How to Interview

October 9, 2012
Fashion Emergency? No Problem

You've heard most job interview tips before: Dress sharp, pack copies of your resume and make sure you've researched the employer thoroughly.

But what happens when emergencies hit you where it shows most: On your outfit? Where are the advice givers when you show up with coffee stains on your shirt, or the airline lost your luggage and your suit is nowhere to be found?

Take heart, job seekers. For every potentially damaging fashion situation, there is a fix.

Un-Suit-Able

What if your best option -- your "go-to suit" -- is unavailable? Though not ideal, says Deborah Lloyd, executive vice president of product design and development at Banana Republic, both men and woman have options. "As long as you keep your outfit simple and chic," she says, "you can get away without a suit."

Lloyd recommends that men wear dress pants, a button-down shirt and a sport coat. For women, she suggests a sheath dress and pumps or a pencil skirt and blouse. Donna Dorsch, manager of personal touch and stylist at the Tyson's Corner Nordstrom, has further advice for women: "Go to your current wardrobe and mix and match as best as possible some key separates. A khaki jacket with a black skirt and a pair of black shoes is still a pulled-together look."

With the right accessories, says Dorsch, the right outfit can rival a suit for interview appropriateness.

Seeing Double Or Triple

There are plenty of reasons you might own just one suit. Maybe you're just out of school, for example, and can't afford several. Or maybe you've been working in a casual environment and haven't needed them. So what do you do when a company calls you back several times in a short time span? Just keep showing up in identical outfits?

Not necessarily. Dorsch advises women to buy a suit with a matching skirt and a pair of slacks so that making several outfits is simple. "With just those three core pieces," she says, "a woman could attend three interviews by changing the underpinnings and accessories."

Women can also wear a different kind of shirt each day -- for example, one knit, one silk blouse, and one cotton button down, says Dorsch. Accessories should also change with the outfit and might include a "statement necklace," silk scarf or striking belt, adds Lloyd.

Men, meanwhile, can easily vary their suits by changing their shirts and ties, and wearing a different color shoe -- black, brown or cordovan -- each time. Accessories can also help. "Options include a crisp button down, cashmere v-neck sweater, cardigan, cufflinks, printed ties and a leather messenger bag," says Lloyd.

Just Keep It Casual?

When it's known that an employer allows its workers to dress down, should you follow suit -- and remove yours -- for the interview to avoid looking stuffy and formal in a room filled with people sporting jeans and golf shirts?

While tempting, you should probably avoid it. Even casually attired interviewers won't think you're overdressed: "There is nothing inappropriate about wearing a suit," says John Campagnino, head of recruiting for consulting firm Accenture.

Leaving it at home, meanwhile, opens you up to potentially dangerous miscalculations. Different offices have different expectations about what business casual means, says Dorsch -- what's acceptable at an advertising firm might not fly at a law firm.

"Dress for your best presentation, regardless of the dress code," Dorsch says. "Even if a sweater set and a pair of khakis are appropriate once you have the job, I would still recommend you wear a suit."

In short, agrees Campagnino, better to play it safe: "We would never automatically say no to someone for being underdressed, but it does go to the subtext of good judgment."

On the Run

Many younger women have abandoned stockings, but both Dorsch and Lloyd consider them musts for the business professional dress code. The risk is runs, and they're completely inappropriate.

Dorsch suggests an easy fix: Tuck an extra pair in your purse before you leave the house. Failing that, she adds, "take them off and get to a drugstore. You don't want to walk into an unfamiliar office with a hole in your hose."

If you're interviewing at a more casual office and think you can get away with going barelegged, says Lloyd, just throw the offending articles in the nearest garbage can.

"You can always do without hosiery if you are interviewing at a company that has a relaxed, business casual approach to its employees' attire," she says. "If you're interviewing in a more corporate environment, I strongly recommend making a quick stop at your local convenience store."

Taking a Spill

Disasters -- or, at least, mini-disasters -- happen, such as when the morning coffee "jumps" out of the cup and onto your freshly pressed shirt.

Your best bet in such a situation is preparation, says Lloyd. "Carrying an instant stain remover ... can really save you in a pinch. If you're spill-prone, try to wear dark colors, or save your coffee for after the interview."

Your next best bet? Just press on. One young woman Dorsch interviewed came into her office sporting a visible coffee stain, she recalls, and successfully laughed it off at the start of the conversation.

If humor isn't your style, she suggests keeping mostly mum: "If I were the person going into an interview, that would not be the first thing out of my mouth. It's something to be said on the way out."

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