+ Building a Wardrobe, + Career Style

CHS Careerist: What to Wear to Informational Interviews

Dear Belle,

I started reading your blog about a year ago and absolutely love it!  My question is about what to wear to informational interviews and informal meetings.  I recently quit my job at a New York law firm and relocated to Boston with my husband.  Many  of my friends and colleagues at my old firm were kind enough to send me some of their Beantown contacts.  I am in the process of setting up a series of informal coffees with midlevel attorneys like myself and as well as some more senior partners.  What do you suggest I wear to these meetings?  I’m leaning towards wearing a full suit for meetings that take place at a firm or with a senior attorney and business casual for more informal coffee meetings.  Any advice would be much appreciated.

Best, CC

When you move to a new city or want to transfer into a new industry, informational interviews are critical.  They expand your network, educate you about the quirks of your new arena/area and put you in a position to meet people who may become your future employers/coworkers.  But just because these aren’t formal job interviews doesn’t mean you can become a slouch in the wardrobe department.

Informational interviews usually take place in the person’s office or at a nearby restaurant or coffee shop.  I think you’re right on track with how you should dress, as a suit or suit separates should be worn to interviews with senior people at the firm, and more relaxed professional dresses or separates should be worn when meeting mid-level staff off site.  Here are a couple of sample outfits.

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Left side, Earrings: Juliet & Co Grey Pearls ($20) Ring: Pandora Liquid Ring ($55) Top: Mango Pleated Blouse ($50) Shoes: Ann Taylor Perfect Pump ($128 +30%-Off) Jacket: Scotch & Soda Lurex Blazer ($235) Skirt: Telegraph Pencil Skirt ($138 + 25%-Off) Coat: Burberry Mid-Length Trench ($1,295) Bag: Tory Burch Dome Satchel ($550)

Right side, Tights: Topshop 120 Denier Tights ($16)  Shoes: Land’s End Allaire Boots ($110) Dress: DvF Raquel Dress ($175) Necklace: Belargo Station Necklace ($100) Ring: bombom Celestial Ring ($198) Bag: ASOS Croc Constructed Bag ($68)

In Office Interviews. Instead of a full suit, I went with structured separates.  The jacket is from Scotch & Soda, makers of the most stylish tweed and boucle jackets on the market.  (I also like this collared number with zip sleeves.)  I paired the jacket with a simple blouse and a longer pencil skirt.

For the shoes, I chose the unfathomably comfortable perfect pumps from Ann Taylor that are now re-stocked and 30%-off, no code needed.  I bought a pair of these this summer and they are tied for the most comfortable high heel I’ve ever worn.

I also added a trench because it completes the look, and looks great slung over your arm.  If Burberry is out of your price range (mine too), J.Crew has their Icon Trench for 25%-off right now and the Gap has a nice, serviceable trench for $128 plus 35%-off, code GAPFALL.

I kept the jewelry simple and the look in a neutral color palette, since you don’t know where a meeting with a senior partner could lead.  I would also suggest wearing nylons just in case.  (I like Donna Karan Nudes for a sheer nylon that won’t make you look like a Hooters waitress.)  And you should probably wear your hair down, a bun might look too severe with such a structured outfit.

Informal Interviews.  Meet-and-greets with potential colleagues usually happen over coffee of lunch off-site, so a suit isn’t really necessary.  But you never know who you might run into or be introduced to, so it’s important to choose an outfit that is more relaxed but still professional.  For this, I chose a simple dress in a classic shape and a pair of high-heeled tall boots.

I liked this DvF dress quite a lot when I tried it on in cobalt.  Some readers aren’t crazy about the front seam on the dress, but I didn’t find it to be too noticeable.  And I went with the boot for a more dressed down look, but if boots don’t feel right to you, switch them out for a round-toe pump like the Ann Taylor shoe.

For the jewelry, I chose a gold and dark metal mix.  I love the necklace, it’s very Olivia Pope but with a hint of edge.  If you’d like something similar for less, try this Anne Klein ‘Fireball’ necklace with gold details.  And how great is this structured bag?  The shape is so unique, and you just can’t beat that price.

Transitioning your career to a new industry or a new place takes effort.  You need to make the time to meet with people who can help you grow your network and expand your opportunities.  Sitting at home in front of the computer sending resumes isn’t going to get it done.  So jump on LinkedIn and see if your current colleagues know people who they can introduce you to, and then go out and make those connections.  And the right outfit can help you make a great first impression.

LEAVE A COMMENT

    10 comments

  1. april says:

    Good recommendations. However, I would lean towards being over dressed. I went to what I thought was an informational interview. I didn’t wear a suit but thought I was professionally dressed. It turned into a real interview, and I didn’t get the job because of what I was wearing. As you have said Belle, dress for the job you want!

    September 18, 2013/Reply
  2. LadyMacbeth says:

    I love these outfits!!! You hit it out of the ball park, Bell. I’m a lawyer in New York and I would consider wearing some combination of these items even for an interview. It’s formal, professional, classy, and memorable. I don’t think you need to look like you’re going to court for an interview, and a professional non suit interview outfit can actually come off more mature.

    September 18, 2013/Reply
  3. LadyMacbeth says:

    Oops, I meant Belle 🙂

    September 18, 2013/Reply
  4. Cammy Bellafiora says:

    The DVF dress seems awfully formfitting to me (but then, I’m of “a certain age” ;-). Might it be too revealing for a job interview?

    September 19, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Depends on what size you buy. If I take the P, bandage dress. If I go up to the S, it skims the body better. I tend to go up a size with DvF anyway to avoid the too tight look.

      September 19, 2013/Reply
  5. Giggling Gourmand says:

    Chiming in with an opposing view to LadyMacbeth, I wouldn’t wear the above to an interview at a law firm. I’m pretty happy to take fashion risks and my old firm was fine with very fashion forward choices, but for an interview I would keep it classic and wear a proper suit.

    September 19, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I can see playing it safe, but since it’s not a traditional interview, I would go with separates as an option. This tweed jacket might be a bit funky, but you could always go with something more classic.

      September 19, 2013/Reply
  6. An says:

    Speaking as an attorney — since informational interviews are usually done at work, on a lunch break, or directly after work, you should wear something comparable to what the person you will be interviewing with will be wearing. If this person is working in a law firm, you should wear a suit or a professional dress + jacket, unless you know for a fact that the person’s firm is a more casual environment.

    If you have no idea regarding the dress environment where your new contact works, a) do more research, and/or b) err on something that can go either way, like a ponte dress with a structured jacket (or a structured dress with a ponte jacket) or the kind of separates Belle shows above.

    But with a law firm, you will rarely go wrong with an actual suit. Just maybe go with a navy or grey suit, not your black “interview” suit.

    September 20, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Definitely. And if you don’t know what they wear, you can find out by sitting outside the office for a minute around the time people show up or leave. It’s a little stalker-ish, I guess, but I once walked through a Capitol office building around close so that I could see what my potential co-workers were wearing.

      September 20, 2013/Reply
      • An says:

        Exactly! Sadly, in this economy, stalker-ish = prudent. I would put this in the same category as test-driving your commute before a first day at a new job, or mapping out your route to an interview in an unfamiliar city. Besides, armed with a Starbucks and a cell phone, you can look plenty immersed in your own business while scoping out the environment.

        September 23, 2013/Reply