POSTED ON NOVEMBER 7, 2007:
Style matters if you want to land--and keep--that perfect job
Put Together. For an interview go for the most polished look in your wardrobe.
Some days I wish I still wore a uniform to work. By the time I start picking out clothes at 7:30am, I've already been getting ready for an hour.
Don't judge me. I've told you how I feel about the process of getting ready. I think it would be so wonderful if I could go back to my early professional years when I was required to wear a t-shirt with my company's logo and a pair of jeans. Those jobs required shoes that covered your toes and that usually meant tennis shoes because they were the most "comfortable" shoes I owned.
Then I realize that I hate wearing tennis shoes and I'm glad I don't have a uniform. Those days remind me that I can wear fabulous heels because I sit at a desk all day.
As much as I'd like to wear t-shirts and be ultra comfy at work each day, I enjoy the professional look even more. But professional dress is such a whirlwind of looks these days. From the initial interview to day-to-day looks and work-related events, it's not as black and white as it used to be. Whether you're soon to be leaving the comfortable job you've had through the past four years and moving into the professional world (I'm talking to you December college grads) or changing careers, it's nice to have an idea of what to wear when you're working.
First things first--the interview. You've printed out a crisp resume, memorized your strong points and weak points and know where you see yourself in five years, but have you planned your wardrobe? Perhaps planned is not the right word, unless you're me. For my job interview with Urban Tulsa Weekly, I stockpiled outfits like people did canned goods and water in preparation for Y2K. Wearing just the right thing to an interview, something that shows you are both professional and knowledgeable in fashion, is a thin line to walk.
I bought two new outfits only to wear something I already owned. But the point is, I put some thought into it. Whatever the color of your job's collar, it's important to look professional for that first impression. Keep in mind it may even come before the actual interview. If you're picking up a job application from the location, make sure to look polished; you never know who may remember you and if they'll have an effect on getting you the job.
From websites that help you find jobs to corporations that find you an employer, you'll find lists of what to wear to an interview and what to avoid. Many of these lists include recommendations for personal hygiene, and this baffled me. Do we not all agree bathing is supremely important prior to landing a job? For the sake of this supremely important part of your career, I'm going to spell it out by saying please scrub yourself down with hot water and soap before going to your interview.
Personal grooming means well-maintained facial hair for men and nails and tasteful hair and makeup for women. While there are probably several jobs that would like you to showcase how creative you are with a teasing comb and a make up palette with colors from the rainbow, the majority of jobs are not about the shock factor.
As far as ensembles, go for the most polished looks in your wardrobe. For men, that would be slacks of some sort--khakis, dress pants, or a full-blown suit. No matter what the job entails, jeans or shorts just don't say that you take your career seriously. If you don't own a dressier pair of pants already, invest. Even if this job doesn't pan out, you'll have more interviews in the future and not to mention these are also a wardrobe staple. Shirts for men are also basic no brainers--a button?down, long?sleeve shirt or a polo does the trick. Remember to tuck the shirt into your pants; sure it looks less cool, but it looks like you care. And while it sounds like a chore (because it is), wrinkled clothes demand an iron and ironing board. Dress shoes are the ideal footwear, but if you're lacking, your recently cleaned tennis shoes will do.
Obviously, if the job is higher up on the corporate ladder, a suit may be necessary. Get one tailored to your body if you're investing in a piece for your wardrobe or get one that at least fits your frame. Aim towards dark blues, dark grey or pinstripe; black suits are for formal settings and funerals. Ties, like ladies' makeup and jewelry, should be toned down. Now is not the time to break out your treasured Star Wars tie.
While it feels completely wrong to write this, for your interview you might have to put aside who you really are as far as dress is concerned. While you're there to give this company an idea of who you are and what you can bring, you also have to be aware of what they're looking for. As cheesy as it might sound, you should speak on behalf of yourself; don't let your obnoxious choices in attire speak for you.
For ladies entering the workforce, you have your options. You could wear a full suit, with a blazer and skirt or blazer and pants combo. You could choose just the skirt without the jacket or just the pants. Wrapped dress, pencil skirt, button down shirt--obviously not all in one outfit combination, but you probably have a small section of your closet that works. T-shirts and jeans won't do the trick, but ladies have a gazillion different tops and bottoms that can appear dressier. For women, the issue is not what you're wearing, but what you're not wearing.
Modesty is the key, so avoid strapless or sleeveless tops (unless you plan to keep a jacket on). Stow away the cleavage and keep skirts and dresses at or just above the knee.
High heels are fine; a pointy toed pump or peep toe shoe with a higher heel will look appropriate, but if they're platform or five-inch stilettos and were sold somewhere that also sells exotique lingerie, then I hope you're interviewing for a dancing position because that's the only place those are appropriate. Pantyhose aren't the unwritten rule like they used to be, but tights are certainly trendy right now, and as long as they are understated, they should look fine. Unless the position you desire is in a really creative, relaxed field, play down anything that might be too trendy, for it could suggest a lack of maturity.
If you're completely unsure of what is appropriate for the industry, call and ask. Find out what people around the office typically wear. Is it formal business, with suits being the general attire, or is it more casual? The answer may pinpoint you in a precise direction, but for a job interview, it's better to be overdressed than underdressed.
Once you have the job, it's best to follow the pack until you catch on. Some offices may have a strict dress code in place and others may be more lax, but still determine your restrictions. Does casual mean jeans and t-shirts are okay, or does it imply khakis and polos? Are casual clothes restricted to that clothing tease that is "Casual Friday"? You typically pick up the office-wear vibe by scoping out your fellow co-workers, but when in doubt, ask.
It will be a discovery period throughout the year as you determine throughout the seasons what's a-okay. For instance, it's a ways off, but Bermuda shorts, although longer, have been under scrutiny for being too casual. Summer is actually the problem season, with men and shorts and ladies in skimpy summer clothes. You may have to settle for dressing cool, both in temperature and overall style, outside your office.
Another important thing to research is whether the company has a piercing policy. In this modern age so many people have jewelry and tattoos throughout their entire bodies, but that might not be the look your company wants to represent. Definitely remove these for interviews and find out what, if any, restrictions are in place before showing up to work with a face full of metal.
This is also true for people who have a work uniform. Even if you do have a uniform, there may be strict rules about the state of your uniform or the types of shoes you have to wear (blasted closed-toe shoes!). Let your creativity and personality shine with accessories. Once you have the job, you're able to adapt again into who you are, with the exception of the rules enforced on you. Express yourself through your jewelry, shoes and your work outside of work clothing choices.
Work outside of work attire consists of mandatory events like meals with clients, company events and those other post five o'clock work-related activities. These events provide a little more leeway in the dress code department, but always keep in mind that the choices made outside of your typical working environment still affect your regular working life. It's a judgment call based on your line of work and the event you're attending.
In the initial phases of your career, you'll have to worry about the details of your dress. Eventually, you won't have time to be concerned about what you're wearing because you'll be so concerned about not screwing up your new career.
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