when your interviewer criticizes your clothes, interviewing in bad weather, and more clothing questions

For some reason, I often get waves of questions on the same topic all at once. Lately it’s been a wave of letters about salacious office behavior (more on that soon), but I also just received three about interview attire in the same 48-hour period, so let’s group them together:

1. My interviewer told me I should have worn a suit

At a job interview about a month ago, the interview went really well except at the very end. The manager who was doing the interview told me at the very end that she understood that my current job has been my only job (for the past 7 years) and that I probably don’t know much about interviews, but that whenever I have an interview, I have to wear a suit.

Now before you say anything, I was wearing something professional — slacks with a shirt and a little jacket on top with my hair down. I didn’t look unprofessional, and actually my sister help me pick out what to wear and told me that I looked professional.

When this employer told me this, the only thing I told her was, “Oh, um, ok, thank you.” It really caught me off guard. I have never been told this in my life. My heart sank, because I had a huge feeling that because of what I was wearing, maybe she didn’t approve so she scratched me out from the candidate table. She told me, furthermore, that the process of hiring takes “a REALLY long time” but if I had questions to not hesitate to call her. I gave it a day and I called her to follow up and tell her it was a pleasure meeting with her, and to see how the status of the position was going. I left my name and number and she never called me back. Now my question is, can an employer basically not hire me because I wasn’t wearing a “suit” or should I call now, a month and half later, and see if the position is still open. My heart tells me it’s not and I wasn’t picked, but can you give me your advice?

It’s true that in most industries — not all, but most — you should wear a suit to an interview. And even in industries where it’s not necessary, there are still plenty of interviewers who prefer/expect it.

Although you didn’t like her feedback, it sounds like your interviewer was trying to do you a favor by letting you know that she didn’t think you looked sufficiently professional. After all, job candidates often say that they wish interviewers would give them more candid feedback. This one did — and while it was awkward to hear it, it’s useful to know.

Now, did she reject you because you weren’t wearing a suit? It’s possible, sure. But it’s also possible that she didn’t. Why not check in and ask what the likely timeline is for making a decision? You have nothing to lose, and she did tell you that the hiring process would take a long time.

(One unrelated issue that I can’t let go without comment: It does worry me that you called her to check on the status of the position the day after your interview. That would be too fast in any situation, but definitely in one where you were told the process would take a while. In general, you want to allow a reasonable amount of time for these things — and also get in touch by email rather than phone, unless there’s some specific need to call.)

2. Does my interview suit really need to be a suit?

This might be a pretty froufrou question, I was hoping you could help me out with fashion advice for my upcoming interview. While out shopping with my mom over the holidays, I picked up a beautiful dark gray pencil skirt. When I found out a few days later that I had gotten an interview, I went out and picked up what I thought was the jacket to go with the skirt. Turns out, it’s a lighter shade of gray (no 50 Shades puns intended) than the dark, almost-black skirt. Otherwise, the fabrics are a match in knit and weight and both pieces fit beautifully. I got a pretty, red-tangerine top that just peaks out of the top of the jacket to add some color to the outfit. I kind of like how it all goes together. When I showed it to someone else, though, they said that it wasn’t a complete suit because the jacket and skirt don’t match, and I should never wear it to an interview. I know your preference for people to wear suits in interviews. Does this count, or should I find pieces that match perfectly?

Well, after the question above, you might want to err on the side of an actual suit.

But it really depends on your industry. If you’re in a fairly conservative industry or part of the county, wear a true suit (meaning the skirt and jacket are made of the same suit-like material). If you’re in a less formal industry, the outfit you described might be just fine. This is really a case of knowing the norms in your industry … and even more specifically, the norms in your industry in your particular geographic area. (I.T., for instance, is sometimes  an exception to the suit rule – but not always, despite what the non-suit-wearing-faction will tell you!)

By the way, I sometimes hear people say, “Oh, people in my industry dress casually. We don’t wear suits.” But that’s not the same thing as what’s expected in an interview; people often expect job candidates to dress more formally for an interview than they would for a regular work day. So even if your industry is full of people in jeans or business casual — hell, even if the very office you’ll be interviewing in is – you might still be expected to show up in a suit. You want to know what your industry’s norms are for interviewing garb, not every-day garb.

3. Dressing for an interview in bad weather

How do you think a person should dress for an interview during bad weather, like rain and snow? To me, it seems like wearing typical interview attire (suit, sensible heels, polished/neat hair) can be a challenge when it s raining heavily or there’s tons of snow on the ground. I live in NYC, so I use public transportation and can’t exactly change in my car. I imagine, coming into an office in winter boots and heavy overcoat, umbrella, etc. kind of looks unprofessional…at least when I’m struggling to get inside from the bad weather, I look terrible. Normally my bag is big enough to hold my heels while I wear flats on the way there and I change, but I imagine carrying a huge bag with snow shoes and stuff won’t leave a good impression?

It’s fine to carry a coat and umbrella, although your coat should ideally be a dress coat and not a bulky ski jacket. And for shoes, carry a tote bag big enough to hold your boots, and change into interview shoes when you arrive at your destination. Anyone have better/different advice on this?

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