Chicago Manual of Style—05/11/10

Dress in your workday best

By Jessica Hester

We’re in the home stretch of yet another school year, but that doesn’t mean that we’re home free. At our school of go-getting overachievers, few students spend the summer lounging on the beach. We might not have to turn in O-Chem problem sets during the summer months, but jobs and internships present a whole other set of problems. The workplace comes with a bunch of sartorial conundrums. Dressing to impress can help you score the gig, but how do you know what interview attire will make the grade? To help find the answers, I got some tutoring from stylish students and Marthe Druska, a director at CAPS.

Your interview garb doesn’t have to be bank-breaking or fancy: it just needs to be clean, crisp, and classy. You can wear sophisticated staple pieces already in your wardrobe to dress up day-to-day ensembles. “The same cardigan that you wear over a t-shirt to class can be paired with a button down and pressed skirt for an interview,” says Druska. For guys, clean, dark-colored trousers can easily transition from classroom to boardroom. Third-year Melanie Dang offers another suggestion for taking pieces from the classroom to the office. “I wear a cute blazer or jacket over a skirt,” she says. Stores like Express sell low-cost workwear like long, slouchy blazers that can be mixed with pieces already hanging in your closet.

In creative fields such as graphic design or arts administration, it can be tempting to go wild with interview attire in an effort to make yourself a standout candidate. This is a tricky problem, because there’s a point at which your traffic-stopping ensemble can be distracting and detrimental to your interview. “Women should avoid dangly earrings or excessive rings or bangles,” cautions Druska. Clanging jewelry can make it hard for the interviewer to concentrate on your conversation. If you’re unsure about what to wear for an interview at a creative company, Druska suggests taking advantage of the Alumni Career Network, where students can contact alumni in diverse fields to ask questions about the different office environments.

When dressing for an interview or day on the job, it’s also important to consider the unique requirements of different office environments. For example, students interviewing for positions in science labs should consider safety precautions and remember to wear closed-toed shoes and long pants. “Girls working in a hospital or lab can’t wear heels or skirts,” says Jaclyn Tamaroff, a third-year who works in a biopsych lab. “It’s difficult to decide what to wear to an interview, too, because you might be taken on a tour around the lab,” she adds. Whether you’ll be sitting down to meet with the PI or getting your hands dirty with some chemicals, play it safe and dress in clothes that enable you to work without injury.

In the end, you’ve still got to be comfortable. “Try on your outfit the night before,” suggests Druska. “Make sure that everything fits comfortably and that shirts, skirts, sleeves, and pants are the right length.” You want the interviewer to listen attentively to your answers—not be distracted by you readjusting your outfit. “Don’t try anything new,” Druska adds. “If you don’t usually wear eyeliner, an interview is not the time to experiment.” An interview is an opportunity to present yourself in the best possible light, without fretting about what your outfit or makeup looks like under the lighting. While it’s a good idea to wear something tastefully unique, a good interview outfit won’t be as memorable as a good candidate. Well-chosen clothes keep the focus on you, your goals, and your perfect fit for the job.