By Julie Conway
Have you ever wondered how creative people handle their fashion choices when faced with something as conventional as a job interview? Did Abby from NCIS walk into her “forensic scientist” interview with sharp, studded bracelets and Goth platform boots?
Ok, yes- Abby is a fictional character on a TV show. And yes, the show plays up her style for a dramatic effect (no science nerds here!). But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that at some point in the fictional past, a young Abby had to endure a nerve-wracking, anxiety-producing, serious job interview with other scientists and maybe a few administrators.
Job interviews take serious prep work: there are presentations to give, answers to practice, and questions to ask. Maybe you don’t have time to think about what to wear. Maybe putting together an outfit is adding to your stress.
So what do you do? Buy a high-powered suit and throw out all your favorite cat-eye glasses and bold-patterned pants? Not so fast! You want to make a good, solid, serious, capable first impression- but having a personality is not a crime. Just be judicious in your choices and mindful of what is appropriate for an interview, and you can’t go wrong.
Here are 5 quick ways to come across as polished and professional… and show off your creative personality:
Like accessories, carefully chosen pops of color can bring an outfit to life. This woman’s red purse stands out, and, with the addition of a red belt, she has created a strong contrast with the neutral black and white of the rest of her outfit.
But what if you’re hesitant to add color or deviate too far from standard-issue “interview clothes”— black or gray suits, dress pants, blazers, etc? After all, you know these neutrals will be acceptable and don’t involve any risk.
Or perhaps you’re not entirely sure what is “normal” for the company you’re interviewing with. Should you wear a suit to an interview with a tech company whose employees seem to wear jeans and play ping-pong?
These are good questions to ask. But don’t be afraid of color- just research and practice with using it. Adding a bit of color to your black, white or gray I’m-being-serious clothes is a great way to add interest and variety, and it shows that you pay attention to details.
Unique pieces of jewelry have a way of immediately captivating our attention. A turquoise necklace like this one stands out both for its color and its bold details. Sure, a necklace can add a finishing touch to an outfit, but in this case, it makes the outfit.
In the first example above, the woman’s outfit is balanced by contrast: she has two pops of the same color (her red purse and belt), and a checked black and white pattern on her blazer.
The turquoise necklace in this example plays such a strong role that the rest of the outfit, in order to be balanced, is toned down. The woman’s black dress has no pattern to compete with the necklace, and while her cuffs and belt add a little variety, they remain neutral and allow the jewelry to take center stage.
Patterns and textures
Patterns can be tricky. Like attention-getting jewelry, there is often a fine line between a bold, stylish element and total sensory overload.
In the example above, the woman’s outfit can easily be described as elegant: she has a nice clutch purse, neutral heels, stylish sunglasses, and a drapey, but polished-looking, silk shirt. What stands out the most, though, is her textured, plum-colored skirt: it’s beautiful, luxurious and the center of attention for this outfit.
Texture and patterns, often combined with color, stand out and add interest to an outfit with otherwise neutral elements. You’ll want to be careful, though, not to overdo it with these attention-getting elements: the people interviewing you shouldn’t be visually distracted from hearing what you have to say!
Ah, the blazer… more polished than a sweater, but not as pointedly formal as a business suit. Professional and sometimes casual; is there anything a blazer can’t do?
Without the blazer in the above example, the colors of the woman’s dress, shoes and tights might not work together as seamlessly. Here, it’s the blazer that pulls the outfit together (rather than color or jewelry). And interestingly, the neutral color black plays the role of a pop of color, with the actual colors (light blue and pink) as the toned down elements.
But of course, you can always reverse this contrast- a blazer in a brighter color, added to a neutral shirt and dress pants, is another great option.
We’ve seen a few examples, just in the photos from this post, of the power of accessories to quickly add interest to an outfit. But you might think… a bag? That’s just how I carry my phone, keys, wallet, etc.
As with any accessory, a bag can add style and pull your outfit together, and there are many, many varieties to choose from. There are even different names for all the bags: clutch, tote, handbag, crossbody, and so on.
In the example above, the woman’s purse stands out and contrasts nicely with the deep blue of her dress. It also coordinates with her necklace, bracelet and sunglasses.
There may be times when you don’t want your bag to be the main focus- perhaps you’ll set it down, out of sight, when you arrive at your interview. In that case, don’t worry… there are plenty of professional and stylish black bags out there. See photo #4 above!
We all know that job interviews can be nerve-wracking: there is very little that can ease the anxiety of trying to convey the essence of “you,” while also highlighting your best qualities and skills, to complete strangers (whose job, in this moment, is to judge you).
And maybe it seems like fashion shouldn’t play such a large role here, when you’re supposed to be assessed on your skills and qualities. But think of the interview as an opportunity- you only get a few chances with strangers to make a good first impression, and visual appearance is an important contributor to this effort.
Whether it’s the care you take with your Power Point presentation, your carefully worded questions and answer, or your appearance, preparation and attention to detail will give you confidence at a time when you’ll very much appreciate it. Good luck!
Check back next week for Part Two, where we’ll look at more interview fashion tips- but this time for men!