What NOT to Wear on an Interview

In my previous post, I mentioned how I'd been rejected from the latest school with whom I interviewed.  It was a tough blow, but there's nothing like a new interview to make you feel hopeful again!

So, I'm back on the horse and getting ready to interview tomorrow.

While going through my mental checklist of the things I need to get ready for the interview, I bumped into this picture.  If you read through the presented checklist, you will recognize the rules that were always given to us on how to be a respectable interviewer.  I have to say that I disagree with most of them, and I wanted your thoughts on it.

A neutral colored suit in navy or another dark color with a skirt.

Let's address the first point:  dark suit with a skirt.  While I do love a nice black suit, I rarely wear them as plain black.  I prefer a daring pinstripe or I forego the "dark color" completely.  I remember there was one time I was asked to interview for a job, but I'd recently lost a bunch of weight.  I didn't have anything that fit me and the interview was the following day, so I hit the stores in desperation.  The only suits I could find in my size were white!  One was white with a light gray pinstripe and the other was an over-light cream.  Keep in mind, I also happen to have dark skin and black hair, so the color combo was really nice, but I was nervous about wearing such light colors.  It was bold, but I got the job!

In addition, I never EVER wear skirts on an interview and here's why.  I remember interviewing someone myself once when I worked at The American Boychoir School.  Being a small middle school, the only chair I had to offer her was one sized for a middle schooler.  The poor dear happened to be wearing a pencil skirt and had the most awkward time trying to sit in that little chair while maintaing some sense of decorum.  I have to hand it to her though - she pulled it off with more dignity than I could have, and she did get the job.  But I could tell throughout the whole interview that she was uncomfortable and slightly distracted; trying to squeeze her knees shut while balancing her purse and her portfolio.  I never forgot that and I vowed to never wear a skirt on an interview again.  What do you think?

Skirt length should be a little below the knee and never shorter than above the knee.

As for skirt length, I have to agree with the ancient rules of jobfu lore.  Wearing a skirt above the knee is just generally asking for trouble.  Unless it's a really damned hot day and you're interviewing outside, maybe.  But even then, there really is no excuse because men would still be stuck wearing a full pants suit on that same hot day.  If they can do it, so can we.  Short and sweet DO NOT apply when it comes to picking the suit you should wear on an interview!

Blouses should be cotton or silk (white or light pastel color).

Blouses should be cotton or silk?  Ok, I will agree that cotton is probably an excellent choice.  100% cotton not only looks nice, but breathes very well.  Personally I think silk is one of the worst choices you could ever make though.  Silk doesn't breathe.  At all.  I know.  I'm a medieval reenactor and have worn gowns entirely made of silk on multiple occassions.  Do you want to know what eventually happens when you wear silk right next to your body and start to sweat?  The entire garment becomes saturated and ends up sticking to your body like a wet blanket.  Now, granted, if you are hot, the cold silk actually feels kind of good on your skin - in a gross sweaty stinky kind of way.  But that is NOT what you want happenening on your interview.  My advice is wear something comfortable that breathes.  Oh, and NO CLEAVAGE.  If you have to be self conscious to pick up a pencil you've dropped, or when you stand because your interviewer is taller than you, than wear something else!  I wouldn't worry so much about the color though.  The light color assumes that you're wearing a dark suit.  I would often pair a bright red shirt with the white suit I used to wear.  Bold, yes, but so I am, so it's all good.

Panythose should be flawless (no runs) and conservative in color.  (You may want to bring an extra pair with you.)

Pantyhose?  HAH!  I never wear panythose, with or without an interview.  I mean, if you have an uneven skin tone and you feel you need them, by all means.  But I don't know anyone who still wears pantyhose.

Basic pumps with 1"-2" heel (No strappy sandals or platforms!).

The basic pumps I can at least agree with, especially if you're wearing a skirt.  I don't think there's anything wrong with flats though, again, especially if you are wearing a skirt.  Nice leather ballet flats can really be classy if done well.  I also think that higher heels are not only appropriate, but fierce when paired with a well tailored pant suit.  If you're going to wear higher heels though please a) know how to walk in them and b) make sure your pants cover the heels completely.  They should be adding height and elongating the legline, NOT showing off your feet or legs.  Same goes with the strappy sandals or platforms.  Strappy sandals show off your feet and frankly, there are few people with such cute feet that you should be showing them off.  And if your feet really are that cute, you shouldn't be showing them anyway.  Some people really find feet gross.  Other people have foot fetishes.  Either way, it can be distracting.  And frankly, platforms just make you look like you're either trying too hard or are in 8th grade.

Simple Accessories.  No visible body piercing (nose rings, eyebrow rings, etc.).

It pains me to agree with this rule, but I really have to.  Here's a secret.  I've wanted a nosering for years.  I have an adorable little nose that I think would cater well to it, but I've always been terrified of what "my job" would think.  Having a piercing on your face, while I personally find that beautiful, can really turn people off.  I agree that that isn't fair, and that people should be looking at YOU and not your jewelry, however, you have to remember who is hiring you.  In 50 years, nobody will probably care if you have a labret piercing, let alone anything as inocuous as a nose ring.  Especially because it's such a regular part of Indian culture.  However, the people who are hiring right now tend to be from a generation where clean cut = respectable, so you have to play their game to get paid their money.

Even without the piercings, I tend to keep my accessories to a minimum.  I like a bold pop of color as much as the next girl, especially a strong necklace to peek out from under a suit.  However, you just have to keep telling yourself, "I don't want to them think - what a great necklace - I want them to say - what a great candidate."  You don't want your own accessories to distract them even for a moment from you and what you are saying.

Make-up should be minimal and in conservative tones.

I agree with this one as well.  Put on some base, some blush, concealer, lip gloss or colored chapstick, maybe some light liner, maybe some shadow and call it a day.  Skip the mascara if you can, especially if there's any chance you might be sweating.  When you're nervous, you do the stupidest things, like rub your itchy eyes completely forgetting that you're wearing makeup!  You want minimal damage in case something goes awry.  Oh, and by the gods please pick a base that completely blends and matches your skin tone!  It's so disturbing to see someone with a base that's darker than their neck.  It makes their faces look yellow and somehow disembodied.  If you're not sure if it's the right color, get professional help or skip it!  Better to be pale than creepy.

Minimal cologne or perfume.

Honestly, I would like to give this tip to the employers.  I can't stand it when I go into an interview and the person interviewing me smells strongly of something.  Especially because I'm allergic to pretty much everything.  All of a sudden I've got a sinus headache and I'm getting sleepy because the overwhelming scent of patchouli is burying me alive.  You never know what situation they're going to put you in.  I once had an interview where they packed four of us into one person's tiny office.  We were sitting so close together our legs were all touching and we'd never even met.   Definitely not the place where you want to be smelling each other's extraneous scents.

Light briefcase or portfolio case.

I always struggled with this one.  I would have my purse with me because I needed my driver's license and what not to get there.  Not to mention reapplying makeup and fixing hair right before you walk into the door.  However, I always felt so unprofessional toting around my bag with me, while also juggling my portfolio, resume, and anything else I wanted to present.  I finally figured out how to fix this and would love to share it with you.  I went to Staples and got me a leather portfolio complete with a clasp and a bunch of pockets.  It has lined paper inside, a place to hold my business cards, a pen, and several copies of my resume or other papers I might want to share.  I jot down any questions I have or important points on the portfolio paper, so I'm ready to go.  When I arrive, I leave my bag and all of its accoutrements in the glove box and, if need be, take my car key off the chain and slip it into my portfolio.  Once you're inside, you're not going to need your makeup anymore ladies; it's too late at the point.  If they like you so much that they're going to want to photocopy your SS card or license, they won't mind you skipping back to the car to get those items.  If you're offered a job on the spot, trust me, you won't find it an inconvenience to walk all the way back to your car.  I've done this on a few interviews and it's just lovely!  I only ever have to remember to carry one thing - my portfolio.  My hands are free for gesturing and hand shaking.

So let's see, I guess I still agree with about 1/2 of the ancient rules.  Not bad for the current times.  I do want to talk a little about hair as well.  I'm surprised they're not mentioned in these rules.  I happen to have naturally curly hair that wants to pull a Diana Ross on me most of the time.  Personally, I find curly hair to be unprofessional.  I know, that's ridiculous.  It's probably just a case of "the grass is greener" but I've always thought that silky straight hair just said "polished professional" more than curly hair ever did.  When I straighten my hair, I feel more mature, professional, and in control.  It's like taming my curls is an outward expression of the control I have over myself and the world around me.  Like I said, it's ridiculous, but that's how I felt, so many an interview I have spent in the bathroom laboriously straightening my hair.  Blowing, applying product, combing it out, straighten, straighten, straighten.  In the end, the result was sophisticated and sleek, and a real pain in the @$$.  I often felt like I was concentrating more on my hair than on the interview questions.  I worried about sweating - which of course made me sweat - because that would make my hair start curling again.  I was miserable, but I always felt that you had to suffer for appropriate fashion, and so I sucked it up.

I stopped.  I realized that they weren't going to pick me over someone else just because I had awesome hair.  I didn't want to distract myself or spend so much time getting ready any more.  I wanted to focus on preparing for and getting the job.  So now I just do it like the girl's picture in the rules photo.  Half up and back, away from my face and my scrutiny.  The curls are still there behind me, but no longer a concern.

In short, I think all of these rules point to one thing:  distraction.  Don't wear anything that is going to distract you.  Don't wear anything that is going to distract them.  Wear what is comfortable, yet fabulous and professional, while complimenting you as much as possible.  If you're ever unsure, don't wear it.  Or you could always ask me!


  1. Carina,

    I found this post to be really helpful. I actually have an interview tomorrow for my local library. I am really excited and nervous about it! Thank you so much for the interview dress code tips! Take care!


  2. Glad it helped Jeanie. I have an interview tomorrow as well. You'll have to tell me how your interview went!

  3. Never ever wear a skirt to an interview? Many prospective employers will only give female candidates a brief interview out of common courtesy if they turn up in trousers.

  4. Tks very much for your post.

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    Best rgs


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