The Job Interview

8 02 2008

Job interviews are one place where it pays to look good. Sure, employers are looking at your grades, extracurricular activities, and experience, but they are also assessing whether you can fit in in a professional environment. After all, your qualifications could just be sent to them over email. Looking professional during an interview can’t get you a job, but looking unprofessional can certainly lose you one, so here are tips on how to dress to impress.

What You Should Wear

The ground rules for interviews are:

  1. Wear a suit. It doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing for a law firm, a clerkship, a government position or an NGO. Everyone’s gotta wear one.
  2. Don’t be gross: shower, shave, brush your teeth, brush your hair, wear deodorant. You know, all that stuff you should be doing anyway.
  3. Err on the conservative side.


For the Ladies

Rules

  • Suit Colors: black, gray, navy
  • Suit Style: pantsuit or knee length skirt (just above or just below the knee) with pantyhose, and a one or two button jacket
  • Shirt: a blouse, shell, or collared button up shirt that matches the suit
  • Shoes: pumps or slingbacks with a one or two inch heel
  • Jewelry, hair, makeup, and nails: look nice but nothing distracting

Recommendations

Suits. Suits for women are one of the hardest things to get right. If the suit is too loose, you look frumpy; if the suit is too tight, you look unprofessional. It’s a fine line. Here’s some advice on walking that line:

First, know where to shop.

Department stores like Macy’s and Filenes’s Basement cater mostly to older women, so the cuts are more conservative and tend not to be as flattering on younger people. If you go to a department store, stick with brands like Tahari and Theory, which are better fitted to the 20-something body type. Otherwise, try stores that make clothes targeted to young professionals like JCrew, Banana Republic, and Club Monaco. Although it may be tempting price-wise, I would shy away from stores like Express and H&M because they tend to use a visibly cheaper quality of fabric.

Second, buy the right size.

I know it sounds obvious, but some people buy sizes that don’t really fit them assuming that they will have the suit tailored later on. If a suit does not fit correctly to begin with, odds are that tailoring will not be able to wholly correct the fit. You want to get as close to the right fit as possible to begin with, and let tailoring take care of the details at the end.

Third, get it tailored.

The suit should show the shape of your body without being tightly pressed against your skin. If you can see the outline of your underwear, it’s too tight.

Shirts. This is really the place to be creative if you want to be. You can wear a collared shirt, a shell, or a blouse and you can experiment with bolder colors (red is a good one) and patterns, as long as (a) it matches the suit; and (b) you avoid anything too crazy like neon and animal print.

Shoes. Although you do have some options for shoes, the safest bet is to go with a classic black two-inch pointy toe pump. If you want to get more creative, you can branch out to a gray or brown shoe, a rounder toe, or a slingback. You can get away with a slightly higher heel if the shoe looks more conservative (think Kenneth Cole instead of Guess) but you should not wear shoes with no heel at all. Unfortunately for women who hate wearing heels, flats do not work well with suits, and even nice flats tend to look too casual for an interview.

Jewelry. Keep it simple. Nothing too big, dangly, shiny or bright. Oh, and you should probably take out your facial piercings (I had to remove my eyebrow ring before interviews and it was a little tragic but at the end of the day, it’s probably better to be employed). For earrings I would keep it to small silver or gold hoops, studs, or earrings with only a tiny bit of dangle. Necklaces should be similarly low key. Pearls are appropriate but they are very east coast so I wouldn’t wear them to California interviews.

Hair. You can leave it down as long as it looks well groomed and you won’t fuss with it during the interview. Otherwise, pull it back with a clip (rather than a hair band or scrunchie) or put it in a neat bun.

Makeup. Think Bobbi Brown, not Mac. I would recommend wearing a little bit of makeup to the interview if it helps you look more polished. Conceal blemishes and maybe use a light foundation. You can add a natural shade of eye shadow and some light eyeliner (opt for brown over black) and mascara. Add blush and lipstick, too, but only lightly and in natural shades.

Nails. You don’t need to get a manicure to interview but you should at least make sure your nails are clean and well trimmed. If you do go the manicure route, I recommend a French manicure or just polish. If you want color, shy away from colors that say, “I’m 14” or “I’m goth.”

For the Gentlemen

Rules

  • Suit Colors: navy and dark gray, only wear a black suit if it’s all you have
  • Suit Style: single breasted, two or three buttons (preferably two)
  • Shirt: white or oxford blue
  • Tie: choose a color that contrasts with, but compliments, the shirt and suit
  • Shoes: dark leather business shoes
  • Belts: should match your shoes
  • Socks: the darker the better
  • Jewelry: think twice about anything more than a watch and a wedding ring

Recommendations

Suits. A four step process for suiting:

First, know where to shop.

Much like suits for women, most men’s suits found at department stores and stores like Brooks Brothers are intended for people who are older and have larger frames. If you have a broader frame, going to a store like Brooks Brothers would be totally fine. To find suits that are made to fit smaller or slimmer people, we recommend shopping at European or international stores like Benetton, French Connection, Paul Smith, and Club Monaco. You can also go to department stores like Barney’s and Century 21, which carry European-cut suits. For suits on the cheaper side, you could try large suit-only stores like Men’s Warehouse, which have a broad selection of suits and sizes.

Second, pick the right style.

In terms of suit style, I recommend the single-breasted two button suit. According to OCS, double-breasted suits are less flattering on men and are not typically worn in law offices. Plus, as far as I’m concerned, they just look silly. Two button suits look better on people with a normal to shorter height range. Taller men (those 6’2” and above) could pull of the three button suit, but even then they are sometimes unflattering, so I would suggest sticking to the two button regardless of height.

Third, buy the right size.

I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve seen walking to interviews swimming in their suits. This is not a good look. I know some people buy sizes that don’t really fit them assuming that they will have the suit tailored later on but if a suit does not fit correctly to begin with, odds are that tailoring will not be able to wholly correct the fit. You want to get as close to the right fit as possible to begin with, and let tailoring take care of the details at the end.

Fourth, get it tailored.

A cheap suit plus a great tailor is a better bargain than an expensive suit and a lousy or no tailor. Jackets should fit the body but should be loose enough that you can shake someone’s hand without pulling the suit. Pants should be long enough to cover your socks and have a slight break over the shoe in front. Don’t worry, your tailor will know what that means.

Shirts. If you need to save money, this is the place to go because the suit and the tie are the focal points of the outfit, not the shirt. As far as colors and patterns go, stick with plain white, off-white and blue shirts or shirts with a subtle pinstripe. Again, many shirts are made for older men, so if you get a cut that does not fit you correctly, you should consider having the shirt tailored along with the suit.

Collars: I would recommend shirts with a spread collar over a button down collar (just because the latter style looks a little more stuffy) but either one is appropriate. You should buy shirts with cutaway collars if you plan to use a wider tie knot. Avoid shirts with a soft collar (the floppy looking kind), as they are meant to be casual and are not suit appropriate.

Cuffs: Both double cuff (aka French cuff) and button cuff shirts are appropriate. The button cuff is more conservative than the double cuff.

For pictures and more information on shirt styles, see:

http://www.thomaspink.com/fcp/content/Collars/editorial

Also, check out the size guide:

http://www.thomaspink.com/fcp/content/SizeGuide/editorial

Ties. You should find a tie that contrasts with the colors of the suit and shirt, but still compliments the outfit as a whole. Aim for conservative colors and patterns. If you have trouble putting it all together, most stores that sell suits will be able to put some suit-shirt-tie combinations together for you.

Tie Knots:

  • The four-in-hand: this is the classic tie knot and has the advantage of being the easiest to tie. It is the most commonly used, and is appropriate for any occasion. It works best with wide ties made from heavy fabrics.
  • The half-Windsor: this is the “power tie” knot. It is a little more formal than the four-in-hand but can also be used for any occasion. It works best with wider ties that are made from light to medium fabrics.
  • The Windsor: this is the widest knot and also the most formal. It is appropriate for interviews but I would recommend the half-Windsor over the full one.
  • The small knot: add a little hipster chic to your interview ensemble. This type of knot works best with ties made from thick fabrics and shirts with close-fitting collars.
  • The Prince Albert: this is a classy little knot. It works best with narrow ties made of soft materials.

For pictures and step-by-step instructions on tying ties, see:

http://www.brooksbrothers.com/TieKnots/TieKnots.tem

Shoes and Belts: Both should be dark leather, and they should match each other.

Socks: Stick with black, brown, navy, or dark gray dress socks. I recommend the thinner cotton socks but you could also wear wool.

Jewelry: Wear a nice looking watch and your wedding ring, if you are married. Any piercing (including in your ears) should be removed, at least for the interview. I would also remove any necklaces, bracelets or additional rings.

What You Should Not Wear

Just to reiterate, the interview is not the time to be creative.

The following is a non-exclusive list of things to avoid: white socks, bowties, 4inch stiletto heals, cuff links shaped like Homer Simpson, visible cleavage, your Metallica tie, bright pink scrunchies, top hats, monocles, faux hawks, enormous earrings, anything you’ve worn to an 80s party, anything you’ve worn clubbing. You get the idea.

Final Words of Advice

Be prepared, but don’t sweat the small stuff.

I’ve heard rumors about people bombarding the OCS office with nitpicky questions about the shape of their shirt buttons or the invisible stains on their blouse. While it is important to be attentive to detail, if you’re running straight to OCS every time you pick up your dry cleaning, you are probably worrying too much.

Just remember that at the end of the day, employers are looking at your qualifications, so as long as you look put-together, the little details aren’t as important. One of my friends went the entire interview season without wearing pantyhose and still got offers from all the high ranking law firms. There are a lot of rules on dressing for interviews, but as long as you use some common sense and stay within the general guidelines, you should be just fine.

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27 responses

20 02 2008
Lara Pierpoint

Wow! I never knew the rules were so simple – or so specific! When I go to my law firm interviews, I will look completely FAB.

But really, really, must I avoid my favorite lucky pink scrunchie?

20 02 2008
beckymangold

Yes.

20 02 2008
LawDawg

I really appreciate the links to the shirt sizes. In the future, would it be possible to include a segment on the ascot vs. neck-tie debate? I have a lot of morning interviews. Thanks.

20 02 2008
Lee H.

Any advice on what color suit to wear (for men)? Are pinstripes ok?

20 02 2008
Lawgirl27

Awesome advice. Since my treasury was challenged when I was suit shopping, I made a point to only hit up sales. Nordstrom’s has great sales on expensive (but fly) suits. Plus, they usually have nice store employees who can give you good advice for hours on what fits/looks good/needs to be tailored. LINK to Norstrom sale dates is below.

The saleslady advice is especially helpful when your boyfriend or loved one who is SUPPOSED to be giving you second opinions has collapsed somewhere on the 2nd floor, whose last words were “mall air makes me sick”, 2 hours ago when you got distracted looking at those cute tops and jeans. …

LINK
http://about.nordstrom.com/help/faq/sale_dates.asp

Nordstrom holds Half-Yearly Sales for Women and Kids in June and November. Also, there are Half-Yearly Sales for Men in mid-June and late December. Our biggest sale of the year – the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale – is held each July. This event has become legendary among Nordstrom customers nationwide who enjoy outstanding savings on the most exciting new fall merchandise before the season starts.

In-Store and Online Sale Dates

• Half-Yearly Sale for Women and Kids – starts Wednesday, June 4
• Half-Yearly Sale for Men – starts Friday, June 13
• Anniversary Sale – starts Friday, July 18-Sunday, August 3
• Half-Yearly Sale for Women and Kids – starts Wednesday, November 5
• Half-Yearly Sale for Men – starts Friday, December 26

20 02 2008
David Sternfeld

As a small California law firm I found your advice to be very accurate. I would add that it is also important to appear as if you have worn these types of clothing before. If the clothes are brand new, have them cleaned and pressed before the interview, and clean and press them for each interview. Make sure your shoes are polished and do not have holes in the soles.
Try a practice interview in your clothes to see how they fit while sitting down. Practice how your body language reacts to questions in those clothes. Standing up and sitting down, for a woman and also for a man. Button your jacket while standing and open it while sitting. Don’t tie your tie too tight or wear a shirt collar that is too tight.
Good blog.

20 02 2008
Kyra Tichacek

This was really useful! I never know what type of shoes to wear/what make up is appropriate.

20 02 2008
scott the 0L

bummer about the pink scrunchie.

21 02 2008
beckymangold

Thanks for the great additional advice!

To respond to questions:

LawDawg: The only situation in which I would recommend wearing an ascot tie to an interview is where you plan to marry the interviewer in the interview itself. Otherwise, stick to the regular ones.

Lee H.: Subtle pinstripes are fine.

21 02 2008
Lauren

So glad to have my instinctual love for Banana and J.Crew validated. Now I have a good excuse to go shopping before starting work this summer!

An amusing note on the ascot question: http://www.abajournal.com/news/judge_fit_to_be_tied_over_ascot_wearing_lawyer/

21 02 2008
Millie

Very helpful! Looking forward to future posts.

I’d like to add that Ann Taylor can be an excellent source of suits for cost-conscious (yet stylish) legal ladies.

21 02 2008
Cleadus Jenkins

Al this info is really helpful! I’m so glad I heard about this post. I’m really looking forward to more.
Thanks!

21 02 2008
Vikas

What if the interview is before Labor Day? Would it be ok to wear a white suit in that instance?

22 02 2008
joseph

I’ve always found it beneficial to take a back up shirt in the car on the way to the interview as well. Just in case you spill a sip of coffee or some food on your way to the interview and don’t wanna feel like an idiot with a huge food stain on your shirt while you’re talking to your potential new boss.

Basically, anything that can ease your mind during this nerve-recking time always helps.

22 02 2008
beckymangold

No white suits, even before Labor Day 🙂

23 04 2008
exedinburger

don’t forget about women’s chocolate brown suits! a very flattering dark color and very appropriate.

i will say as well – the number of buttons on a woman’s jacket very much depends on the function of the jacket. for larger-endowed women, it’s important that the jacket either button below the chest or button over top of the chest, in which case 3-button jackets are pretty much the norm (unless you are exceedingly short).

as for department-store brands, anne klein, nine west and calvin klein are particularly good at designing more modern suits. it all depends on how the suit fits your own particular body. don’t be afraid to try all sorts of things – on the rack doesn’t always translate to on the body.

25 04 2008
CM

Hi Becky. Special note on interview attire for pregnant women: maternity suits are expensive and the selection is tiny. If you can’t borrow one, what worked for me was to buy a calf-length skirt (it has to start out long so you can hike it up over your belly as you expand) that was a few sizes larger than usual, with a coordinating jacket that I left open and a shell or shirt underneath that wasn’t too fitted. Since your advice seems targeted at law students, most law firm partners will not expect you to be pregnant anyway because they will assume you’re 22 and single and ready to work yourself into the ground for them. I interviewed when I was 6 months pregnant and some firm partners (all men) had no idea, as I found out at the offer dinners.

29 07 2009
big and tall

Ahhh…that first interview what do you wear , well in todays fashion world of business you should wear a nice fitted dark skirt with a lovely colorful fitted jacket with open neck shirt …this will defenetly make you look and feel confident which is what you want to portray …..Good luck.

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