What to Wear: Dream Job Interview
I just been asked to interview for an internship I’ve been dreaming about, so naturally that means that I have officially started the process of totally freaking out in a major way. I have to sort out writing samples and references and figure out the best way to avoid sounding completely incoherent and socially-inept, but most of all my biggest concern is….what on earth am I supposed to wear?
The internship I’m applying for is a corporate communications position within a large corporation. And with graduation on the horizon, it’s really the first ‘grown-up’ interview I’ve ever really had. Did I mention they usually hire their interns? Because they do, and I could really use an actual real-live, grown-up job. Since it’s a corporate position, I’m assuming a certain level of formality is expected from my attire but at the same time, I’m only 21. This might be immature college-student thinking, but aren’t I a little young to show up in a suit?
I was hoping you could give me some suggestions – ideally something that says ‘smart, qualified, and age-appropriate’. And weather-appropriate too, I suppose, because I live in Canada and my goodness is it cold up here.
Ooh! Ooh! An easy one! A very, very easy one.
You wear a suit.
No. You wear a suit.
These days, there is absolutely no reason or excuse to show up for a job interview in anything other than a suit. You’re too young to remember the dot.com frenzy, but oh, we hip young things would show up to interviews in jeans and t-shirts and enough ego to fill a dozen conference rooms. You wanna surf the New Economy, corporate-pig-types? Well, you better hire anyone who walks through the door with basic HTML skills and you better be okay with them wearing shorts and flip-flops to the office.
Those days are gone, and once again, proper interview attire is the way to go, unless you are SPECIFICALLY told otherwise by the company. Some companies ARE very casual and will do their interviewees the favor of telling them not to dress up, but I am 100% certain that does not apply to your dream internship here. Mostly because I used to conduct interviews for jobs that sound very very similar to this one (large corporation? media division? established intern-to-hire program? check check and check), and in keeping with being The Man for that 30-minute interview, I sure as hell expected people to wear suits, no matter how young or otherwise inexperienced they were.
Remember, you’re not trying to sell them on hiring some young 21-year-old girl with great fashion sense. You’re trying to sell them on hiring a serious, ambitious businesswoman who is eager to get her foot in the door. You don’t want to remind them of your age — you want to transcend it and appear experienced and professional beyond your years. Trust me, THAT will make a bigger impression than OMG CUTE TOP!
All that said, you don’t have to show up in shoulder pads and Hush Puppies. Suits can be really cute! Ann Taylor Loft and Banana Republic make wonderful suits that fit great and will last you through many, many interviews.
I know the price tags on suits can make you gag (a couple hundred dollars for something YOU DON’T EVEN LIKE THAT MUCH?), but look at it as an investment. You may get your dream job after the first interview, or you might not and will need to hit the pavement in order to find a job. Your dream job may come with a formal business attire dress code (mine did), or may expect you to wear suits to meet clients. (If you live near an outlet mall, however, check out the Ann Taylor or Banana Republic there — I had to wear suits EVERY DAY to work and regularly struck suit gold at the outlets.)
Dark colors are the most versatile — black or charcoal or dark brown can be worn year-round, while cream or other light colors look weird in the winter. Either pants or a skirt would be perfectly appropriate — go with whatever you are more comfortable in. Avoid skirts with high slits that show off too much leg (always sit down and cross your legs in the fitting room to see the view you’ll be giving potential bosses), and always always get suit pants hemmed to the proper length. There’s no better way to ruin the look of a $250 suit than by letting the legs eat your shoes and drag on the ground.
Keep jewelry simple and minimal (no giant earrings or rings on every finger). Wear really long hair up or pulled back, and short hair out of your face. Clean, classic makeup and overall just look put together — I can’t tell you how many college-age candidates I interviewed who showed up looking like they had just gotten out of the shower (sopping wet hair! really! at 3 in the afternoon! I didn’t know whether to offer her a job or a towel). No open-toed shoes, ever. If you don’t have a professional-looking bag, please don’t bring a backpack or canvas duffel — just bring a leather portfolio with your resume and pen and paper for taking notes and leave everything else in your car. Sit up straight, make eye contact and for the love of God, ask questions. Give more than yes-or-no answers. Participate in the interview and don’t make the interviewer feel like they’re pulling your teeth out in order to get you to talk.
Your resume got you in the door, and now it’s up to you to look and act like you belong there and shouldn’t have to walk back out.