The Interview Outfit

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Not long ago I wrote about the art education portfolio. Let’s do the next step for an interview and think about YOUR OUTFIT. You know what they say,  “Clothes make the man.” It may sound like a glib thing people say, but this phrase serves up the truth; people will judge you by the clothes you wear.

Don’t be the Pink Tutu Lady

I had a friend and fellow department chair who was a fashion conscious sort. She had an interview set up with a candidate who showed up in a skirt my friend likened to a pink tutu. I wish I could have seen this outfit to know if it was really as outlandish as my friend described. I can’t help but wonder, why? What made the candidate think that pink fluff was professional? Did she think it would make her stand out, make her memorable? It did, but completely in the wrong way. In ever interview there will be a moment that makes you stand out, a moment that they will use to help remember you by. For example, one candidate when asked about a discipline challenge talked about being pegged in the head with an eraser. After the interview, she was called, “The Eraser Woman.” I guess what I am saying is, plan your outfit so you don’t become immortalized as, “The Pink Tutu Lady.”

Plan ahead: It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark

Plan your outfit well in advance. And not just in your head. Go shopping or raid your closet, mix and match but try everything on in advance. Be sure what you select is comfortable, clean and pressed, makes you feel confident, and is professional. (Professional should make you put down the pink tutu by the way.) Professional also rules out sweat pants, blue jeans, colored jeans, sneakers, flip flops, shorts, low cut blouses and short skirts. Don’t confuse dressy casual with professional wear. No maxi dresses, no cold shoulder tops, etc. I would avoid bare legs as well and opt for pantyhose with skirts or dresses. Male, female, and agender people can’t go wrong with a smart suit. Woman have a little more variation. Men, the general consensus is to wear a suit and tie. Make sure pants are hemmed to a good length and shoes are professional too. Make sure tags are removed. Again, try it all on and model for a friend who can catch anything out of order. As a matter of fact, if this is all out of your comfort zone, engage the help of friends or of a good store clerk.

Be Conservative, Be Creative…What?!

Some people may wonder if art teachers have different expectations for how they present themselves. I think employees do expect -even like- a little creativity to peak through. I would still caution a candidate to not display any tattoos or body jewelry such as nose and lip rings. I also suggest keeping your hair color conservative. Some employers, including schools, have restrictions on such items and schools are still pretty conservative places. Don’t shoot the messenger guys. I do think schools are more open minded than they used to be. Ultimately, the interview is about landing the job and providing you with opportunities and options, not closing doors. You can decide if it’s the right fit after the offer is tendered.

What you can do is be a little more flamboyant with color, such a pop of color with a fun scarf or tie. My husband opts for fun patterned socks. I had a well dressed colleague who wore a sharp well fitting button down orange shirt paired with a deep blue tie one day at school. It was a little loud, but striking. If he had been interviewing that day he would have been, “The Complimentary Outfit Guy.”

Lastly, be sure to keep hygiene in check. No colognes or perfumes and go light on makeup. Brush teeth, comb hair, and use deodorant. Leave extra time to get there and not feel rushed or overheated. A lot of interviews happen at the end of the school year and over the summer. You may be fortunate and be in an air conditioned room, but it’s not always something you can count on everywhere. Also, be super nice to the secretaries, they often run the school! Don’t be surprised, or thrown, with what other people are wearing. In most industries it would be a faux pas to dress better than the person interviewing you. In education, not an issue. If it’s summer, schools go on a relaxed mode and administrators who might dress up all year may be wearing khakis or even shorts. But, know this is normal in education and they won’t be surprised or horrified if you’re wearing a suit. I would say most schools operate on “business casual.”

Remember what famed costume designer Edith Head said, “You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.”