Are you wondering what to wear for your first civilian interview? If you are a man, I've got you covered with what to wear for your interview. If you are a woman -- a female service member, a female veteran or a female spouse? Well, then you have my heartfelt sympathy. Because for you, the whole story of what to wear to your interview is a landmine of judginess.
The What-Not-To-Wear Blues
I learned this when I was teaching a course on how to get your first job after the military. When the class did presentations about what to wear for interviews for men, it was always about what they should wear. Suit. Tie. Good shoes. Dark socks. They always reminded each other to wear socks.
When it came to what women should wear, the class did what we always do with women. We did not talk about what women should wear. We talked about what women should NOT wear. Not too tight. Not too short. Not too low cut. Not too shiny. Not too glittery. Not too, too much of any of that stuff that comes with the female form. Ridiculous.
Female Veterans Already Knew What Not to Wear
For female veterans, their biggest concern was how to choose from the huge variety of women's clothing out there. They did not want to look like they could only wear a uniform. They did not want to look had missed some secret signal every other civilian woman their age learned on the job.
The thing is, these female veterans actually did know how to dress for work -- in a uniform. Just like there is a uniform of the day in the military, there is already a uniform for the job interview, depending on your job level and the prospective company. Your location can play a part in what to wear, too. (Hawaii, you know I'm talking to you.)
Go Ahead and Ask What to Wear
While it is always smart to ask the recruiter, the HR person or the hiring manager for the company's dress code before the interview, it is likely that you either will forget to do this or you will skip this step because you don't want to look needy. So I put together this Uniform Code of Interview Awesomeness just for you.
Uniform Code of Interview Awesomeness
Some what-to-wear rules go with every job level and every company. Keep these rules in mind, whether you are shopping for interview clothes or you have to go to an interview today.
1. Solid colors read as more sophisticated.
Your clothes are the frame for your accomplishments. Florals, stripes, polka dots, plaids, ikats, etc. can show some personality, but they also can distract the interviewer from listening to what you say instead of thinking about what you are wearing.
2. Neutrals look more expensive.
Even among solid colors, neutrals like black, gray, navy, ivory, white and camel are usually what we think of for an interview. I'm also a fan of other solid colors that make your eyes bright and your skin glow, but I don't know whether you can fully trust me on this. I'm a big believer that when in doubt, wear red.
3. Choose simple before complicated.
If you are choosing between two things to wear to an interview, always go for the simple choice because the look will read as classic. (This is how I always avoid anything requiring a bow. Or a ruffle.)
4. Closed-toe shoes are more professional.
For whatever reason, open-toed shoes are not welcome at a job interview for women or men. Toes are, apparently, the symbol of wanting to frolic on the beach, not go to work.
5. Pantyhose have not been cool since 1995.
Feel free to skip the pantyhose even at an interview with a conservative company. Unless you are the duchess of Cambridge. Or you are over 50. Then if you wanna wear hose, you go ahead and wear them. Make yourself happy. You earned it.
Interview Uniform of the Day Based On Type of Business
No matter where you are interviewing, keep in mind that the purpose of an interview is to help the hiring manager see who you are and what you could contribute to their team. Wearing the expected thing lets the interviewer remember you, not your clothes. Here are some guidelines based on where you are looking for work.
1. Informational interview
You might not be thinking that an informational interview has a dress code. If you are meeting people on the phone, it does not. If you are meeting people in person, it does. You show your respect for the person taking time out of their day for you by dressing the part. If they are coming from work, you wear business casual. This usually means dress pants with a nice blouse or sweater. I'm also a fan of the blazer/jeans/boots outfit.
2. Conservative company interview
Very few interviews require a full-on business suit. If you are interviewing for a job in law, finance, government or anything else that is going to make someone trust you with millions of dollars, go with a dark interview suit with pale blouse. Or you can do a shift dress with a jacket. Dress shoes. Classy handbag. Tasteful necklace.
Go to a store like Ann Taylor or Banana Republic or Talbots so you can buy suit separates in person. If you know the brand and the sizes well, you can get extremely good prices on workwear through the online marketplace Poshmark, especially if the item is marked New With Tags (NWT) or New Without Tags (NWOT).
3. School, health-care or retail interview
Schools, hospitals and retailers can be a little less structured, but they still want to see a professional you. If you like dresses, go with a shift or a fit-and-flare dress. You could wear a dressy blouse and pencil skirt. Or dress pants with a blouse or nice sweater.
If you are young and your money for new clothes is very limited, buy one new blouse or a new sweater in black or navy. The style should make you think "professional." Keep it only for your interviews, and it will always look nice.
4. Sales or IT interview
Even if what you would be doing for work is at home on the phone or the computer, there is still a convention that you dress up for an interview with a nice shirt, sweater or jacket.
If you really hate shopping for clothes, you can get around this with one of the try-before-you-buy subscription services like Wantable, Stitch Fix or Nordstrom Trunk Club. Be really specific when you fill out your profile. Tell your stylist you are looking for tops for work that will look great for a Zoom interview. It is amazing what those stylists can find for you.
5. Creative power interview
If you are going to an interview with a creative company, anything goes. Show your personality. In Silicon Valley, the HR department of companies like Google, Apple and Facebook send you a note, telling you not to worry about dressing up for the interview; they want to know you as you are. Which is nice. For other creative interviews with media or fashion, you can always go with head-to-toe black. As Coco Chanel said, "When I find a color darker than black, I'll wear it."
Whether you are a female veteran or a spouse, when it comes to the interview, we all hate being judged by how we dress or how we look. Follow these guidelines, and you can let yourself stop worrying about your clothes during the interview. Instead, you can spend that time preparing for that new job with your certifications, strengths and stories about how you can take the skills you learned in the military and apply them to a whole new world.
Learn More About the Veteran Employment Project
To get more tips on how to make a successful military transition, sign up for one of our FREE Military Transition Master Classes today. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.