look 10 times more expensive if it fits you like a glove.
If at all possible, please wear a suit, even if you are interviewing to be a file clerk or a receptionist. Many have argued this point with me for as long as I can remember, and I have not been swayed yet. Interviewing in a professional office brings certain expectations. If the office is more relaxed and business casual, you will make an even bigger impression if you show up in a suit. I have interviewed and hired a large number of people in my life, and a professional presentation always makes a good impression.
A great way to spend less on a suit is to buy separates instead of a full suit. While some stores like Ann Taylor Loft or J. Crew have decent suits at somewhat reasonable prices for their respective quality, you get more bang for your buck buying individual pieces that go together. This also allows for more personality to shine through your choices. Try to stay away from overly vibrant primary colors and keep things to a more neutral palette. You also don’t need a button-down shirt. Try for a simple, one color tank or tee in a nice fabric that isn’t see-through.
If you are interviewing at a more casual workplace, perhaps a coffee shop or some retail establishments, you can relax on the suit angle. A well-fitted dress and cardigan, paired with awesome booties, kick-ass heels or adorable loafers are a total win.
General Interview Outfit Tips
- Make sure everything is clean and wrinkle-free. This is not the time for linen or satin, folks. This may seem like common sense, but it is not. I have interviewed way too many people who came in stained clothing, ripped sweaters, or clothes they may have slept in. Carry a Tide stick with you in case you spill on the way in.
- Open-toe shoes are okay, but stick to a peep toe. Also, while polish isn’t a necessity, gnarly eagle talons need to be contained.
- Don’t wear open-back shoes, like mules or slip-ons. If your potential employer takes you on a tour, you don’t want the “thwack thwack” of your shoes interrupting their conversation.
- Go easy on the scented products. Yes, I know this isn’t clothing related, but it is worth mentioning. Many people have smell sensitivities, and you don’t want to leave a negative impression on someone because you overdid it on the perfume.
- While I agree with Barney Stinson wholeheartedly on the “SUIT UP” front, I realize not everyone has the means to go out and buy a suit, particularly when you are searching for employment. If a suit is not an option, a nice top, fitted cardigan, well-fitted pants or a skirt, and clean, scuff-free shoes are the way to go.
- At the end of the day, your true value as an employee lies in your ability to perform the functions of your job. As we are a bookish and clever bunch, your clothing will obviously become an afterthought once the interviewer has gotten a chance to hear the unicorn magical wonder that will emanate from your very soul. You are a fucking rock star, a fabulous beast, and a hell of a person. Now get out there and get to work!