The Interview Outfit

So, I have an interview coming up, which begs the dreaded question – what should I wear? 

To start, part of my process for all interview preparation is to grieve the fact that I cannot wear jeans or running pants on interview day.  Given my strong preference for comfortable casualwear, dressing for an interview feels like a punishment.  As I pass over my favorite pair of perfectly broken in jeans, I often end up selecting a pair of black dress pants.  Classic.  Unassuming.  What can an interviewer project onto black pants?  They fit the role of professional interviewee nicely.  Of course, I have orange and pink dress slacks, but those feel risky.  I have to feel out this new atmosphere before I spring orange pants on them. 

Now I have on pants. Other decisions await me.  Once I’ve succumbed to black dress pants, I often fall prey to the white button up shirt.  I longingly gaze and my silk floral shirt or polka dot cardigan, but I wonder what my interviewer will think.  If I look ‘too feminine’ will they assume that I am unassertive, passive, and cloyingly sweet.  Can I still be perceived as a tenacious, competent, and achievement-oriented in my lavender, polka dot cardigan with cute oversized buttons? I’ve never met my interviewer, but a voice inside my head says to play it safe. 

Top it off with a black blazer.  Now I look like a bureaucrat. Perfect. I’m almost ready for my interview.

Shoes and hair are the finishing touches.  Heels are a no-go for me.  I’m 5’8’’ already.  When I wear heels, I become a spectacle for others to comment on or stare at.  Moreover, my height becomes intimidating.  Now that I have achieved not looking too feminine, I can’t swing too far to the masculine side.  If I’m nearly 6 feet tall in a suit, then I’m on track to be perceived as the overly-assertive, aggressive bitch.  No thanks. Flats it is. 

And lastly to my hair…. I have long, red hair.  Amazing red hair that if full of volume, waves and personality.  Usually I let my crowning glory hang uninhibited, but for interview day, a nice bun or plait will do.  If I leave my hair unencumbered, it certainly does not look coiffed.  Does that make me look haphazard or lazy?   Does it make me look too young to have long, flowing locks?  Because in addition to finding the balance between femininity and masculinity, I also have to balance looking young (which is an asset) but not so young that I look inexperienced. 

Well, now I’m dressed, and I’m mentally exhausted.  I think I need a nap before my interview.  But then I’d just have to re-iron my clothes and fix my hair again. 

Do other women go through similar mental gymnastics when preparing for an interview?  I find myself frustrated that I play it safe and suppress the expression of certain parts of my personality.  However, the competitive and achievement-oriented woman inside of me wants to be a player in the game.  I want the job.  And when I get the job, I can do my part to facilitate some change.  I’ll integrate my pink pants, lustrous mane, and (occasionally) heels.  I’ll get in by playing the game.  Hopefully, I can help rewrite the rules once inside. 

-Written by Katy Haynes Owen, M.Ed., Ed.S. 

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