+ Work Wednesdays

Work Wednesdays: Easy Pieces for Interviews

If you plan to pursue a professional career, at some point, you will need to go on a job interview.  Interviews can be stressful, difficult and frustrating.  I’ve always found that some of that stress is alleviated when I know that I’m dressed appropriately.  Confidence is important in job interviews, and if you know that you look your best, that will bolster your confidence.

Since many hiring processes call for multiple interviews, I tell first time job seekers to have a few pieces that you can mix-and-match.  And having the outfits chosen in advance will eliminate some of the preparation needed.  Here are the five easy pieces that comprise the foundation of a professional interview wardrobe.

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From left, J.Crew 1035 Jacket in Super 120s ($248) // Zara Blazer with Zip Pockets ($139) // Mango Suit Jacket ($70) // 1035 Trouser in Super 120s ($148) // Telegraph Skirt in Super 120s ($98)

As I mentioned above, this selection would be the “I am prepared for anything!” wardrobe.  And since these five pieces comprise the foundation of six different outfits, they would also be the primary building blocks for your first work wardrobe.

That being said, if you can’t afford to stock up in this manner or your future job won’t require professional attire post-hiring, you can easily get buy with one suit and one extra jacket to wear with the suit bottoms.  Those three pieces would be enough for two interviews, which is all most employers require.

I chose suiting pieces from brands that I wear on a regular basis–J.Crew, Zara, Mango.  If you have a tight budget (and many people starting out do), Limited, Calvin Klein, Anne Klein, and Express make affordable suiting.  I’d also look into Jones New York, you can find the line in nearly every department store and the quality is good for the price.

In the middle category, I would look for suits at Ann Taylor and Banana Republic (esp. when they go on sale).  And if you are toward the middle of your career and have bit of money to spend, Hugo Boss and Nanette Lepore are two of the brands that have me saving up for a new suit.

Regardless of how much your suit cost, you need to take it to a tailor.  For between $30 and $90, depending on the intensity of the alterations, a tailor can make a less expensive suit look like it cost much more than it did.  And if you spent good money on your suit, tailoring will help it live up to its price point.

Later today, I’ll use these five basic pieces to make three interview outfits that will help even a rookie job-seeker project the confidence of a seasoned professional.  Because even though your resume, skills and attitude are the critical elements of any job search, looking your best helps you make a great first impression.

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    14 comments

  1. sara says:

    Is Zara one of those stores that runs regular promotions so I should never pay for anything full price (like Banana or Loft)? I like some of their blazers but don’t want to drop $100 if they’ll be 30% off next week

    March 19, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      No. Zara rarely has sales and there is very little left size-wise when they do.

      March 19, 2014/Reply
  2. Melinda says:

    Given your comments on J Crew’s quality been diminished lately, is it still worth the investment? I am in the middle of my career and considering stepping up my suits, but not if the quality isn’t worth the price point.

    March 19, 2014/Reply
    • LB says:

      I’ve found J Crew’s suits have maintained a level of quality that many of their other pieces have not. I still think they are a worthwhile investment, but would add that if you are patient and persistent, there are great deals to be had (for example, when certain colors of a suit go on sale, and then J Crew runs the “40% off sale items” promo code).

      March 19, 2014/Reply
    • KC says:

      I’ve bought 2 Super 120s suits from J Crew in the past 2 years. I have the 1035 pants, which split on a side seam by my hips while I was at a conference. I have the regular pencil skirt, and the back slit stitching came undone which left me with an inappropriately high slight that I had to have fixed. I entertained the thought that maybe they were just too tight, but after the side seam in my relaxed fit Hutton pants came undone I’m suspicious that it’s J Crew.

      March 19, 2014/Reply
  3. Melinda says:

    Forgive the typos… Biggest pet peeve!!

    March 19, 2014/Reply
  4. Joules says:

    Good suggestions. I’m also a fan of United Colors of Benetton. That’s where I bought my first suite and the prices and quality are quite good.

    Style by Joules

    March 19, 2014/Reply
  5. Katherine says:

    Belle, another helpful comment I would add to your point about tailoring is to consider changing out buttons as well. In my mind, cheap buttons are one of the first giveaways to a cheaply made suit. You can easily buy inexpensive buttons that look “fancier” at craft of fabric stores and the tailor can switch them out for a small cost. My mother taught me this and it made a world of difference in my less expensive suits!

    March 19, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Co-sign.

      March 19, 2014/Reply
  6. KW says:

    Great suggestions. Where do you see matching shift dresses, like J Crew’s Emmaleigh fitting into a basic suit wardrobe or interview outfit? I’m contemplating making the investment, but have seen so few dress/suit jacket sets out there, I’m not certain where they fit in the formality/work appropriateness scale, as compared to a skirt and jacket.

    March 19, 2014/Reply
  7. Em says:

    As both a Recruiter and a fan of fashion: I’m just going to own up and say that I don’t care what a candidate wears. Come in professionally poised and I won’t notice if you wear the same outfit both times because I’ll be TALKING to you, not LOOKING at you.

    I do have a couple of don’ts though:
    -Don’t wear suits that are too tight, and have you sausage packed in to the point where I’m worried if you’re uncomfortable sitting across from me in an interview.
    -PLEASE remember to take the tags off newly purchased interview attire, the fact that this has happened more than once makes me feel like I need to point it out.
    -Don’t wear uncomfortable heels to an interview. We will probably go on a tour of the office and if you’re clacking around as I show you our digs like a 3 month old giraffe because your heels are too high, or if you’ve never tried your go-to heels with tights before today and you slip out of your shoes: it’s not going to go well.

    March 19, 2014/Reply
    • Anon says:

      I have similar experience and would agree totally, except that I would add one caveat: it is probably not a good idea to dress in such a way that you are identified by what you wore. We once interviewed a candidate who in subsequent discussions was identified as “the Ascot frock” (it was in England, and it was summery and flowery and… well, suitable for Ladies Day at Ascot….). She was good, and we hired her, and she did well – but although she never dressed like that again, I can remember the inappropriate dress to this day. It is a work interview: dress as if you are going to work.

      March 19, 2014/Reply
  8. Jessica says:

    In addition to the wardrobe piece of Work Wednesdays (which I am certain you have completely under control), how about expanding to other aspects of being fashionable at work? For example, office decor or office etiquette. Although what is acceptable varies from office to office, I think there are some basic guidelines everyone can benefit from.

    March 19, 2014/Reply
  9. AM says:

    good post. what is your take on wearing a dress to an interview? (with a blazer of course)

    March 20, 2014/Reply