Dressing for an Industry Interview

On February 20, 2013 by Grad Forum

Interview “do”

For the past several years, you have worn jeans and a t-shirt to the lab. With the exception of a graduate student social, you have not had an occasion to dress up. Now, however, you have an interview for a job in industry. What do you wear?

What you wear to the interview tells the interviewer a lot about you. Graduate students who want to make the jump from academia to industry must convince the employer that they can make the cultural transition. The first sign of your ability to do this will be in how you present yourself. Dressing in clothes that are not business appropriate conveys to the interviewer that you do not know what is expected in the business world, and, perhaps, you are not ready to leave academia.

When you realize you will be job searching, it’s a good idea to shop for interview clothes. Today, typical business dress is a blue or black suit that fits well. These colors convey seriousness and trust. Depending on the industry, it is generally acceptable for women to wear pants to the interview. However, for more conservative industries, a skirt is necessary.


Interview “do”

While female characters on TV shows wear skirts short enough to make you blush . . . choosing a skirt for a real-life interview means buying one that falls not shorter than one inch above the knee. Anything shorter, and the focus will not be on your interview.

As for shoes, women can wear a two-inch leather heeled shoe, but not Sex and the City stilettos. For both men and women, it’s a good idea to practice walking around in your interview shoes, since you will be walking around all day at the interview. I once interviewed a candidate who said she could not walk to another building on campus because her very high heels were not comfortable to walk in that far. Needless to say, we did not hire her.

Shirts worn under the suit jacket should be white, opaque, or cream. Ties for men should fit in with the rest of the suit. Jewelry for men and women should be limited to a few pieces and not be distracting, such as earrings that dangle when you move your head.


Interview “don’t”

It’s natural to want to splash on some perfume or cologne for the interview, but hold off! Many people are sensitive to strong smelling scents, and they do not want to hire someone who overpowers their office with perfume. If you are a smoker, do not smoke a cigarette before you head in the door. While you should not wear perfume, women should wear make-up—mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, and lipstick. Again, some practice may be needed to avoid feeling like a made-up beauty contestant. Men need to have a clean shave. I sometimes get questions, such as, should I hide my tattoo or take out my nose ring? Yes, is the simple answer for most industries. Companies hire people who will fit into the culture, and being different can be perceived as being a bit rebellious.

Finally, as a precaution, bring a little sewing kit—the kind hotels leave in the room—just in case a button pops off at an inconvenient time.

Now you are ready for your industry interview.

by Kerry Landers

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