the interview outfit

This is my go-to Interview Outfit.

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Black Ann Taylor blazer, geometric print dress from J. Crew, and sensible, yet stylish and modern black pumps by Vince Camuto. I feel professional, polished and capable in this outfit, and yet with the bright, bold print of the dress, I feel it also subtly communicates that I may not be quite who the outfit implies.

This outfit is essentially a costume for a role that I’m capable of playing. It shows that I can suit up (literally) and show up for my professional life, but I don’t feel that it represents who I am. Even after having gone through this process many times, I still feel like I’m playing dress-up with my mom’s clothes when I get ready for an interview. Whenever I slip a blazer over a dress, it feels disingenuous and strange. When I slide my feet into a pair of heels, my brain shifts into hyperdrive because I know something serious is about to happen.

In terms of dress code, some companies are going more the way of ‘business casual’ all the way to ‘anything goes’, but when it comes to a job interview, you’d best believe I’m not showing up in jeans, or even open-toed shoes. Why must we wear a fancy dry-cleaned getup just for interviews? We do this to demonstrate to a potential employer that we can, in fact, pull ourselves together and at least look as though we’re there to play the game. But what if I feel like I could play the game better in a sweet jumpsuit?

I have a clear memory of what I wore to the interview for my first “real job” out of college nearly 12 years ago: button-up shirt (untucked, mind you), ill-fitting, cheap black pinstripe slacks, and heels that I wouldn’t be caught dead in now. (It’s a wonder I even got that job wearing that hot mess of an outfit, now that I think back on it.) Every interview since then, I’ve felt like somewhat of a fraud, like my interview outfit shell is advertising for a person who doesn’t really exist.

I’m much more an oddball risk-taker when it comes to my preferred fashion choices. What I find has usually happened with past jobs is I’ll start by wearing fairly conservative outfits, then gradually introduce some of my “real” clothes as time passes and I’ve gotten more comfortable with my coworkers and with the job itself. I’ll maybe put on a kooky dress, or don a bright color, or even break out the cowgirl boots if I’m feeling saucy.

Is there a happy medium? Is there a suitable way to convey my “work” and “life” personas in a corporate environment that speaks to who I really am and doesn’t scare away an interviewer? The outfit above is my current best attempt at this balance, but I feel like I can do better, especially in Austin where work environments are generally more relaxed.

What’s your go-to Interview Outfit? What are your ideas for striking a balance between projecting a professional image yet remaining true to who you are?

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