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by Kaitlin McManus | November 18, 2019

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I remember all too clearly the first email I received that asked me to come in for a job interview. I was elated, sent a response confirming that their suggested time the next week worked great for me—then I sat back, and panic set in. I had about a thousand things to worry about: What was my biggest weakness? Where did I see myself in five years? And then I remembered that the only clothes I owned were jeans and plaid shirts, which is only interview garb if you’re looking to be a lumberjack. The panic I felt revved up like a chainsaw.

Don’t get caught on the back foot like I did. Make sure you’ve got a few interview-ready staples on hand so that you can focus on the more substantive portions of the interview while still making a great first impression on the big day. Check out these suggestions for establishing a professional wardrobe.

Black Blazer

I mean … right? This is the ultimate interview go-to—if you’re shopping around for a job without a black blazer, then you probably should start shopping for one of those, too. A well-fitted, pressed blazer makes everything look super professional—it goes equally well over a shirt or a dress, not to mention it can hide some of those pit stains from when you get the nervous sweats. (Or is that just me?) Even if you’re going into a less conservative field, a blazer can be a great way to sharpen a more casual interview outfit. For example, walking into a hip, young startup for a software engineer position in a full pantsuit may make you stick out like a sore open bracket—but in that same context, dark jeans and a blazer can give off “Type-B personality, Type-A work product” vibes. The blazer doesn’t have to be black, of course, but that will likely end up being the most versatile option—though I’ll never say no to a navy blazer with khakis.

Statement Tie

We’ve all seen the statement tie. It isn’t a specific color or pattern, but it is assuredly bold. Your instinct may be to keep things simple, and while your interview attire should err towards the conservative side, conservative and bold are not mutually exclusive. While there's nothing wrong with wearing a simple or muted tie, you don't necessarily have to exclude livelier colors or patterns either. (So long as it's still professional—an interview isn't the ideal time to break out the piano key tie.)

Your tie should be well made, though that doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. That said, there’s something about a silk tie that really stands out. Make sure it’s something you can comfortably pull off—if you think the lilac paisley number doesn’t quite mesh with your personality, give it a pass. Jewel tones and/or stripes are often a good place to start—they’re not wild but neither are they plain.

Comfortable Shoes

Hang on—don’t jump ship yet. I’m not saying don’t wear heels to the interview. Men have their statement ties, and I’m not telling any woman with power pumps to leave them at home. The sound heels make when you’re walking down a hallway is the sound of pure confidence. All I mean is that you should take wearability into consideration when choosing shoes for an interview. For example, I have these nude patent leather and snakeskin pumps that I love. They’re like pieces of art, I’m obsessed with them. They also pinch all my toes together and give me blisters on every blister-able part of my feet after wearing them for an hour. You won’t be at your best in your interview if your mind is on how stiff your brogues are or how one of your toes somehow ended up underneath all your other toes in those heels. Make sure your shoes look polished and are suited to your outfit, but don’t choose a pair you can’t get around in just because they look nice.

A Lightweight Shirt (or Dress)

Let’s assume that you’re very likely to wear some kind of blazer or jacket to your interview. But can you imagine any other context in which you’d be wearing a jacket in August? Or, if you forgo the jacket, a sweater? It’s miserable, so take precaution in case of hot weather. Invest in a lightweight shirt or blouse (or a dress, so long as it’s still professional rather than a sundress) so you don’t overheat yourself. Look for cotton or chiffon or other light, breathable fabrics, ideally in light colors. You want to be comfortable (and not sweaty) in your interview, so make sure you prepare for all types of weather. Speaking of…

Professional Outerwear

Confession time: I wore a jean jacket with a sweatshirt hood to my interview with Vault. I know, it’s true. Why would I possibly do that? Because it was cold and raining and I didn’t have another option—there was my winter parka, which it wasn’t cold enough for, and a green cargo jacket that I’ve sewn a bunch of pop culture patches onto. The jean jacket was my best bet—and the minute I got into the building and out of the rain, I folded the jacket over my purse and did my absolute best to deny its existence. It’s important that every aspect of your wardrobe is polished and professional, so if you’re interviewing during the cold months, make sure you’ve got a coat that’s up to snuff with the rest of your getup. A structured pea coat or trench coat are stylish but conservative choices that go with just about everything.

Making a good impression during your interview is important. And while your interviewers are assuredly more interested in what you have to say than what you look like, they will make their first assessments based on your appearance. So set yourself up for success by having a handful of professional, reliable pieces on hand at all times for when you get that call to come in and talk to the hiring managers.

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