Friday, January 22, 2010

Avoiding a Fashion Faux Pas: What to Wear to a Job Interview

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Now that Winter Quarter is in full swing, the CAPS office is humming with interviewees and prospective employers. The competition for a lot of on-campus recruiting positions is stiff, and applicant pools are often quite large. So if you do score an interview, it’s important to put your best professional foot forward—and that means dressing the part. After all, if the interviewer is concentrating more on what you’re wearing than what you’re saying, you aren’t very likely to get the position.

The most basic rule of interview fashion: dress for the position above the position you’re applying for. If you don’t think someone about ten years older than you would wear it, you shouldn’t either. This doesn’t mean that you need to dress like your grandmother—it’s possible to be fashionable and still be appropriate. But keep in mind that unless you’re applying for a job at a fashion magazine, potential employers are not too concerned about whether you’re up on the latest trends. When in doubt, it’s better to err on the conservative side and save your bangles for a night out.

The second rule: if you don’t know what to wear, wear a suit. True story: during Fall quarter, one prominent finance company was on campus conducting interviews for a full time position. At the end of the day, the recruiter remarked that he was having trouble deciding between two applicants for a second round interview. Later, we learned that the deciding factor had come down to a suit: one candidate had worn one, while the other hadn’t. You can probably guess which one got the second round interview.

The third rule: less is more when it comes to accessories. While nice earrings or an attractive necklace can make an outfit, the wrong accessories—or too many of the right ones—can really break it. For women, the best bet is to wear a single pair of earrings that aren’t too big. Large, dangling earrings can be distracting during an interview; the same is true for multiple necklaces or bracelets. Remember, this interview is the only chance you have to make a good first impression. You can always flaunt your fashion sense after you’ve gotten the job.

For men, the accessories rule might seem silly, but it still holds. Men should avoid jewelry aside from a nice watch and/or a ring. Earrings of any sort are inadvisable, and facial piercings (for both sexes) are best left at home on interview day. The same goes for strong perfume or cologne—interviewers shouldn’t be able to smell you coming!

The fourth rule: plan ahead. The night before your interview, pick out what you’re going to wear. More importantly, try it on. This gives you a chance to find that coffee stain you forgot about or that hole you hadn’t noticed before. It’s also your opportunity to make sure everything still fits, because let’s face it, sometimes pants are a little tighter in January than they were in December. You should iron your clothes, because messy wrinkles are never attractive. Lastly, be sure to check things like hem length—skirts should cover your thighs when seated; pants shouldn’t show your socks when standing—and color coordination—no brown shoes with black pants (or vice versa)!

The fifth rule: dress comfortably. This may sound like a contradiction, since most people wouldn’t consider suits nearly as comfortable as jeans or loungewear, but by “comfortable” I mean an outfit that you feel relaxed and confident in. If you get vertigo even looking at heels, wear flats. If that new jacket your mom bought you makes you look like a linebacker, don’t wear it. No matter what you choose, you should feel like you are going to be able to put your best foot forward, and look good doing it.

And one more thing, as long as we’re talking about feet: no open-toe shoes, not even in the summer. Most importantly, no athletic shoes. EVER.

For more tips on interviewing, check out the CAPS webcast at Do you have a favorite interview outfit or a fashion horror story? Leave a comment!


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