Many new grads and guidance counselors probably agree on the importance of a great suit. A suit looks professional and sleek and interview-appropriate in any situation, they argue. However, I know one girl who admits to owning one suit she only wears for interviews. The places she's landed jobs have business casual dress codes and she can usually get away with wearing jeans, a jacket, and pumps or flats.
For this reason, I'm split 50/50 on the "buy a suit" argument. If you're interviewing for a position that requires you to don a suit every day, buying a new suit for your interview would be a great investment that you can wear many times over. For a purchase like this, splurge, don't save! Something that fits you well with solid tailoring and great material will be worth it for years to come. I like places like Mexx, Club Monaco, and Banana Republic for classic-looking career wear and suits. Choose a figure-flattering silhouette, a suit with a 2-button blazer, and a wide-legged trouser.
Lightweight wool blazer ($198) and trouser ($98) , Bananarepublic.com
The example above might be a little heavy for spring and summer, in which case I really like the suit below. The shorter sleeve length, tucks and pleats, and gray colour lighten things up and go well with pastels or jewel tones.
Short-sleeve pinstripe jacket ($150) and trouser ($110) , Bananarepublic.com
If suits aren't your thing or you can't afford a new outfit (you're looking for a job, after all!), survey your own wardrobe for suitable pieces. Just follow these guidelines:
- Definitely no jeans allowed! Every job I've ever had has allowed me to wear jeans to work, but I never did when I interviewed for them.
- Nothing with rips, tears, or distressing.
- Nothing that makes you come across as uneducated (e.g. obnoxious logo tees).
- Avoid anything overtly trendy. You may love your oversized hardware-laden Guess bag and chunky patent leather platforms, but they might scream "party girl" to your interviewer and make you come across as an inexperienced collegiate, not a serious candidate.
- Don't show too much skin. Skirts should hit slightly above the knee at their highest. Cover bare shoulders with a jacket or cardigan. A V or scoop neckline can be flattering, but try on your outfit ahead of time to make sure it doesn't, ahem, reveal too much to your interviewer.
- To look polished and professional, go for tailored pieces with a lot of structure that skim over the body rather than clinging tightly to it.
With a little bit of TLC (i.e. washing, drycleaning, mending, ironing, lint-brushing), these career-wear staples from your closet can make you look and feel like a million bucks even as you're nervously clutching your resume and portfolio waiting for your name to be called:
- Dresses: wrap dresses, sheaths, shifts, anything in matte cotton jersey
- Blazers and jackets
- Button-down shirts
- Lightweight knit sweaters
To finish off your look, go for a structured handbag with a classic shape and not too much hardware, and leather pumps or flats. As for jewelry, you can wear several classic-looking pieces (diamond studs, a silver pendant, a charm bracelet) together, or go for one standout accent like a bold multi-strand necklace with different coloured stones or several chunky bangles.
- A black leather portfolio or folder in which you have duplicate copies of your resume, references, and work samples.
- A pen and pad of paper to write down notes during the interview.
- Breath mints.
- Fresh natural-looking day makeup.
- A comb.