When I went on my first job interview straight out of college, I was at a loss for what to wear. I was going to a large fashion publishing company whose employees dressed fashionably but there didn’t appear to be a formal dress code. I wanted to look like I’d fit in, but I was afraid of appearing either too casual or too stuffy. Marisa Gouda outlines what to wear in this situation as well as what to wear to a more conservative corporate office. She also shares her advice on how to inject a little of your personality into your work wardrobe. Marisa is the Founder and Style Director of Dressed Up + Dressed Down (creative styling consulting firm). She is also a Certified Wardrobe Stylist, and has worked in the field of branding/brand management for half a decade.
SB: What should I wear to an interview for each of the following jobs: (a) corporate conservative (b) corporate business casual (c) creative?
MG: For both corporate and business casual work environments, being seen as a “fit” within the culture is as much a part of the job interview as your answers to their questions. Your outfit choice will therefore speak volumes about who you are (in addition to what you say out loud), helping your interviewer(s) to visually assess if you’re indeed the right candidate for the job.
So for an interview with a conservative company (i.e. conservative dress or business casual), wearing a suit (pants or a skirt) in a conservative color (navy or black) to your interview is a must. This said, it’s important to infuse a bit of your personality into your interview attire, in order to to ensure that your “personal brand” is memorable (therefore helping your interviewer to remember you as a unique individual). Take this with a grain of salt, however, and do not go overboard. A unique brooch, a colorful or patterned pocket square, or even some conservatively patterned tights (no fishnets) will help you to stand out in a sea of corporate interview outfit sameness, while keeping the rest of your look “on brand” for the company for which you’re interviewing.
Be sure to do your research online, including social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for images of your future colleagues while at work – this will give you a good idea of what’s work appropriate (and what’s not!).
For Creative Interviews:
In creative fields, it’s vitally important to stand out as a unique individual. Don’t be shocked if your interviewer(s) show up in jeans and sneakers – that’s just the culture they live in. While a suit is an absolute no-go for this type of interview, wearing jeans is also inappropriate for you as the interviewee. As I mentioned above, your outward appearance is as much a deciding factor as your skillset, so you’ll want to pick an outfit that says: “I’m creative (but not lazy)”. Just like in conservative cultures, your future colleagues will be assessing your “fit” within their environment by way of your clothes as much as your portfolio, so it’s important that your “personal brand” is strongly established.
With this in mind, I would suggest dressing more conservatively than you would once you get the job. To this end, mixing prints and patterns via a blazer and trousers (or skirt) would be perfect. Wearing a print/pattern mix will reflect your creative side, while the structure of the blazer and trouser will reflect your attention to detail (and show that you take the interview seriously). Have a floral blazer? Perfect, pair it with a similarly patterned trouser or skirt and you’ll scream: “I’m creatively relevant!” (styling tip: Be sure your print and pattern mix lives in the same color family – this is the trick to getting it right.) At the same time, keep the rest of your outfit simple: a neutral, single-colored shirt, shoe and handbag will allow your style statement print/pattern mixing to stand out. And wear a watch – it shows your future boss that you value time!
SB: What are work wardrobe basics that every woman needs?
MG: We get this question all the time, which is why we published this recent blog post about it. For the Dressed Up + Down team, workwear essentials also need to function outside of work. They should take you from day to night, work to cocktails, meetings to dinner, etc. with few minor updates. Our list of workwear basics includes: 1) a little leather skirt, 2) strappy heels (in neutral colors), 3) a smartly textured shoulder bag, 4) multiple silk button-up blouses (in every color and pattern), 5) statement accessories, and last but not least 6) a versatile cape (in a lighter-weight fabric). No joke, these pieces are versatile enough to work with virtually everything else in your closet today (even without me seeing what you own!).
SB: What are your top five rules for interview dressing?
1) DO NOT dress like you’re going to (or just came from) the club. i.e. no sexy anything!
2) DO dress like you take the job opportunity seriously, i.e. like you took the time to dress the part.
3) DO NOT underdress. i.e. no jeans, no sneakers, no weekend wear.
4) DO incorporate at least one piece of your “personal brand” into your look, e.g. statement accessory
5) DO let your personality shine beyond your clothes. Don’t let your outfit distract your interviewer from concentrating on your intelligent point of view. Your clothes should serve as a backup character to your unique personality.
SB: How does your personal brand tie in to how you dress at work?
MG: This is a fabulous question. When you think of other “brands” in the world, a few distinct images or adjectives likely come to mind. With Nike, for example, you may think of words like “athletic,” “innovative,” and “cool.” These words don’t come to your mind by accident – Nike has spent millions to craft their brand…and this is the power of branding – in essence they control the image you take away of them. When it comes to each one of us, we too reflect a “brand” – our own “personal brand”, which is essentially a reflection of how others would characterize us. Might others describe you as “innocent”, or maybe “smart” or what about “out of the box”? As important as our verbals are, our non-verbals also speak volumes about who we are…which is why it’s of utmost importance to craft your “personal brand” strategically. Being choiceful about your appearance allows you to take control of your “personal brand,” and therefore affect the way others characterize you. At work, I’d suggest thinking about the image you’d like others to take away: Do you want them to take you more seriously? Or would you rather they see you as more approachable? The way we dress crafts these types of images in our peers’ minds. You have the power to control the message, so take it seriously!
SB: Can I show personality with my interview clothes? If so, how?
MG: Absolutely, just as I mentioned above, depending on where you’re interviewing you will have the opportunity to adjust your outfit to be more or less “fashion-forward”. So while it may be easier to showcase your personality outwardly in a creative job interview, you too can showcase your personality in a more conservative interview by bringing in more subtle pops of color print/pattern or texture. Pick one accessory and let that be your style story – maybe it’s an embellished bag, or a patterned shoe or a statement necklace – that one piece will help to showcase your unique personality…and what you say (and how you say it) will reinforce that.
SB: Work clothes can be expensive – any tips for looking professional on a budget?
MG: There are tons of ways to look professional on a budget. I rarely recommend paying full-price for interview clothing. If you don’t have pieces in your closet that will work based on what I’ve mentioned above, you can always hit up a few strategic shopping meccas: 1) TJ Maxx – this store has an array of options at discount prices (oftentimes without looking like you shopped the discount store). I favor “The Runway” section in TJ Maxx because of their high-end pieces, available at highly discounted price points. 2) Target – It sounds odd, but Target has a great selection of workwear pieces that can be mixed and matched with other more expensive pieces, ensuring the perfect high/low mix. 3) Off-Rack stores like Nordstorm Rack or Off 5th, are great places to find pieces for half off or more. Overall, the trick is to mix and match cheaper pieces with more expensive/quality items in your closet.
SB: What kind of pieces can I wear to the office and on the weekend?
MG: Our list of essentials from above will work for your jaunts from office to happy hour, workday to weekend. It’s all in how you mix them. Take your silk blouse and pair it with your boyfriend jeans and your strappy heels and a clutch for drinks with the girls. Or take your LLS (little leather skirt) and throw on a cropped, oversized sweater and some statement jewels for a fun twist. It’s also fun (and easy!) to grab that cape we recommended and wear it over virtually anything, anytime, anywhere – that’s the beauty of a cape – it’s insanely versatile. And that bag we mentioned? It will take you from work to weekend in an instant.
For more from Marisa Gouda visit Dressed Up + Down, LLC
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