Traditionally, the go-to ensemble for a job or internship interview is a suit. This universal wardrobe element is often regaled as the no-fuss, no-fail, always-reliable option. Do you doubt this? Next time you are preparing for an interview, give your mom or dad a call and—though this may defy your Millennial judgment—request their apparel advice. Their response will likely sound something like, “you should wear the suit you bought for [fill in the blank event].” You will also be advised—by teachers and interview coaches alike—to wear subtle accessories, understated patterns and muted colors, all with the hope that your intelligence, personality and essence will make the most impactful impression, rather than your physical self.
These guidelines have proven sound wisdom for years, with men and women acing interviews and attaining executive positions with the heretofore foolproof combination of industry smarts, experience, motivation, wit…and the reassuring assistance of their lucky suits. For those who prefer the tried and timeless route of the formal multi-piece suit, do carry on. And please do not forget to tailor; boxy and baggy sleeves and pant legs are not conducive to all-star results, despite even the most lux fabrics and attentive ironing job.
However, for those of you who regard this ageless apparel instruction, this unyielding wardrobe canon, to be limiting and contrary to our current culture, your whispered opposition has merit and warrants review.
The suit is an institution, and there are an array of austere, conservative or ceremonial environments in which it is the only acceptable option. However, this increasingly casual world is beckoning an outward display of our creative choices. Professional and polished can be funky and distinctive if we pillage the paisley and pinstriped folds of our closets.
As this viewpoint percolates, when you next venture to an interview, consider this: The formal suit is our steady friend, unless it alters or fails to vibrantly represent our essence. With today’s overt accessibility of information, our uniqueness is less defined, less rare and less impressive. Therefore, when we have the one-on-one, in-person opportunity to control another human’s understanding of ourselves, we must do so boldly.
Lovingly drape the hand-spun silk scarf you received on your eighteenth birthday from your overseas grandmother around your collar. Sling the artfully scuffed and travel-worn briefcase that accompanied you on every perspective-altering European escapade across your shoulder. Don your favorite blouse, despite its daring geometric print, because it makes you feel assertive and confident. Pair your crisp narrow corduroys with the vintage blazer that elicits your giddy smile as it reminds you of the thrifting spree you enjoyed with your old high school buddies last break.
This is your interview, so this is your choice. You can and should craft the perception of your interviewer, as it is vital that he or she understands who you are at this moment. While internal evidence of self—including our opinions, values and skills—is typically the preferred indicator of our personal definitions, our physical self (in all its wrappings) is more obvious and available. It will be analyzed just as keenly as our responses to interview questions.
Our cover is being judged, so let’s prepare for this inevitability. We can rig the first-glance conclusions our interviewer forms and promote accuracy by simply choosing clothing that represents a well-shined and interview-ready edition of who we have chosen to be.
And remember: Always be tasteful, always be dignified, and always be decorous. And always honor your inner truths by adorning your external self in the antique leather bolo that manifests your soul.