Interview Chic: A Few Guidelines on What to Do and What Not to Do When Going in for Your Dream Job

Interview chic
Interview outfits have changed a bit from what your college professors or counselors might have suggested back in the day. However, the rules haven’t totally been abandoned. There are still guidelines you should follow when going in for the big Q & A. Mainly targeting what I refer to as the more creative fields, I’ve personally struggled with the perfect interview outfit.
My background is in more formal working atmospheres like universities and non-profits, where dressing conservative is more the norm. Though my roles in each have been constant, the corporate makeup has changed. When I worked for a smaller marketing company in Public Relations the corporate feel of the place was more laid back. When I went in for my first interview complete with pumps, a conservative suit and neutral blouse, I felt bland, but that didn’t stop me from nailing it and getting a job offer. Other times, I went in for interviews at ad agencies and was told by their HR people when I showed up in a full suit, that I could’ve worn dressy jeans and a trendy top for the interview. Though I knew going in that the social makeup of that company was very laid back and casual, I didn’t think it was proper to show that for my interview. I figured that a pop of color with blouse under my suit showed I had creativity in me. For my second interview, I dressed it down a bit with formal slacks, a neutral blouse and a fun printed cardigan, HR approved my outfit. The person I was interviewing with also commented how they preferred the more laid back route, though the position didn’t become mine for other reasons, the experience made me question the perfect interview outfit. Especially when going for the more creative fields.
As a freelancer, when I meet my Editor for my next assignment, my dress code is usually dark jeans, a trendy, yet conservative blouse and heels. That’s also usually my outfit when going to interview sources for my story. I might opt heels for flats if I’ll be doing a lot of walking, but it still hasn’t helped me nail the perfect, yet creative code I needed to continue on the 9 to 5 job hunt. When I spoke to others in my fields, they were as perplexed as I was. Their suggestions ranged from dressy jeans, to colorful blouses and trendy suits – you name it, I heard it. That’s when I figured to go to the professionals.
I’ve been working with some very reputable recruiters and thought they’d be the perfect fit to get the right answer. They’re dealing with creative types, and they work closely with the employer so they know what works and what doesn’t; and their job is basically to help you GET the job.
“I don’t think any rules should be trashed, they have withstood the test of time over the years for a reason. If I had to say anything, it is essentially to be aware of the company culture and attire in order to ensure you are properly dressed for an interview. Don’t assume a suit and tie is always the right way to go – in some cases it could make the interviewer feel uncomfortable and like you didn’t customize your dress code for their company and the position – that instead you just put on your ‘general interview clothes’ and decided to show up on their doorstep today instead of any place else,” said Michael Splittorf, Lead Recruiter at Robert Half.
” I always advise people to dress their best – full suit and tie – as a sign of respect that they take themselves, the opportunity, the company, and the person(s) they are meeting with seriously,” said Splittorf. “Having said that, it is important to keep your audience in mind. If the company culture is more relaxed, arriving in a full suit could give the wrong signals (such as not having done enough research on the company) so you have to make sure you are being appropriate for the opportunity,” added Splittorf.
Nick Vollten, Division Director at The Creative Group has some additional tips for you to keep in mind for Miamians, such as:

  • Men- Suit jacket but tie optional (depending on role/company etc.)
  • Men- Suit, either black, blue or grey, always well-fitted
  • Women- brighter colors to match the culture, climate etc.
  • Women- Dress attire with hair pulled back or loose (depending on role/company etc.)
  • Women- Heels at a minimum of 4 inches (only kidding )
Now about that crazy advice I received from a company’s HR person to wear dressy jeans to an interview? Splittorf suggests, “Always take advice given from people at a company you interview with to heart, this can be an additional part of the screening process – did you listen when given instructions? So make sure to abide by their wishes.”
In my defense, I personally knew this person before and called them as a friend to help me pick out an outfit; it wasn’t just unsolicited instructions from HR. Though I did dress more casual than I usually would, I just didn’t feel right making a first impression in jeans. Vollten agrees, and doesn’t think you should ever dress down. “It is always better to have them suggest you dress down, as they will never suggest you dress up, they will just pass on hiring you,” he said.
I remember a college marketing professor always telling our class that ladies should wear neutral or clear polish on their nails and hair slicked back. To me this seemed like they were trying to make the women seem less womanly for interviews. But now-a-days polish colors are filled with bold hues, glitter and nail art. Does that mean that’s ok for a job interview? The answer is still no! Splittorf’s advice is, “Always ere on the side of conservative with nail polish, jewelry, flashy belts, etc. In a creative environment it may be appropriate to show your personality with a unique color, but nothing that would distract an interviewer or make you seem too ‘wild’. I recently had an interviewer show up in glitter and chrome shoes, that’s right, chrome. Qualified candidate who I have placed, but only on a remote basis,” he added.
A few more tips to keep in mind from Vollten are:
  • Never glitter, ever…not even once
  • Brighter colors can fly here in Miami, however it would depend on the company culture etc. Do your research and learn what is appropriate for the particular company. Hint: the answer is never glitter.
Grooming has some rules as well. You should look polished and clean, but not like you’ve made this grooming only for the interview. You should present yourself like you would for a regular day of work. Here are some guidelines:

  • Men- clean-shaven, hair cut (not cut too recently as this is cheesy)
  • Women-  hair neat or pulled back, not too much makeup

Creative fields might let you push the envelope a little more but nothing too wild.

  • Men- Can go with suit, no tie or even dress shirt and dress pants minus jacket if it is a “hip” agency
  • Women- Can go with a more relaxed approach but be careful not to be inappropriate ie. Skirt too short or blouse too revealing
Sometimes I’ve been told that if you’re wearing a suit for an interview, try to wear a bold color shirt or blouse so that you stand out from everyone else wearing a suit “uniform”, however, though that might make sense and bolder colors can work while interviewing for a creative position, it’s still best to keep it simple. “Keep your audience in mind, but ere on the side of conservative – white or blue shirt for men with ‘standard’ or no pattern. One thing you don’t want to be remembered for when you leave an interview is your wacky choice of attire – let your skills and personality keep the attention of your interviewer,” said Splittorf.
Vollten gave us some color meanings to keep in mind. Red= strong presence, power Green= earthy, chill  Blue= calm, professional. If you want to check out more wardrobe color meanings check out this site.
Now about that work that should be speaking on your behalf, do not overwhelm the interviewer.  “Don’t bombard your interviewer with your entire portfolio, chances are there are samples in there that are not relevant or appropriate for the company and/or the job. Make sure to carefully select your top 5-10 samples (depending on skill set) that would best suit the needs and style of the position you are looking to obtain and that would be relevant to the company’s goals. This is another “test”  to see if you have done enough research on the company and position and can put together a concise and effective portfolio,” suggests Splittorf. Though, Splittorf suggests you should take your entire portfolio (depending on the size) and plan to show your top 5-10 pieces that you feel the particular company would be interested in seeing.
The rules that should be dumped for 2014 are: “ill-fitted suits, poor color choices, heel-length dresses, hair pulled back, gloves (last joke, I swear),” added Vollten.
Do you have a go-to interview outfit? What have you found to be more appropriate when interviewing at a more creative field? Are you a hiring manager or HR representative, what would you recommend to those going in for a job in a creative field like marketing, design, advertising or editorial? What have you seen work and not work as an  interviewer or hiring manager? Share your experience (and even nightmare stories) with us in the comments below!
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