They say first impressions are important. What they don’t say is that they’re also not fucking fair. Like, not at all.
When you go in for a job interview, the first impression you make on your potential employer could determine the outcome of the hiring process. In fact, 30% of hiring decisions are made within the first five minutes of an interview. That’s why what you wear and how you present yourself are so important. So make it count.
Appearance-based discrimination happens all the time in the hiring process. And while you can’t help the color of your skin, your body size, or your gender, you can do something about what you wear and how you wear it to give yourself a fighting chance.
I interview job candidates all the time. I’m my company’s internship coordinator, and I also visit one of the local universities every year to practice mock interviews with their students and recent graduates.
So I’ve seen it all. Including the girl who dressed like Professor Trelawney on a bad hair day… and the guy I smelled before I saw him… and the girl who looked like she was dressed for our first date rather than an interview… and all the motherfuckers who dared to wear flip-flops to a goddamn job interview.
While it’s true that confidence and competence are the most important accessories for any job interview outfit, there are definitely a few hard lines where attire is concerned.
Here’s what I, as a potential employer, want to see job candidates wearing… and what I definitely do not want to see.
As a general rule, look sharp
I can’t believe I even have to say this, but… take a shower and launder your clothes.
What you wear and how you style yourself is slightly less important than basic fucking hygiene and cleanliness.
Iron your clothes so they don’t look rumpled. Don’t own an iron? Hang them up on a hanger in the bathroom while you take a hot shower. The wrinkles will steam out.
Better yet: find an outfit that doesn’t require ironing.
Tuck your hair behind your ears or tie it back. Your interviewer wants to see your face. They don’t want to have to peer through a jungle of side bang to make eye contact.
If you’re going to wear a tie… learn how to tie a goddamn tie. If your dad tied the only tie you own once three years ago and you’ve just loosened and tightened the knot for every tie-wearing occasion since then… the interviewer will notice. It looks sloppy and childish.
Wear actual clothes. I once had a potential intern come in wearing her pajamas. That shit might fly in your Composition 101 class, young lady, but not in my place of employment.
Keep your clothes on. I once had an interview candidate in a suit and tie remove his shoe and sock and put his bare foot on my desk to show me his tattoo. I CANNOT YOU GUYS I JUST CANNOT.
I literally don’t remember anything else about Pajama Girl and Foot Guy other than those enormous breaches of wardrobe etiquette. Certainly not their qualifications nor how they answered my questions.
They were memorable and distracting in all the worst ways. Do you really want to be known as “Foot Guy” in some personal finance writer’s blog post? DO YOU? I thought not.
If you look neat and clean, it gives you an air of maturity and professionalism that is more likely to counteract an employer’s natural prejudices. They won’t dwell so much on other aspects of your physical appearance if you present yourself with care and cleanliness.
Feminine presenting people
There is a subtle but definite difference between dressing for a job interview and dressing for da clerb.
Here is a handy table to help you gracefully walk the line:
|JOB INTERVIEW||DA CLERB|
|Sheath dress||Bandage dress|
|Pencil skirt or knee-length A-line skirt||Mini skirt|
|Button-up blouse||Crop top|
|Close-toed heels or ballet flats||Platform heels|
|Tasteful, understated jewelry||Gaudy, eye-catching jewelry|
|Trousers/long pants||Intentionally visible undergarments|
|Pantsuit or skirt suit||Sundress|
|Natural looking makeup||Full glam makeup|
If Kerry Washington has worn it in Scandal, it is acceptable job interview attire. If Nicki Minaj has ever worn it at all ever, save it for da clerb. You can dress like her when you’re the queen of rap.
My go-to job-interviewing outfit (whether I’m the interviewer or the interviewee) is a pencil skirt, a blouse with sleeves, a pair of 3-inch nude pumps, and some small, fake gold earrings.
If it’s winter and fucking cold, I’ll swap out the skirt for a pair of slacks and the heels for some ballet flats or boots. Sometimes I throw on a blazer. I also straighten my hair and put on a moderate amount of makeup.
Flip-flops are never, ever acceptable. I don’t care if it’s July and sweltering outside. Borrow some real grown up shoes from your mom or your college roommate. (A big retroactive thank-you to Kitty for letting this filthy urchin wear all her fancy heels back in the days when I thought hiking boots were acceptable city footwear.)
Masculine presenting people
To tie or not to tie? To suit or not to suit? Button-up or polo shirt? These are the decisions you will agonize over. I will rank them in order of formality and you may choose accordingly.
Note: These are your only options. Do not try to get around them by adding a fun vest or some shit. No one wants to see you in that vest. It’s bad. Same goes for your damn fedora. Put that shit in the garbage where it belongs.
- The Most Formal: A suit, tie, and long-sleeved button-up shirt.
- The Slightly Less Formal: Slacks, long-sleeved button-up shirt, and tie.
- The Relaxed Formal: Slacks or khakis, long-sleeved button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up, no tie.
- The Business Casual: Polo shirt, slacks or khakis.
Short-sleeved button-up shirts appear nowhere on this list. Assuming you don’t want to look like Dwight Schrute… take note.
And again: NO FUCKING FLIP-FLOPS.
My friend Miguel is a paraplegic and he almost never wears real shoes. He doesn’t walk, he can’t feel his feet, and it’s really fucking hard for him to get into shoes. But you best believe he struggled into a pair of dress shoes for his recent job interview.
So if my wheelchair-bound friend can bother to find himself some stuffy business-appropriate shoes for an interview, so can you.
You’re going to face discrimination
Here’s where I bring in the dreaded sociological research. Studies show that candidates with straight hair are more likely to get hired than those with curly hair. Likewise, taller people and more conventionally attractive people get a leg up in the hiring process.
Oh and if you’re a person of color, elderly, or disabled? Yeah, getting through a job interview is going to be exponentially harder.
If that sound unjust to you, well…
There are a number of solutions to counteract this sort of discrimination. If you’re short, you could wear high heels. If you don’t consider yourself conventionally attractive, you could put on makeup. And if you have curly hair, you could straighten it.
But you can’t change your race nor your age nor your disability. So you’re going to have to kick ass so hard in that interview that the employer forgets their internalized prejudices long enough to recognize your brilliance.
Dwell with me for a moment on how unfair this shit is. And then go to that interview and make them eat it like the badass baller you are.
What about my tattoos/piercings/side-shave?
During a mock interview, a young woman once asked, “Do you think I should wear long sleeves?”
She had two full sleeves of beautiful tattoos. And she had clearly been told in the past to cover them up when meeting a potential employer. But as this was a mock interview and she was looking for advice, she wore short sleeves.
I told her no. I told her I loved her tattoos and I would’ve been disappointed if she’d hidden them during our interview.
As Kitty explained recently, sometimes looking weird at work can benefit you. It helps you to stand out, expresses your individuality, and catches the attention of people who might not otherwise notice how great you are.
But more importantly: do you really want to work for someone who thinks your body art is shameful? Do you want to work for someone who thinks a facial piercing is a sign of degeneracy? Who considers your violet hair immature? Who sees your tattoo as unprofessional?
I won’t answer that for you. Some of you may consider it very important to get in with the laced-up, bebuttsticked set of business professionals. And that’s fine.
But consider carefully your happiness in the workplace before coming to a decision about whether or not to cover your tattoos, remove your piercings, or dye your hair.
“But the workplace is super casual!”
Err on the side of formality.
I wear jeans to work most days, but I still really appreciate it when an interview candidate shows up in a full suit. It shows that the candidate took the time to carefully consider every aspect of their interview preparation. It shows that they respect the professionalism of my workplace. And that speaks very highly of the candidate’s thoughtfulness and attention to detail.
Besides, “super casual” doesn’t have to mean “jeans and a T-shirt.” I’ve provided you with lots of options above! Pick something that feels a bit more Jimmy Olsen than Clark Kent and rock it.
I guarantee you have much more to lose from underdressing than from overdressing.
What’s your go-to interview outfit? Share your lewk in a comment!
And then go forth, my darling job hunters! Bedeck yourself in confidence and competence and slay.