Since most of my clients are applying to work in conservative, professional environments like law firms, investment banks, and corporations, I advise them to wear conservative, professional dress when going on an interview. That means a dark colored suit (either with pants or a skit), a white or otherwise light-colored dress shirt, and quiet, closed-toe shoes. Even within those constraints, there’s plenty of room for error for the unwary or inexperienced job seeker.
Pay attention to the details in your wardrobe. Such attention has several benefits. For one, going through your wardrobe can help put you in the proper mindset for the interview. But attention to detail is more than just an exercise in mental preparation. Interviewers will notice (and appreciate) your attention to detail, which demonstrates that you understand corporate culture and respect both the employer and the interviewer. Even more important is that in many work places, attention to detail is a job qualification. Being well dressed is a way for you to embody this job qualification.
So where are some ways where you can both avoid mistakes and shine. Where does this information come from? I spend a great deal of time talking to hiring decision-makers, including hiring directors, interviewers, personnel managers, and recruiters, especially as research for How to Get a Legal Job: A Guide for New Attorneys and Law School Students. So these tips aren’t just my opinion, they come from the most common complaints of the people who will be interviewing you.
- Your bra is showing. Maybe your bra straps are visible, or your blouse is see-through, or the gaps between the buttons of your shirt are larger than you think, or you’re wearing a lacy pink bra under a white silk blouse. Regardless, your interviewer does not want to see your bra. Wear a camisole under your blouse or shirt to prevent your bra being seen through thin materials. Choose the color and material of your bra wisely. While you’re at it, make sure your bra fits and covers properly! The goal is to minimize—not maximize—visibility. Sometimes job candidates skimp on these details because they assume that they’ll be wearing their suit jacket the entire time they are at the employer. If you’re wearing a suit jacket, then no one can see that your bra would be showing. Right? Consider what happens when you need to unbutton your suit jacket or take it off.
- Your hemline is too short. Skirts and dresses worn by professional women in professional environments have longer hemlines than skirts and dresses worn by students and in casual settings. Your favorite skirt to wear at the nightclub will not be appropriate for wearing to the job interview. Remember too that when you sit, your skirt rises up even farther on your legs. Do not subject your interviewer to a “Basic Instinct” moment.
- You’re showing too much cleavage. Interviewers (both men and women) have told me that they are uncomfortable talking to women showing cleavage in the workplace. They are sensitive to both sexual harassment claims and perceptions, and one interviewer told me she cut a meeting short because she was terrified that she would be caught staring. Don’t make your interviewer uncomfortable. Don’t let cleavage distract from your job qualifications.
- Your fingernails look like talons and your makeup looks like it was applied with a spatula. Yes, it’s true that the goal in a job interview is to be memorable. But it’s better to be memorable for good reasons rather than bad ones. Flashy nail polish and heavy makeup don’t mesh with most corporations’ culture, and distract an interviewer from your otherwise great qualifications.