You only get one chance to make a good first impression.
Usually, I can’t say I agree with that old-fashioned adage. But a job interview isn’t an ordinary real-life scenario. It’s the only situation in life, aside from maybe a first date, in which you are placing yourself in front of another person and fully preparing yourself to be judged. And, just like a first date, even if you’re a dazzling conversationalist and your resume (or OkCupid profile) is full of all the perfect catch-phrases—if you don’t look the part, you might not get to second base. By which I mean a second interview.
Because I am a 20-something in the year 2013 and because every publication under the sun tells me this is true, I will go on roughly a hundred thousand job interviews within my lifetime. I’ve already been around the job interview block, and I probably won’t be stopping any time soon.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about interview wardrobe choices since my days as a newly minted college grad, clutching my BFA for dear life, and praying for health insurance.
Gentlemen, this might not be as intense a topic for you. The height and style of your shoe is rarely an issue, but even if it’s a “totally laid-back workplace” and you’re wearing your loafers or leather low-rise boots with jeans, I absolutely suggest that you polish your shoes! Shoe polish is easily accessible and they even sell these nifty all-in-one polishes at places like CVS or Walgreens. A grown man polishes his shoes—and gets that job!
Ladies, I know that a high heel makes you feel confident and powerful. I know you love the way it click-clacks on the tile floor, as if to say, “Hey everyone! I have arrived!” But I urge you to leave those amazing Loubotin look-alikes you scored on JustFab.com at home. Don’t risk being taller than your interviewer and doom yourself to some really awkward handshakes. Besides, if those shoes could talk, they’d tell you they want to be at a bar, not under a desk.
A few easy solutions are a stylish pair of patent leather or animal print flats, a small kitten heel, or leather or suede ankle boots. If you’re normally a little shy in the face of fashion risks, that’s totally okay, but don’t be afraid of a pop of color or a bold print! There’s no law that says all footwear has to be black nowadays.
SUIT UP! Or don’t?
This will differ depending upon the industry of your dream job and the company’s office environment. Try your very best to research what the dress code is before you go in, though sometimes it’s hard to gauge unless you know someone who works there!
But here’s a tip, for both guys and gals: be absolutely sure you need to wear that suit. If you’re interviewing at a place like a law firm or a major corporation, it’s definitely advisable to suit up, especially for the guys. But I’ve seen many male candidates stroll into casual office environments wearing their best suits, looking super uncomfortable, both physically and mentally. You don’t want to come across as stodgy or old fashioned.
For guys, you can always get away with a nice pair of black slacks and a collared dress shirt. (Tucked in with a belt! For real, this goes without saying!). Bring a blazer that you can throw on at the last second if you’re feeling under-dressed.
Ladies, a black pencil skirt is your best bud. Buy one and love it and pair it with anything and everything. A business-casual blazer also goes a long way in life, so it’s great to have that handy, too. If you don’t feel like wearing a skirt, black skinny pants or flowy black slacks are a great alternative. There’s a lot of debate surrounding black jeans, but I say that if the material is denim to the touch, then thems be jeans and you probably shouldn’t wear them! Skinny pants that are cut like jeans but are made of non-denim material are a much safer bet, especially when paired with a semi-formal top.
Also, an addendum on formal shorts: I adore a good formal short. And once you land this dream job, you might totally be able to get away with wearing them. But maybe leave them at home for your interview. Some people still view shorts as too casual a look, no matter how much pleated realness they’re serving.
Hey You, Yeah You with the FACE.
Ladies, very simple day-time makeup is advisable. Go easy on the eyeliner. You want your potential new boss to focus on the brilliant words tumbling from your lips, not your Amy Winehouse impersonation. Do wash and style your hair, but don’t go overboard with a new style you don’t usually rock (i.e. maybe not those Heidi braids you still can’t do without spraining your wrist).
Guys, if you’re going to style your hair, opt for a small dash of pomade. It’s much more flexible and easier to work with than gel.
And one more tip, take it or leave it: if you’re a glasses wearer, leave your contacts at home! This could be nothing but a silly coincidence, but every time I wore my glasses to an interview, I was offered the job. True story! Maybe I looked more trustworthy? More collegiate and organized? Who knows! But hey, it can’t hurt.
If you’re like me, you dread even the slightest awkward pause and would jump out the window before letting the conversation run dry. Here, you could kill two birds with one stone by incorporating a fashionable accessory that could also potentially lead to this: “Hey, I love your (necklace/tie/bracelet/etc.)! Where’d you get that?”
As for the gals, know that a statement piece doesn’t have to break the bank! Stores like H&M, Forever 21, and the sale rack at Anthropologie have some really fun jewelry that will absolutely do the trick. My tip is to choose ONE piece: a vintage locket or a pair of chandelier earrings. But not both at once!
Do you have any additional tips for job interview wardrobe choices? We’d love to hear what you think. Leave them in the comments below!
Photo by Meaghan Morrison