Get a Job! Part 1 – First Impressions

Part of une femme’s day job requires the periodic interviewing of prospective employees. Having seen the topic of what to wear to a job interview come up frequently on style blogs, I thought I’d chime in from the perspective of the person sitting on the other side of the desk, not only about what to wear but about the interview process in general.

Regarding what to wear, (as much as those of us who want to cling to hard-and-fast guidelines hate this) It Depends. It depends on the industry, the job, the corporate environment, whether it’s a big or small company or department, whether you’ll be dealing with the public or clients, and—

But wait, let’s back up a minute. Let’s talk about your resumé. Usually, this one or two pages (if it’s longer than that, EDIT!) is what’s going to determine whether you even get to the interview stage. If you can afford to work with a professional resumé service, do it. If not, here are some things to consider:

  1. Typos. Yes, even in these days of spell-checking and grammar-checking software, we still get resumes with typos and grammatical errors that would make my hillbilly ancestors blush. I’m never going to believe someone who tells me they’re “detail oriented” and “conscientious about their work” when they haven’t proofread a resumé.
  2. Tailor your resumé to the job, especially if you’re trying to transition to work that’s a bit different than what you’ve done previously. Highlight the aspects of your previous position(s) that might be applicable to the field you’re trying to get into. A hiring manager for an administrative/office position doesn’t care that in your previous dog grooming job you mastered five different versions of poodle cuts. Instead highlight your client recordkeeping system, or how you managed your time so that you were able to handle more clients.
  3. Beware of meaningless or superfluous “business speak.” Yes, use those “action” words where applicable (implemented, reviewed, designed, processed) but be sure they make sense in the context of your responsibilities and experience.
  4. Embellish carefully. DON’T FIB. Most employers these days WILL do background checks and reference checks. (I once received a resumé from someone who listed an office manager job at a small company, during the exact same time I’d held that particular job at that particular company.) If you lie on your resumé and get caught, that is grounds for dismissal at a lot of companies.
  5. Appearance counts. Be sure your resumé is organized and sequential. Keep as uncluttered as you can while still cramming your work history onto a single page.

So you’ve put together a kick-ass resumé, submitted it, and you get The Call. Hopefully you’ve prepared and planned out a series of interview outfits, (more on that later, but chances are you’ll have more than one interview) but if not, ponder these:

  1. To Suit or Not To Suit? Though many businesses have succumbed to the Business Casual juggernaut, I think there are very few venues where a suit will count against you (unless the position you’re interviewing for is video game software developer or alligator wrangler). In all but the most conservative environments, a pants suit is fine. If you’re applying for a management position, a suit is probably your best bet.
  2. If you don’t have a suit, and can’t purchase or borrow one, no worries. Again, unless you’re in a very conservative environment (law, accounting, banking) most modern hiring managers won’t expect people applying for non-management positions to show up in a suit, but three words to live by are Simple, Polished, Professional.
  3. Simple: keep jewelry to a minimum, avoid wild clothing designs or patterns, leave your favorite handbag with the chunky hardware/studs/leopard print/fringe at home. Now is not the time to wear all 25 of your sparkly butterfly hair clips or your favorite holiday-themed sweater.
  4. Polished: it still shocks me that I have to say this, but you should be clean. Hair not hanging in greasy clumps, hands sans dirt under the nails, clothes without fresh food stains. (Yes, we’ve had people show up to interviews like this.) If your shoes are scuffed, polish them or at the very least take a Magic Marker to the most obvious marks. If you don’t regularly wear makeup, don’t feel you have to for the interview (unless you’re applying for a position at the Nordstrom’s makeup counter) but again your face should be clean. Clothes don’t need to be impeccably tailored, but they should fit. If you don’t have a briefcase, portfolio or handbag big enough to carry copies of your resumé and references flat, bring them in a manila folder or envelope to keep them clean and crisp.
  5. Professional: yes, this depends on the “profession” but these guidelines are for jobs that primarily involve working at a desk in an office environment. Low rise jeans and a midriff-baring top (all the better to show off your new back tattoo) are not appropriate for an interview, no matter how cool the tattoo. Sleeveless tops used to be frowned upon in the workplace, and while they seem to be mostly accepted now, I’d advise against a sleeveless top or tank or camisole, or at least wear a light jacket over it for the interview. I don’t care if you’ve been staking out the office for a week and everyone you see coming and going is wearing jeans, t-shirts and flip-flops, you still need to ditch the denim, leave your favorite vintage Psychedelic Furs concert t-shirt in the closet, and wear real footwear. It’s about showing respect for the company and the people who are deciding whether you’re a suitable candidate for a job (yes, that thing that helps you pay for stuff like rent and double-mocha-frappuccinos). Personally, I think most sandals are iffy for an interview, and would advise a closed-toe shoe. Unless you’re interviewing for a job as a fashion editor or stylist, save the more avant garde ensembles for expressing your identity once you get the job. Excessive cleavage or visible bra is also not a professional look for most indoor work environments. The same goes for very short skirts.

In the next installment, some specific outfit suggestions and tips for the actual interview.

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4 Comments

  1. September 30, 2007 / 4:20 pm

    I sometimes teach a Business English course and will bookmark this post as evidence that I’m not just talking through my hat! I tell my students (and not just the Business English ones) that their writing and their clothes are both ways of representing themselves to the world. I’ve just spent some time educating them about how to e-mail their prof, and it’s not by beginning “Hey”!! Also suggested that “asap” is not a word to be used to someone who holds some power over you, someone from whom you’re asking a favour!

  2. September 30, 2007 / 5:02 pm

    Oy, e-mails! That’s a topic for a whole ‘nother post! 🙂

  3. October 1, 2007 / 7:53 am

    Dejapseu:

    Very interesting post!

    My friends say that I needlessly nitpick on usage and spelling errors. But as you say, it shows that the person cannot spell, cannot proofread and cannot use spell-check with any degree of attention. Even if a monkey with a typewriter can, at some point in time, crank out Shakespearean plays, I would not leave the monkey to do this unsupervised. Likewise with spell-check.

    I think in turning up at an office to be interviewed, there may be a couple of other things to remember.

    Cheap styrofoam cup with coffee should be a no-no (if one must, then one must bring either an airtight steel coffee container or a ‘branded’ one). Many receptionists do not enjoy their dustbins being used to pile non-recyclable waste containing coffee un-finished by others.

    Do not look like you need the job but equally, do not look like you could buy the interviewer right then and there. In other words, have a sense of balance in dressing and accessorising. No point bringing a Hermes bag to a secretarial interview, is there? One may look like one is in debt, or has little financial sense or has a rich husband (in which case many employers will bat you at a lower salary number than you deserve).

    I look forward to your follow-up post.

  4. October 2, 2007 / 12:19 am

    Oh I SOOOOO agree with point number 1! Spelling errors in resumes is just a NO NO! Can’t they use a spell checker in Word?

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