The wonderful Dejà Pseu invited me to post with her on the topic of job interview attire. She’s done the same today, and you can find her ideas here. I’m not looking yet, so as to see what we come up with, independently. All in the service of dispassionate information for you, the best readers in the world, who I hope will also contribute your opinions.
More narrowly, let’s talk job interview dress for women over 30 who work in offices. Given my background, this advice will be especially relevant to the software industry.
First, we have to set aside the Suitdustries. You know who you are, oh Wall Street, oh BigLaw, oh Engineering departments of some oil companies in Texas. Commenters please chime in with other Suitdustries I’ve missed. And head over to Corporette for resources galore.
But suits are rarer and rare in most workplaces, and hence less necessary in interviews. What to wear if it’s not Ol’ Gray Suit herself? Let’s rule out what you can’t wear. Almost nowhere will you want to interview in jeans – even if all the employees show up dressed that way.
What does work? Let’s extend Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” hypothesis. He posits that everyone makes an assessment in the first few seconds. Our extended hypothesis states that in the first few seconds of an interview people decide if you are weird, and then they spend the next 30-60 minutes deciding if you have the right skills, experience, and DNA for the job.
Job interview outfits should therefore signal that you are not weird. Weird is a relative term. Weird really means “outside the norms,” and “noticeably divergent from our corporate culture and expectations.” Therefore, choose an outfit that:
- Includes vestigial suit components in generally accepted corporate color schemes. Everyone knows we used to wear matched suits to interviews – you want to indicate that you are familiar with the code, but can master its evolution.
- Can be made more or less formal quickly – you want to match your environment
- Look authoritative when you’re standing, and friendly when you sit down – we all like authoritative when it’s easy to work with
By vestigial suit components I mean jacket, of course. But this is business. Why use a simple term with complexity available? I like to wear a short-sleeved or 3/4 jacket, which is like wearing a shirt with a sign on it saying JACKET, but, um, not. Then if I find myself sitting across from someone in a tee, I take the jacket off and we’re on the same team. Hi buddy! Let’s get the job done! Together!
Oh, and black, grey and white are serious but not boring. I counsel that you avoid statement jewelry. Nobody is hiring your necklace.
But then I don’t like statement jewelry to begin with, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
This strategy has some flexibility. A while ago a young woman asked me what to wear for an interview in 90 degree heat. It was a moderately creative job, if I remember. When it gets really hot, you can move your color palette south, i.e. warmer and lighter. It’s remarkable how many shades of blue we embrace in corporate America. They are all your friend.
And as for shoes, just don’t totter or strut. Flats are good, heels up to 2 1/2 inches are good, heels above that are OK if everyone you’re talking to is under 40. We over 40s still hear the old song Good Girls Don’t Wear Stilettos, in the back of our minds. Why kick the hornet’s nest of our mothers’ expectations if you don’t have to?
Finally, non-sartorially, my best advice is to make a connection with your interviewers by listening to them carefully.
Your clothes won’t get you the job; just make sure they don’t keep you out of contention. Now go see what Pseu says. I’m certainly going to, if only to remind myself that two competent people can recommend different approaches, hence proving the point that there’s no single code.