Thursday, September 3, 2009

Recession Fashionista- How to dress for a job interview

Unfortunately, I know of quite a few people who have been laid off due to company downsizing in this recession. Fortunately, those people are all talented, intelligent, skilled individuals that any company should be happy to hire. But no matter what your experience, you can blow an interview if you don't look the part. Did you know that in some states, your appearance is not a protected class where discrimination is concerned? If you look disheveled or unprofessional in your attire and grooming, your potential employer can legally use that as reasoning NOT to hire you! In other words, while they can't discriminate against age, race, gender, etc., they can discriminate against your appearance.

Dressing for a job interview isn't too difficult, but there are some aspects that can be tricky. First of all, find out the dress code of your potential employer. When HR calls to schedule the interview with you, it is perfectly appropriate to ask then. Business, business casual, casual- these are all common dress codes, but some companies don't necessarily have one either. Without asking too many questions, feel free to ask for clarification if the dress code is casual- to some that means jeans and t-shirts, to others it's actually closer to business casual standards. When it doubt, overdress. Did you know that there are STILL lots of companies that require panty-hose with skirts & dresses? It's true. Scary, but true.

Next, consider the industry your potential job is part of. Obviously, if you're applying for a job in an artistic field- music, art, fashion, etc. then you can have a LOT more freedom with your clothing choices. In fact, showing your creativity through your attire can make you stand out in a positive way. Be careful, though. If you're applying for an accounting position at a music company, don't try to dress like a rock star in leather & chains! But if your wardrobe typically has a bit of an edge to it, it's ok to show a little off that edge. Just make sure that the remember YOU, not your outfit. If your potential job is in a more conservative industry, dress accordingly, but don't be afraid to add a little of your personality to your attire. A bright, printed scarf tied to the handle of your briefcase adds a little flair without being over the top. Also, a plain suit can be jazzed up with a little bit of interesting jewelry. Key words: a little bit. Don't go too far. I repeat: you want the interviewer to remember YOU, not your outfit.

Finally, I know you all really want the specifics, so here are guidelines for basic job interview dress code:

  • Generally speaking, stilettos are a no-no for job interviews.
  • Keep your heel height conservative (less than 3 inches) and the heel itself more substantial than a stiletto.
  • Open toes and strappy shoes should be avoided but if you must, make sure you spruce up your toes with a decent pedicure.
  • Shiny or sparkly shoes should also be avoided- save the satin, rhinestones and glitter for after 5 PM. Stick with leather and fabrics with a matte finish.
  • Color is ok- a pop of color at your feet adds a little personality to your outfit.
  • Never wear sneakers, flip-flops or any other type of casual or athletic style of shoe.
  • Guys, a nice pair of leather dress shoes are always appropriate. Make sure they're clean and relatively scuff-free.


  • Low cut tops and mini-skirts are verbotten. This seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised what some people think is work appropriate.
  • Small to medium subtle prints are better than large, bold ones.
  • Use bright colors in moderation.
  • As annoying as it might be, if the company's dress code requires pantyhose, wear them.
  • Wear clothes that are structured, fitted and well-tailored. Loose, flowy, or ill-fitting clothes will make you look frumpy.
  • No jeans, please.


  • Neat, conservative hairstyles are a must.
  • Avoid perfume and cologne, but definitely wear deodorant.
  • Trim your nails and keep the polish light colored and conservative- no acrylic tips, please.
  • Wear make-up, but not a lot of it and once again, keep it conservative.
  • Guys, make sure you shave or trim your beard.

If you have a job interview coming up, I wish you all the best and I hope these tips will help you make a strong, professional impression. Once you get the job (and I know you will), model your daily work attire after the best-dressed person at the office. If you're not sure who that is, look to the ones at the top of the company and follow their lead. Just like your personal style outside of work, it's a great idea to have an office, or professional, style icon.

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