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What to Wear: Dream Job Interview

By Amalah

Hi Amy!
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.

anntaylorsuit.jpgOoh! 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 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.

Published February 13, 2008. Last updated February 13, 2008.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Heyladee

    February 13, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Amy hit it right on! I’d also like to suggest J. Crew for great suits, I LOVE them! Ann Taylor also rocks and their busniess-y heels are super cute, super comfortable and last for ever while not breaking the back ($80ish). One more thing…no perfume or VERY little. I’ve had girls come in smelling like French Whores and not hired them because I would not be able to stand the errr, stench. Good luck!

  • Kate Brackett

    February 13, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Amalah is exactly right. I work in a much more casual office setting (engineering research and development – jeans aren’t encouraged, but are regularly seen) and I fully expect anyone coming for an interview to wear a suit. We may have a casual offcie environemnt, but we ARE professionals, and it helps to convey yourself as such during an interview.
    When I was finishing college and interviewing for my first real job about seven years ago, I bought a great Ann Taylor suit. It was a SUBSTANTIAL financial investment, but I sure felt sharp when I put it on. To me it was a big confidence boost to know that I looked professional, and was wearing something of good quality that was flattering on me.
    I would also suggest, if you think you’ll have any use for the suit beyond interviews, that you consider buying both the skirt and pants that go with the suit coat. Then it’s almost like having two suits.
    Too bad I haven’t been able to fit into that great suit for about five years now. Oh well, it found a good home with one of my friends.

  • jodifur

    February 13, 2008 at 11:50 am

    I also where a suit every day to work and Kasper outlet has some great suits. also, Macy’s has a suit sale every year and I do well there to.

  • CLK

    February 13, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    I am an attorney who has to wear suits all the time. I highly recommend hitting Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft, especially their sale racks. I cannot tell you how many suits I have gotten on sale there that have cost me less than $100 for both pieces. Also, and I don’t know about their suits too much anymore, but back in the day I got some great ones at The Limited as well as Macy’s (always on sale) and Banana Republic. GOOD LUCK!

  • Olivia

    February 13, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    1) Take an extra pair of pantyhose in your bag, just in case.
    2) If you don’t have a dress coat, wear your parka anyway. It’s better to wear a casual coat then look like an idiot freezing to death. Just take it off as soon as you get in the door, there’ll probably be a place to hang it in reception.
    3) Wear shoes you can walk in a lot and be comfortable in. You may be taken on a tour of the place.
    4) If you are taken on a lunch interview, be careful what you order. Spaghetti can splatter, steak can take too long to chew when you need to answer questions, and even salad can be a challenge if there are big leaves that are hard to fit into your mouth.
    Good luck!

  • Isabel

    February 13, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Great advice Amalah. Always wear a suit to an interview. Even for a job at the Gap.
    My husband has bought many a awesome suit for less then $200 at Nordstrom Rack. Dude, you can’t beat that. And I’ve had tons of luck at the local Ann Taylor loft for suits. I’d try there first!
    Good luck with the job interview.

  • Alana

    February 13, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    So many helpful tips! Thanks!

  • Stephanie

    February 13, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    You may also want to consider NY&Co. for suits. (Their stores carry much more than their website.) They are not necessarily the highest quality out there, but they are pretty damn good for the price. They also occasionally run ridiculous sales — I have bought suits from there (both pieces) for under $50. Regardless, you should be able to put together a suit there for about $100, even not on sale. If you are a poor starving college student who financially cannot afford Banana Republic or Ann Taylor, consider looking at NY&Co. first. I am a poor starving somewhat recent lawyer and I have worn their suits to court plenty of times AND been complimented on them, so don’t let the low price throw you. They definitely look more expensive than they are. I am also a big fan of Express when you can find their stuff on sale, but it is way out of my price range otherwise.

  • sheilah

    February 13, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    And if you are a smoker, DO NOT smoke in the car on the way to the interview. Trust me, small_space + cigarette_smoke + new_suit = BLECH.
    Wear a classic blouse with few frills. Make sure it is not ‘revealing’ no matter how great your ta-tas are. That is (hopefully) not why they are interviewing you. Ditto on the skirt. Something just above the knee is perfect.
    The great thing with a suit is you don’t HAVE to wear the pieces together. Get a suit that has a jacket that you can wear with jeans or other slacks or skirts. You can break up the pieces and wear the skirt or pants or jacket with other pieces in your wardrobe. It’s all about versatility.

  • Morgan

    February 13, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    I am in Canada, working for a large corporation with a corporate communications group who used to be on my floor. They are probably the spiffiest dressers in the whole company. Not that they were suits, but they certainly are a lot better turned out than the rest of us.
    Also, I don’t know where in Canada you are, but a lot of those shops suggested above aren’t out West, at any rate. Canadian suggestions: Jacob is great. Tristan is a little pricier but has some fabulous suits. Reitman’s is where I buy most of my blouses, but I think they sell suits too. If you’re broke (as I was at that point in University), Smart Set occasionally has some good looking suits – not investment pieces, but if it’s between the suit and say, tuition… Just don’t buy a suit from Suzy Shier, no matter how good the price. They really do look like crap. (ymmw.)
    Good luck!

  • MStat

    February 13, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    I just wanted to offer one more tip in case your head instead spinning enough. If you are going to wear a skirt to the interview please, PLEASE wear panty hose. (And as someone else mentioned bring an extra pair just in case.) I thought that was standard, but I have been amazed to see a handful of girls turn up for interviews in skirts with no panty hose on. Our head of recruiting even mentioned it. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it kept anyone from getting hired, but I know it definitely didn’t make the right first impression.
    Best of luck at your interview!!

  • Jennelou

    February 13, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    I am graduating in May (YAY! FINALLY!) and am taking a class that is basically all about resumes, interviewing, etc.
    Our professor said that if you are a smoker you shouldn’t smoke AT ALL that day because the smell lingers and really turns some people off. He also said to be very careful with alcohol consumption the night before because those smells can linger too.
    Good points that some may not think of!
    Here is a question though…in case anyone has the answer…what about shoes in the winter? It is very icy where I live and I would really rather not kill myself on the way to an interview, but it would also look ridiculous to be carrying around an extra pair of shoes. Any ideas? The answer is probably obvious, but oh well!

  • mary ann

    February 13, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    These are all great suggestions. I scored my first interview suit at Macy’s in the Juniors department during an Easter sale. It was like $35 (eight years ago).
    If you wear glasses, make sure the lenses are clean. It’s really distracting to try to look someone in the eye when there’s a big smudge in front of it.

  • Suzy Q

    February 13, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    ALL great suggestions, by Amy and everyone else. I have also hired many a person.
    Just a couple things to add:
    Have a couple of clean copies of your resume with you. Take your Social Security card and DL or other ID.
    Alternative to pantyhose (which I hate): thigh highs. Spanx makes great, comfortable ones!
    As Amy said, closed toed shoes, ALWAYS. Even here in Florida, they’re required by professionals. In Canada, you might not so much think of bare toes.
    No weird nail polish colors. That would include black, blue, green, orange and even red. Something unobtrusive and neutral. If you can’t afford a manicure (best scenario), at the very least file them and use some cuticle cream.
    Check your face so you don’t have lipstick on your teeth or mascara smudges.
    A spritz of breath freshener just before you walk in couldn’t hurt.
    Good luck! We’re all rooting for you!

  • pseudostoops

    February 13, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Per the shoes in winter question- I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing recently and have seen many women wearing pants suits with nice leather boots (the fancy kind, not the snow kind.) It’s not perfect, but provides slightly more protection than pumps. Otherwise, I’d suggest wearing your snow boots in the car, parking as close as possible to the interview site, and then changing into your dress shoes in the car and sucking it up for the walk into the interview. And once, when I had to take public transit to an interview, I left my boots with the doorman of the building and changed into my shoes in the lobby. But that was kind of extreme.

  • Gamma

    February 13, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    Ann Taylor is for the very skinny. If you’re curvier but looking in the same price range, try Talbots. As a bonus, the salespeople there are very honest about what does and doesn’t work on you.

  • brid

    February 13, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Shirt wise: a button-down (in any one of its female friendly versions) is a good idea. It doesn’t have to be white, but I wouldn’t recommend straying too far afield color-wise. Most of the factors with a shirt are just details, but what’s really important are two things: it’s not sheer and you’re not showing too much (read: barely any) cleavage. I’m not saying you should choose something that makes you look like a sack–far from it–just when choosing how many buttons to do up, this is the one time to pick the safe choice.
    On a non-fashion note, make sure you turn your cell phone off.
    Good luck 🙂

  • pomjob

    February 13, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    The best advice I’ve gotten was dress for the job that you want, not the job that you have. I wish I heard that before my internship. Good luck!

  • ethansmomma

    February 13, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    I agree with Amy. Better to be overdressed than underdressed on a job interview. I interview student workers in my position and nothing bothers me more than when they show up dressed in jeans, flip flops, and a t-shirt. I know its a student worker position but it is still a job interview. One thing that helped me when I was unemployed this summer after getting laid off was practicing job interview questions with my husband. I printed a long list from an HR website and we went over and over them until I felt confident with the answers. I also made a list of questions for them as well. Good luck. I hope you get it.