Dressing for an Interview – Women’s Edition

Resume revised? Check.
Interview answers practiced? Check.
Mapped out location of interview? Check.
Now, what to wear? Dressing for an interview can be trickier for women, not only because of the choices, but because of societal biases or preconceived ideas about what women should do or how they should look. You want to represent yourself as the most qualified candidate despite all of what has happened to, with, and around women since before you were born. When you walk into that interview room you want that first impression to be that you are poised, polished, and professional (the three P’s). Your outfit should merely say, “I am the best candidate for this job.”
Just like the classic men’s suit, you almost can’t go wrong with a skirt suit, pant suit, or sheath dress with a jacket or blazer. Take a cue from the women in the picture below. Each has a suit that fits them well and exemplifies the three Ps.
business attire

Breaking it down:
Notice that all of the suits in the picture have a tailored fit, showing attention to detail, but they are not tight. Skirts fall at or near the knee. The material of your clothing can be the difference between appearing professional or club-ready. A stretchy skirt made mostly of spandex lycra is more like a skirt you wear casually or on a date rather than to a board meeting. If your interview outfit can take you directly from interview to club, you may not come across as poised, polished or professional.
If you don’t own a suit you can wear separates or a dress, but keep some guidelines in mind. Again, whether you are wearing a skirt or pants make sure they are fitted but not tight. A simple button-up shirt or a nice blouse can compliment the bottoms you selected. Select a top that allows the interviewer to focus on your fit for the job, not on a wayward bra strap or slipping neckline. If you decide on a dress keep it simple so that the focus is on your skills, not your clothing.
Here are a few examples:
business casual skirt

business casual 2

business casual 1

Business Casual sweater

Now that you have the right outfit, what about the accessories?
Jewelry should compliment and not distract. If you are in a creative field, you can get away with a little more flair, but keep it balanced. If you have a big chunky necklace, you don’t need big chunky earrings to go with and two arms full of bracelets. Remember you want the focus (and lasting memory) to be on your qualifications, not on the clackety-clack of the jewelry you were wearing.
When picking out shoes for an interview, keep in mind that this is not the right time for the interviewer to see all of your toes, no matter what the temperature. Bare feet and toes are associated with shorts and the beach. In fact, the phrase “kick off your shoes” means to relax. When picking out shoes for an interview, you want to bring to mind professionalism. You can go with a peep toe, but under no circumstances should anyone see more than that one toe during your interview for a professional position. Make sure you can walk comfortably in your shoes. As part of the interview you may be taking a tour of the office. You want to be able to walk with comfort and without stumbling.
As for your purse or satchel, make sure it is professional. I was recently at a job fair and saw someone applying for an engineering job carrying a Mickey Mouse beach bag. The message that sends is not professional. I imagine that person stuck in childlike tendencies and wonder if they can handle a job at my highly competitive engineering firm. Will they fit in well with older or more senior colleagues? I don’t know and because of this bag, I don’t want to use my time to find out. I’ll file that resume into the “don’t worry about it” file. Another error I recently saw at the job fair was carrying too many bags. The person was so off balance with their stuffed bags that they kept bumping into other people and displays. That’s just bad mojo. The impression I got when I saw this person was a bull in a china shop. Imagining this person interacting with clients is hard to do because of this image, and I will not be asking that person to interview with me. Bottom line, keep it simple with one bag and make sure things fit in it.
make up crop copy
Hair, Makeup, and Perfume
Keep your hairstyle simple – you don’t need pieces of it falling into your eyes constantly while you are interviewing. You, and the interviewer, will be distracted and thrown off due to your constant need to manage your hair. Stick with a style you are familiar with and one that won’t need consistent attention.

If you normally don’t wear makeup, don’t make the day of your job interview the day you experiment. If you do want to add makeup that day, keep it simple and stick to daytime-appropriate looks. The picture to the left is a good guide.


As I stated in the men’s column last week, perfume should not precede you into a room. If I smell you coming before I see you – you’re wearing too much.
Ultimately, the first impression should not be distracting. Dressing in a poised, polished, and professional manner for your job interview helps to ease your introduction and keeps the focus on your skills, abilities, and fit. If what you are wearing distracts the person you are interviewing with, then they are not focusing on you and the talent you bring to the company. You want the focus to stay on your conversation around your qualifications and experiences that make you a perfect fit for the organization, not on the Lady Gaga shoes you are wearing.

Lady Gaga meat shoes

Would you like some expert guidance in preparing for an interview? Check out our Transform Interviews Into Conversations WebClass.

Posted by Pamela Moy