Friday, June 22, 2012

Interview Intrigue: Dressing for Success

My friend D.A. Wolf, the incredible writer and creator of the Daily Plate of Crazy blog, is back today with an inspiring, amusing and "value-added" post about job interviews when one is a femme d'un certain age. . .

I open my closet. What jumps out?

The flirty section. Pinks and purples. The shoe invasion - in every color possible. Stacks of T-shirts and sweaters – toppled over, naturally. 

Then there's the rack of snazzy separates picked up in Paris on business and writing trips during les soldes – flowing skirts and fitted ones, elegant little jackets for dinner parties, and more Bohemian versions with pizazz and personality. As I survey the landscape, only one third is my current size (zut alors!) but worse – none of it seems appropriate for…  drum roll please… the all important Job Interview.

Now, now. It's a face-to-face with a prospective client, and a gig I really want: the organization does great work in my community. 

As a consultant and freelance writer, this may sound like a run-of-the-mill encounter, but it's been years since I had a ready-to-wear section in my closet, worthy of meeting a client. Most of the time, I work from a home office, and my clients generally come from referrals. We rarely meet in person; instead, we email, we phone, we Skype, we chat… but sit across a desk face-to-face? 

Not so much.

And this leads me to my dilemma of the past two weeks. Despite a closet full of outfits and shelves of shoe boxes... you got it... the cries could be heard up and down my street: I don’t have a thing to wear!

How to Dress for an Interview

Over the years, I’ve been on both sides of the interview table – hiring employees in corporate life, and seeking positions over the course of two decades. When it comes to dressing for success in an interview, the basics are straightforward – regardless of age.

My own rules are simple:  

  • Be neat and appropriate, as befits the organization
  • Nothing too sexy, nothing too informal, nothing that will jangle the interviewer’s eye
  • Anticipate the elements of the job and job site; take that into account when dressing for the meeting
  • Wear what is comfortable, and something that gives you confidence.
And my personal favorite?

Wear gorgeous underthings that make you feel divine. Yes, it’s tied to that confidence item above, and for me – it’s key.

As for the “dressing your age” dilemma that pops up all too often? Does it play into dressing for success? Is it crucial to meeting prospects, partners, or clients?

Personally, I don’t buy into “dress your age” – whatever that means these days. And I love a touch of quirky. But an interview with a client you’re dying to attract is not the time for quirky. It is the time for being circumspect, and confident. Because confidence really is our secret weapon – and in my experience, confidence in how you look enhances confidence to perform.

Wardrobe Diversity
As I take a quick inventory of my closet, I am, however, at a bit of a loss.

Dating clothes?

I’ve had a long (and meandering) post-divorce dating history, so flirty frocks are in abundance. Suitable for meeting a prospective client?

Non, non, et non.

From my corporate days?

I have separates worn with conservative customers, and another more “spirited” set of options from my travels to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Suitable for this particular prospect?

Non, non, et non.

My style preference for myself?

I believe simplicity rocks - partly, because at 5’0 tall (on a Big Hair Day), I can’t carry off anything fussy or over-the-top. The organization I'll be talking to is somewhat informal but operates within a conservative community. I admit, I'm a tad stymied. I end up running out to buy new pants and get lucky - scoring tailored black trousers in a lightweight fabric - at 70% off!

I add a black fitted top with a loose beige jacket – one of my favorites (a 10-year old Eileen Fisher), and I'm ready to rock 'n roll! Well, almost...

Shoes, Glorious Shoes

The all-important interview footwear! Don’t all women notice other women’s shoes? The shoes must be impeccable, n'est-ce pas?

As I eye the boxes and rummage beneath piles of sweaters, I find hot heels, chunky heels, kitten heels…  anything and everything except a simple, mid-height black pump.

The red spikes picked up for a song?

Non, non, et non.

My favorite Enzo Angiolini platform peep-toe pumps?

Non, non, et non.

My fur-trimmed mules? My color-blocked Maddens? My strappy splurge in the form of Via Spigas?

(You know the answer.)
I feel panic rising as I imagine myself woefully floundering over footwear, realizing that a dash to the nearest designer shoe outlet is hors de question – utterly out of the question. Even if I could justify the expense, it’s too late in the day. I need a light bulb moment, a Cinderella apparition, something to save the day – and then it hits me, like a flash!

My best booties! 

They have a two inch heel, they're extremely comfortable, and there's not a scuff mark on them. The pants are on the longish side, so no one would ever know… 

Color me relieved when the shoe fits, the outfit works, and the afternoon goes well. I return to my usual tasks in my home office, and the ease of working at my computer in whatever I please (including my furry bear slippers - but shhhhh, you didn't hear me say that).

Interview Intrigues, Round 2

A few days later, there's a second call requesting that I return to meet Board members. Zut! Should I be nervous? Did I commit one of those Inane Interview No-No's by mistake?

I decide not to sweat it, to work with the clothing I have, and I go with the same pants, a different black blouse, a fitted black jacket (also Eileen Fisher), and a pop of color by way of a soft green scarf.

In addition to my (French) lingerie trick – I add my favorite earrings: tiny teardrops in silver by Elsa Peretti, which I’ve had for many years and wear on special occasions. It's part of feeling bien dans ma peau, et bien dans ma tête - being comfortable with myself, which starts from the inside but - a little external attentiveness doesn't hurt! 

Netting things out: the meeting went well, and whatever the outcome I knew I’d dressed the part and given it my all. I also found I loved sitting across a table from the people I was potentially going to be working with. Occasionally, face-to-face impressions offer essential “body language” information which can be critical. And for a woman of a certain age who is looking to be hired or nab a new client - in person, we can offer posture and presence (very important), speech patterns, and overall energy to inspire confidence in our abilities.

The best part?

I got the gig! And yes, there's another meeting coming up, but this time it's a garden party. Patio. Lawn. Mingling. Mon Dieu, I'll be shopping in my closet again

Whatever I wear, you can bet my French sous-vêtements and Peretti earrings will be in attendance.

But what will I do for shoes?


josina said...

oh wow, i do idetify with this, my cupboard full of exbanker suits, colourblock dresses and now lately as i have taken a sabbatical, to be with my daughter aged 5, leggings in all colours and tunics. As Im tall I have ballerinas in all colours, works well for party and work!

helen tilston said...

Hello Tish

Congratulations on being hired. They made the right decision in picking you.
Shopping in your closet felt familiar.
We seem to have the 'Wow' outfits and sometimes forget about the basics.
(the black shoe is a good example)

Wishing you a delightful weekend

Helen xx

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

I so agree and like this post!! Confidence is the secret weapon...I tell my students CONFIDENCE IS ATTRACTIVE and simplicity does rock! Glad to see that it all paid off for you...I look forward to reading more of your blog!

déjà pseu said...

Congratulations!! Having sat in the hiring manager chair for a few years now, I agree 100% with your choices. Stay simple, stick with what you feel good in. (Those earrings are FAB!)

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Your choices sound like solid performers add a few personal touches and you're off to the races!

Congratulations on getting the job.

I'd say a shoe shopping expedition might be in your future!

kathy peck said...

Congratulations on getting the job. Luckily, I've always been in "artistic" fields, not corporate, so I've never had to deal with these wardrobe issues.
Love your earrings!

BigLittleWolf said...

Who was it who made that (most excellent) suggestion for a shoe shopping expedition to "celebrate" this new client?

Hmmm. I think I could justify shoe shopping for almost anything.

But I really do need some suggestions for a professional look at a summery garden party...

Tish - as always - thank you for letting me pop by and think aloud with your wonderful readers!

LPC said...

Congratulations! And figuring out a work wardrobe should be lots of fun:).

Northmoon said...

Congradulations on your successful interviewing skills! I agree with your thought process completely. Love the sketches, they demonstrate the principles very clearly! And the word about confidence and posture - so important to make a good impression.

Jennifer said...

Your closet sounds very familiar!
Congratulations! Great choices.

The Silver Bunny said...

Great advice, that can be applied to lots of different situations. And it's nice to know everybody sometimes feel a bit lost when it comes to great dressed for special occasions !

BigLittleWolf said...

Ah Pseu... people often assume that anything at Tiffany is untouchable when it comes to price. Not so! Many Elsa Peretti designs, for example, are extremely reasonable and gorgeous. Who doesn't love that little turquoise box - even if you give it to yourself?

Silver Bunny... So true. I sometimes think if my closet were better organized, I'd have an easier time selecting. Then I think back to days when my closet was more organized. The process was the same! (And most of the time, I reach for the classics...)

Karena said...

Tish so exciting! Congratulations!! Cannot wait to hear more...

Your closet sounds like mine, Ha!

Art by Karena
Artist Series 2012

Belle de Ville said...

What a great post. It's amazing how many women (and men) have no idea how to dress for an interview.

mette said...

Interesting. I simply don´t remember what I wore on during job interviews, it´s been so long.
In my later life, have not needed to be interviewed. But one thing is sure, wearing comfortable, well fitting clothes, makes you feel comfortable, and once you feel comfortable, a lot of stress is erased away on any occasion, be it formal or informal.

vicki archer said...

Other than congratulations on getting the job... which is the most important... my suggestion is... re the shoes... avoid the fine heels... grass and fine 'talons' are not friends!! Unless you wish to appear as if you are stomping in the divots!!.. Wedges on the other hand... the right pair... may just do it for you... xv

BigLittleWolf said...

Vicki, Glad I stopped back to see if anyone had a grass-shoe suggestion. (I don't do garden parties very often.)

Wedges are an excellent idea. (I'll go shopping in my closet again.) As much as I love the ballerines that many women like to wear, I'm too teeny-tiny to manage that, especially in a crowd.

Wedges it is! Et merci!

(Thank you, Tish. Always fun to be here.)

Sheila said...

Well done! We all need a bit of lateral thinking. One extra thing I would add is to make sure your clothes fit. There is nothing worse than that feeling of a waistband too tight, a sleeve too long (for you) or too short (for me) a constant tug at the hemline. But definately fabulous underwear is a must!!

Duchesse said...

Any freelancer/consultant type needs, on hand, and in good nick, in her current size: a "pitch suit" and probably another week's worth of mix and match workplace-wearable pieces. Nothing worse than having to make an emergency shopping trip.

Glad you got the gig.

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