Last week, I shared that I had sat in on interviews to fill a new position in my office. There were a lot of interviewing do’s and don’ts strongly reinforced over the course of the candidates’ visits. Something that came up in our search committee discussions was dress and overall professional image.
Your attire plays an important role in the interview process, whether it’s for an internship or a permanent, post-grad job. But a key element here is the field you’re going into. Acceptable attire in one profession might be completely abnormal in another. As you do your research into your desired career path, make sure to gather information on what the preferred dress is. And especially when it comes to interviews, make sure you’re following this preferred dress code and not just the typical, everyday wear.
When it comes to appropriate interview attire for business fields, defer to the corporate look, or business professional. Basically, this means a suit. Most college students aren’t going to have a three-piece suit just lying around, so it is an investment to to make before critical internship or post
graduate job interviews. A key element in whatever suit you buy is it’s conservative look. Black, dark grey, or navy are colors to seek out. Make sure that the suit fits well. But ladies, beware of the suits out there that are trying to be “stylish.” Too often, they’re too tight, too short (in the case of a skirt suit), or simply inappropriate. When in doubt, get some advice from career coach or other professional before investing too much money.
Interviewing for internships and jobs in the sciences comes with options. Of course, the safest route is the traditional suit as noted above. The nice thing is that if you notice the environment is much more casual, you can remove the jacket to take it down a notch. Just be sure the shirt you have on underneath can stand on its own. Taking it down another notch, you could forgo the suit for a nice pair of pants, button-down shirt, and maybe a tie if you’re a man and a nice pair of slacks or a skirt with a conservative blouse or sweater if you’re a woman. Bringing along a sport coat or tailored jacket, just in case, isn’t a bad idea if you go this route.
Options start to expand more as we get into the field of education. The foundation, however, remains the same: You want to look professional and put-together for your interviews. If you’re going into an elementary school environment, you can wear brighter colors than black or gray. A little touch of appropriate whimsy can show your connection with children. At this level, a suit might be a bit too much.
As you move up to middle school or high school, go more conservative. A suit can work at this level, but the bright colors won’t. The aim at all levels is to differentiate yourself from the children you’re teaching. Cover up, err on the conservative side, and let your personality show through with the use of accessories.
Creative Fields (Art, Theatre, Music)
While your interview attire is important no matter what field you’re entering, it can take on a whole new meaning going into a creative field. Graphic designers, for example, will convey their thought processes and even design aesthetic through their dress. And while researching the organization you’re interviewing with is important across the board, you want to be extra sure to understand the “personality” of the firm your interviewing with. Is it a hip and trendy firm, or is it more conservative? Use what you find out to craft your interview wardrobe. While you have more creative liberty as you interview for positions in this area, you still need to convince the employer that you will fill their needs.
Having said all of that, I want to stress the importance of doing your research, and your network becomes a very valuable asset in this process. What would a professional already in the field expect an interviewee to be wearing? Use their insight to help you look your best.
Laura serves as Internship Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the office of Career & Leadership Development. In this role, Laura advises students who are pursuing internships, assists employers with intern recruitment, and supports university faculty who oversee academic internships. She also provides students with job search readiness assistance through presentations, individual counseling, and social media. Laura earned her bachelors degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she majored in French and Political Science, and she received her masters degree in Counseling from UW-Whitewater. To learn more about Laura, read her blog, follow her on Twitter, or connect on LinkedIn.