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Job Magician A Woman's Guide to
Dressing for a Job Interview 
  • The choice of dress for a woman is more complicated than it is for a man.  A man needs only to wear a suit, which covers him from top to bottom.  A woman needs to walk a finer line between looking borderline masculine and looking like Cinderella attending a fairy tale gala.
  • The general rule is to dress formally, conservatively, and to avoid looking flashy.
  • Copy the TV newsreporters and anchors. Their look is simple and business-like, and at the same time feminine.

Focus attention on your face. Your face is you, and that's where you want your interviewer to concentrate. Avoid anything that takes your interviewer’s attention away from it. In particular, don't wear anything low-cut on top.

Dress a notch better than your interviewer.  Always, always err on the side of caution, and dress well. Business casual can be dangerous in an interview setting.

No Mini Skirts! An absolute rule is not to wear mini-skirts or short skirts, even if you look good in them and they are wearing them in some of the upscale metropolitan office settings (the young women may wear these there, but you can bet the boss doesn't). You may see them in Manhattan ad agencies, but don't wear one to an interview with one of them.

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Treat an interview with a recruiter the same as an interview with an employer.  Dress just as well for an interview with a recruiter as you would with an employer.  Don’t make the surprising mistake that many candidates I’ve interviewed have made, and think that the recruiter is going to act as a rep for you, so impressing the recruiter is unimportant. If your interview is with a retained firm, the recruiter is part of the client, and you need to get his or her approval before you are presented to the client.  If you are dealing with a contingent firm (and why are you interviewing with a contingent firm if you are earning six figures?), remember that the client is paying the contingent firm, and if the firm is in any way decent, they will present only good candidates to their clients.

The Basics:

Go for formal – a skirt suit is your best bet.  Skirts need to be knee length or below. If you think you are drastically overdressed, you can deftly remove your jacket at some point during the interview. You can go with a pants suit in some cases if someone has tipped you off ahead of time that those are common at the company, or that they dress business casual. 

Conservative is best.  Conservative colors are best, which means grey, black or blue for the suit.

Avoid evening dress. A black evening gown may look smashing, but not in a job interview setting.

Know your target. You can go for a somewhat more jazzed up look if you are interviewing in a fashionable company (you don’t want to look like a banker at an ad agency), but don’t go overboard.

Blouse.  Your blouse should be cotton or silk.  Once again, simple conservative colors like white, ivory or light blue are best.  Stick to solid colors or subtle patterns. 

Shoes.  Choose basic, conservative pumps that match the same tone as your suit.  The best colors are black, blue, brown, or maroon.  No toes sticking out – formal shoes should have a closed shoe and heel.  Skip the high heels (perhaps you can go as high as 2 ”). 

Briefcase.  Bring a sleek leather briefcase and leave your purse in the car.  A sleek one will look more feminine. 

Keep the smells down. Perfume is personal - it attracts some and repels (far more) others. Some people are allergic to it. Don't wear it.

Keep jewelry elegant and simple. Do you like being around a woman whose jewelry makes her look like an heiress? Keep it simple and not ostentatious (at the same time, keep anything cheap at home - avoid costume jewelry - you're an executive, not a secretary).

Makeup.  Makeup should be simple if worn at all, and not noticeable.

Hairstyle.  Once again, your hairstyle should not be memorable.  If you have beautiful blond or red hair, they’ll remember that, regardless of how it is styled. Stick to a basic hairstyle, and one that doesn’t cover your face.  That means that bangs don’t cover your eyebrows, and you don’t have to constantly do a Marsha Brady, pulling your hair back into place as it slides over your eyes.

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