It’s graduation season a.k.a., job hunting season and some of you may be attending job interviews for the first time. Whilst buying a drab grey or black shift dress with equally drab ballerina flats is easy, it’s also something akin to purgatory for those as image conscious as I am. So, with several years of fairly successful job interview experience as well as a few office jobs under my belt, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to look in an interview situation. This is likely to be the most prescriptive article I’m going to write for this column. As much as I love experimentation and self expression in fashion, job interviews generally aren’t the time or place for it, because job searching sucks. The watch word here is conventional; you don’t want what you wear to distract in any way from what you say.
The first thing to think about is the image you’re trying to convey. Clothing conveys a message and what we wear will have an influence over how we are perceived. So, for a job interview, you want to look ‘employable’. But that word will mean different things for different jobs. What ‘employable’ means looks like for a human resources manager is different to that of a care worker which is different to a retail assistant which is different to a barista, for example. But, generally speaking, you’ll want to look competent, dependable and professional. A lot of that image will come across in the way you conduct yourself in the interview, but first impressions are vitally important. If you’re fat, dark, visibly disabled or visibly LGBT (especially the T) in any way, you’re already fighting an uphill battle.
Now we can think about shapes and styles. Again, job interviews aren’t the place to be daring or fashion forward (unless you’re going for a job in that sort of company). Looking conventional may be dull for many of us - myself included - but conventional is almost always more employable. Pencil, shift and A-line skirts and dresses are good, as are straight-cut, bootcut and wide leg trousers. (I’ve put some shape examples below, to make things a little clearer) Shirts and blouses are better than t-shits and it’s best to avoid towering heels (as delightful as they are). What you’re aiming for is balance, to draw the eye to your face. As amazing as your bust, belly, legs etc. are, you probably don’t want your interviewer staring at or thinking about said body part for the duration of your interview. So, in general, err on the side of modesty, with nothing being too tight, short or low cut.
Next up, colour. Black, dark grey and dark blue are the safest job interview colours, but they aren’t your only options. Again, think balance. Bright colours aren’t a total no-go, but they shouldn’t dominate your look. Keep bright colours to one item of clothing, or just to your accessories. For instance, if you’re wearing a bright blouse or cardigan, then keep everything else neutral. If you’re wearing a grey shift dress and a black blazer, you can totally wear a red belt and handbag. Also, keep colours complementary and prints muted. Even though I think that clashing colours can make for a brilliant fashion statement, I wouldn’t team up my turquoise heels with a magenta dress for my interview. Equally, I’d keep the yellow/orange geometric print skirt for another time.
Hair and Makeup
Now for hair and makeup. Keep it simple. If you know that you’re going to have to start job hunting soon, I suggest delaying having any unconventional haircuts or colours done until after you’re a bit more established. If you already have a bright/unconventional hair colour, I’d suggest buying a wig for the interview, but only if you can afford a good one. Otherwise, keep your hair tied back in a low ponytail or bun if it’s long enough. Also, cover up any undercuts or sidecuts you have if at all possible. For my natural haired lovelies, I would suggest a roll-tuck-and-pin or bun if your hair is long enough. This is, of course, not an issue if you wear a hijab or other religious/cultural headcovering. On that front, I would suggest keeping things simple and muted. As for makeup, again, keep it light, simple and natural. Don’t wear much colour, shimmer or glitter. This is where your neutral eye palettes and lip colours will come into their own. I tend to just opt for a lip liner and tinted balm since almost all my lip colours are eye-wateringly bright.
Buying clothing new is often financially difficult (if not impossible), especially when you're unemployed. So, charity/thrift shops can be a godsend, as can eBay. Also, if you have friends/family who are about the same dress size as you, you can always ask them if you can borrow an item or two (my sisters have been invaluable in the past). Also, keep an eye out for clothes swaps in your area; they can be a great resource.
If, after all this, you’re still unsure or have no idea of what you’re doing I have two suggestions.
Go on your favourite clothing website and see if they have a workwear section. If they do, check out the looks they put their models in and use that as a guide. If you’re living in a large town or city, take a trip into the business district around lunch time. Sit in a cafe or restaurant and people watch for a couple hours, watching for what the feminine-presenting people are wearing. Take notes if you can, but avoid taking pictures since photographing people without their permission is really rude (obviously). Best of luck in your job hunts and don’t get too discouraged if nothing much happens for several weeks or even months. Job searching takes time, especially if you’re looking for something in a specific industry. Here are some places where you can find good tips for things like writing your CV/Resume and what questions to ask in an interview:
Second generation British-Nigerian fat agender person. Style enthusiast, decent baker and lazy poet.
Find me on instagram @mazisahedgehog