I’m a firm believer that we possess the necessary elements to attain whatever position it is that we seek. I’ve also had the opportunity to “pep-talk” many of my friends before they interview for a position and if you’ve made it to the interview, you’re already qualified for the job you want*. However, my friends are always surprised when I ask one thing: what do you plan to wear? For this, I blame my Mom BUT I make it my business to bring up what they are going to wear because I recognize that interview preparation exceeds the necessary talking points. The focus of this post is to highlight some key points that I feel women often overlook**.
The Necessary Foundations
I’ve learned a few things from my Mom quizzing me over the years about what I’m wearing to an interview, and while it is highly annoying, I can say that I’ve been given some gems when it comes to interview/business wear.
Rule 1: Wear the appropriate underwear.
“Wait, what? Underwear?” Yes. Underwear. Why am I starting with this? Well, these are the closest garments to your body and the most overlooked pieces in any outfit. So, my rule of thumb is don’t wear the underwear you may wear for your special someone or out to the club UNLESS that’s what you wear every day AND you look well put-together. Sounds simple enough? It is. Also, try to match your undergarments to your shirt and if you’re unsure of an appropriate color, go with nude or black (some white undergarments glow). If all else fails, model your clothing choice for someone and ask if they can see your foundations.
Rule 2: Wear undergarments that are the proper size.
To begin with, you want to wear underwear that is comfortable. In order for you to do this, they have to actually be your size. Not too tight. Not too loose. Just right. Your big interview is NOT the time to try on those new panties that you felt would give you a boost of confidence. Actually, it’s not the time to try on new underwear at all. The biggest reason for this is that you don’t know HOW you will feel once wearing them long-term. Ensure that you are in the proper size by having your measurements taken by a professional. Also, invest in a body shaper, girdle, or some other smoothing device. I’m a pretty shapely person (read: I’m curvy) and I sometimes utilize an all-in-one girdle to achieve a smoother look. It also reduces clothing sticking in odd places and I don’t have to adjust as often. Adjusting = fidgeting = looking more nervous than you may be.
Rule 3: Wear stockings, tights, or knee highs.
As old school as it sounds, it leads to a complete look if you happen to wear a skirt. Also, it can serve as damage control. What do I mean? Well, one day, I nicked my leg while shaving and had to wear a band-aid. I only had a skirt suit with me (in this scenario, I was at a conference) and I was a little self-conscious about people seeing this pale band-aid on my not-so-pale legs. So, I covered up with stockings. Granted, people may or may not have noticed my leg, but I didn’t want to chance it. Of course, if you are wearing a pantsuit, you can skip the stockings. I, for one, believe that stockings offer a complete look and safety net. Make sure they aren’t ruined though and fishnets should be considered a no-no. You don’t want to be known as THAT new chick before you even get your cubicle/desk space.
Rule 4: Wear a simple shirt.
I said simple. I didn’t say, “white.” You can wear any color shirt you want (this is where I let my personality shine through), however, you do want to make sure that it is simple. Leave this in your closet unless you know it will be well received.
Rule 5: Suit sets or mix and match separates are your friend.
Not everyone owns a suit, that’s fine. I only own one. However, you have more options for interview wear when you buy mix-and-match separates or multiple piece suits (think jacket, pants, and skirt). Not only do you have options, but you have options. When you have options, you’re comfortable. That’s the key to success in any interview setting — being as comfortable as you possibly can. The other great thing about wearing separates is that you can go without your jacket during the interview and simply add the jacket if you are invited to a social function by potential employers.
Rule 6: Shoes should be sensible.
This rule is because I saw a young woman fall in heels. I felt so bad for her. She rolled her ankle and it was obvious that she was in pain. However, she showed up to our interview just as the person conducting the session showed up. She had to sit through an hour and a half of intense questioning and we had a person that couldn’t quite get their thoughts together. When we left the group, her ankle was noticeably swollen. So wear sensible shoes. If you wear a heel, make sure you can walk (and stand for long periods) in them.
Rule 7: Deodorant is a must.
I only mention this rule because we sweat more than usual while under stress, so carry a stick with you. If you find yourself sweating more than usual by the time you show up for your interview, step into a bathroom and freshen up. This should include wiping under your arms and reapplying deodorant. While it may sound like “common sense,” many forget to do this.
Rule 8: Leave your favorite perfume alone.
I’m one of those people who has a sensitivity to everything and I hate to be in the position interviewing someone. When people ask me about what they should wear, I mention my particular sensitivity to smell and that smelling certain things usually lead to a migraine and I also make a point to say that you never want to cause anyone a migraine or undue pain. I also make a point to say, “What’s pleasant to you may not be pleasant to others.” So, hold off on that body spray that you got at the Semi-Annual Sale for 3 for $15. If you are going to wear a perfume, spray it on ONE wrist and press both wrists together. If you want more coverage, then spray it into the air and step through it. Light is best, but none at all is absolutely amazing.
Rule 9: If you could be born with that hair color, then it’s interview appropriate.
If you plan to color your hair, keep it at one of those “natural” (for people like you) shades. If you do have a shade of hair color that’s unique, then wear it pulled back (they can’t really see it if you do AND it becomes a tad bit darker, unless you’re platinum blonde). Employers are looking for the total package and once you accept an offer of employment, you become part of THEIR brand, not your own.
Rule 10: Keep your makeup at a minimum.
Many of us keep up with trends and we find that makeup is one surefire way to express ourselves. Well, let’s keep the expressing to non-interview days. The rule of thumb here is this: at the expense of accidentally looking like MiMi from the Drew Carey Show or some wayward club-going patron, just stick to the basics. You should have light foundation, light blush, light bronzer, simple eyeliner, neutral eyeshadow, and a natural-looking lip balm, gloss, or lipstick. Do this for two reasons: (1) you don’t want to give a future employer the impression that you take 50 hours on your makeup alone and (2) your nerves may cause you to sweat and you wouldn’t want to spend precious time on touchups.
Rule 11: You only want to accessorize if you’re working in the mall. At Forever 21. On a busy Saturday.
I once had a friend who went to an interview. She is an extremely smart young lady. However, she had these lucky bangles that she wore to keep her calm. After her interview, we met up and she was on the verge of tears. It seems that she didn’t make it to the next round of interviews. As she told me her story and how the interview went, I kept hearing this tinking. It was seriously grating on my nerves. I cut her off abruptly, frowned, and asked if she wore her bangles to the interview. She didn’t even have to answer — her face said it all. I simply told her that she may have missed her opportunity BUT to call her contact back to ask what she could have done better. That potential employer was nice enough to explain to her that she was a great candidate (on paper) but that something had been distracting them during the interviewing process. The Moral: Leave all embellishments alone. Your employer can learn all about your fashion-sense once they start depositing those checks into your bank account. I keep my Mom’s “Words of Wisdom” close by when I think of what to wear — earrings (enough to fill up to two holes in each ear), no facial jewelry, and one simple necklace (if you are going to wear one). Also, you may only want to wear a ring if you are engaged to be married or already a misses.
That’s all I have for my rules. Enjoy and share your own tips.
*There are exceptions to this rule but since that is not the topic of this blog, let’s keep it moving.
**I focus on women because I am a woman and because I am a woman.