Ahhh, the troubles of fashion.
Something I talk about a lot with my clients and my college students is what to wear / what not to wear. I find it interesting that this is something you can hear about all the time on the periphery (like any college career office worth its weight in salt will discuss dress code for interviews) but it is so personal that it is still a struggle to get dressed for those interviews.
A lot of what to wear is dependent on the industry you are meeting with for your next step. Those of us who are well used to interviewing know what works for us - what suit or outfit makes us feel powerful, confident and in control. For those who are just starting out or for whom interviewing is a panic-inducing process (for many more people than you would think), this is not too easy.
My rules of fashion for interviewing are simple and straightforward - or so I thought before I wrote these all down. Yikes.
Rules For Men:
For men, splurge on your shoes. All of my industries (education, publishing and, of course, financial services) the most important expense for men were their shoes - and the cobbler down by 55 Water Street had a lot of business repairing and restoring these shoes because they were mini-investments.
The suit is important too and should match the industry norms. So if it is financial services, it should be a conservative suit in a conservative color - keep the beige and white suits for other industries. Stay sharp with a nice tie in a great color - but not too colorful and nothing strange on the tie - it will not be a conversation starter. For other industries, it can be more relaxed - maybe the company is a tech one and no one wears suits, ever - but know that before you walk in. Also, it does not hurt to be in a suit unless of course you know the corporate culture is one totally against suits. Of course, your clothing options can range in prices from super expensive to Men's Warehouse reasonable - I think reasonable is the way to go unless you are a multi-million dollar investment banker in which case your suit will be in the thousands.
Always be well-groomed.
You should use a messenger bag or briefcase, if needed. Otherwise, it is not uncommon for men to come to an interview with just a folder and/or one of those leather folders holding a pad of paper and a nice pen. Please make it a nice pen.
Rules for Women
For women, there are so many fashion options and I think that is the hardest part about interviewing as a woman.
Shoes are just as important for women but they should be comfortable. Do not wear the 4 inch Jimmy Choos unless you wear them every day and I would caution against wearing them anyway because they look more weekend-ready and not office-ready. The shoes must be in great shape. One time, in college, I went on an interview and just grabbed the well-worn heels I had worn for a few years and I remember the interviewer (another woman), looking derisively at my shoes - I did not get offered the job.
Depending on the industry, either a conservative suit probably in a skirt option although pants are also acceptable and probably more comfortable. The only time you will probably wear pantyhose will be to an interview on a conservative firm - and some of the more conservative firms have a dress code policy that states rules regarding pantyhose, tights etc. It depends on the firm and I do think a lot of companies are more in the less conservative area than conservative. If you know someone at the firms you are interviewing with, it makes sense to ask them about the dress code (especially if they are other women). I know back in the day at Standard & Poor's open toed sandals and shoes were prohibited as well as shorts, tank tops, etc most for both men and women.
Also for women, be comfortable. Do not wear something ill-fitting either too big or too small. Mimic your industry but you can never go wrong with a nice suit either skirt or pants. If skirt, make sure the length is long enough to allow you to sit comfortably and that when you have to bend down to pick up your pocketbook and other stuff that it does not ride up too much in the back. Because, yes, although you think you will not have to bend, trust me you will. Use a 3 way mirror or have a friend, roommate or family member check this out for you.
Your pocketbook should also be conservative - I use My Best Friend is a Bag and it fits all of my required "stuff" with a zippered middle pocket and then has two side portions where I can put my laptop or iPad and folders, etc.
Try to carry a nice pen and one of those folders with a pad of paper in it (like those leather like portfolios that open up with pad of paper). Grooming should be matching to the company - if it is a creative company, you can have non-natural hair colors but if it is not creative, be careful with the hair colors.
For Both Men & Women
Do not dose yourself too much with your favorite scent but do make sure you smell pleasant.
Tattoos should be a talking point - when I was in college, anyone with a visible tattoo was instructed to cover them with makeup, dark stockings or more - I do not think this is as much as an issue anymore barring any tattoos on the face area - I do not think those are as accepted yet. But I could be wrong - let me know if you think otherwise re tattoos and/or piercings. I do think piercings (depending on the company) should be toned down - as in not too many in the face area besides ears. Another thing I am open to suggestions/discussion on.
Wow, this went on longer than I thought it would - I guess I did have lots of fashion tips. What do you think about my advice re fashion? What would you do differently for your first interviews? What is your go to fashion style for interviewing? Happy Hunting!
Lisa Vento Nielsen