It has been so hot and sticky that you wouldn't be caught dead wearing a suit to work. But what if you have a job interview? How do you dress to impress without tipping off your current boss that you're out hunting?
In the steamiest part of summer, interviewers may be a bit lenient about the conservative-suit uniform, but don't expect a lot of latitude. Clothes still say a lot about attitude.
"Many of our summertime applicants have been less formal, yet properly dressed," said Richard Pagnotta, assistant director of human resource services at the American Chemical Society in Washington. Not all the women wore suits, for instance, but "their skirts, blouses and proper shoes conveyed professionalism and seriousness."
Closed-toed footwear meshes with this look. Forget fashionable flip-flops -- they're "considered the kiss of death," Pagnotta said.
For men, a light gray suit, with a white shirt and red tie, will do just fine. There's no need to brave the heat in black.
Expectations can be looser in the information technology arena. "We are extremely flexible about encouraging people to wear what they wish," said David Augenblick, manager of human resources at the Motley Fool Inc. in Alexandria.
After all, "it's more than likely that the interviewers are going to be wearing a T-shirt, shorts and some flip-flops." He said, "We tend to err on the side of casual in the workplace fashion equation."
But the Washington area is also full of very traditional workplaces; you probably won't see T-shirts and shorts at a law firm. So plan ahead. When arranging the interview, ask whether the environment is formal or business casual and dress accordingly, suggested Jeff Altman, managing director of Concepts in Staffing Inc., a New York-based firm that places engineers, financial analysts, infrastructure specialists and other professionals.
"Try not to make a separate call if you can avoid it, because the question can be interpreted as looking for ways to get off easy or receive special treatment," he said. "That may count as either a strike against your candidacy or cost money at the time of the job offer."
Tread with caution when inquiring about dress protocol. Some interviewers won't be as understanding as Patrick Culkin, human resources specialist at the Bethesda-based Association for Financial Professionals Inc. He relates to candidates who worry whether their current employer will guess that they are looking. "My first priority is to get them here as soon as possible," Culkin said. "If it means that they come in business casual attire, then so be it."
For those who have the luxury of changing into an interview ensemble, all the better. That's what Rachel Parsons did in late June. She stashed the suit in her car. To keep cool, she wore a short-sleeved button-down blouse and waited to put on her blazer. "Interviewers were also very aware of the heat and understood if you didn't wear the jacket the whole interview," said Parsons, 25, recently hired as public relations manager for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association Inc. in Reston.
Greg Solomon was unemployed when he met with Blackboard Inc. in Washington, "so trying to duck the customary comment, 'Oh, must be going on a job interview' was not an issue," said Solomon, 54, senior operations engineer. Despite the laid-back atmosphere in tech circles, he stuck with a suit.
"I danced to the drummer of traditional interview dress codes. Luckily, my walk from the parking garage to the building was short," he recalled. "Staying cool is more mental than what's covering your outer skin. Oh, yes, and of course a good deodorant helps."
Candidates who already have jobs may get away with a dress shirt and pants at the office without arousing suspicion. Hide the jacket, tie and dress shoes until the interview, said Susan Arnot Heaney, spokeswoman for the Avon Foundation in New York. "Don't forget socks if the casual look is sockless."
For women, a suit dress serves a dual purpose. "Without the jacket, you are just in a summer dress. With the jacket -- voila -- a suit!" Slip on sandals. Pack the pantyhose, pumps and jewelry.
"Change right before the interview -- in your office, if you can sneak out without being seen, or, worst case, pop into a public restroom on the way to the interview. Surely, there is a Starbucks nearby," Heaney said.
Another idea: Sometimes, wear your good suits to work, even in summer. "Explain that as long as you have these nice clothes in your wardrobe, you want to wear them," she said. "That way, when you next dress up for an interview, your apparel won't be so unexpected."