A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dress to EXPRESS

My clothing has always been a particularly important part of how I express my identity or position myself in a certain way within a specific group of people. When I was a teenager, I attended a private high school and I chafed at the dress code because I felt as though it constrained not only what I wore but who I was as an individual. Thank God we didn't have to actually wear uniforms -- I think I would have done something drastic if someone had tried to force me into a blazer and kilt. It was humiliating enough to have a teacher measure the length of your skirt. Even in college, I disliked sharing clothing with my roommates most of the time. It wasn't because they would stain my clothes or forget to give them back; it was because my outfits were an expression of my personality, my outlook on the world, my attitude.

Not everyone understands this close association between a person's identity, wardrobe and other material possessions. Plenty of people are comfortable wearing uniforms, in fact. I admit that I probably derive too much of my sense of identity from the books and movies that I own, the paintings and photographs that I hang on my apartment walls, the jewelry and scarves that I wear. But the truth is, I use possessions to create my personality in visible, tangible ways. It gives me something concrete to help me understand the concept of my otherwise-amorphous identity.

As shallow as it may seem, clothing and accessories are therefore important to me, especially when I need to make a good impression. Job interviews are a challenge, though, because of course I want to appear professional -- yet I don't want to seem just like one of the herd. When I go to a job interview, I want my wardrobe to say "Hey, I'm as qualified as the other guy, but I'll also help to make your office a more fun work environment!" It is additionally important that I am applying for jobs that require creativity in a corporate or organizational setting. The clothing that I wear could therefore be the key to communicating that I can bring both professionalism and style to my work, so I carefully consider my wardrobe before an interview.

Therefore, I partially disagree with the advice that I found on the Virginia Tech Career Services Center website: “In an interview your attire plays a supporting role. Your attire should be noticed as being appropriate and well-fitting, but it should not take center stage. If you are primarily remembered for your interview attire, this is probably because you made an error in judgment! Navy, dark gray and black are safe colors to wear; avoid the extremes.”

I do agree with the idea that you should choose subtle ways of expressing your personality when dressing for a job interview – you want your outfit to achieve the all- important balance between your artistic sense and your professionalism. But I advise against wearing all gray and I abhor navy. These types of dour colors and plain outfits, especially if they are not accessorized, communicate, "Hey, I can get the job done, but I am easily replaceable with any number of people who have the same skill set."

Meanwhile, a slightly brighter business/dress shirt with some subtle embellishment says to your potential employer, "I have creativity and an individual personality that, in combination with my skill set, will make me an irreplaceable asset to your company." Ideally, I would put a suit jacket over this pink shirt or choose a slightly more subtle color, but you get the picture. It's not a bad thing if the person who interviews you notices and admires your tastefully pattered shirt or compliments your hand-made jewelry. My theory is that they will even be drawn to a person who has interesting hobbies like jewelry-making.

Of course, my fixation on clothing could also be viewed as my way of handling pre-interview stress.

In any case, when I received a callback for a second job interview this past week, I set out to find the perfect outfit. I have exactly one business shirt that I believe communicates an appropriate balance between personality and professionalism – and I had worn that to the first interview. So it was time to hit the mall.

At first, I had no success. I like a shirt to have a little bit of embellishment, but for the past several seasons, these types of overly-ruffled shirts have been all the rage. Please let me be clear: they are HIDEOUS.

Come on… doesn’t anyone see the ridiculous similarity between these two items?

I had to make several trips to the mall before I found what I was looking for – but at last I was successful. I was hoping for a stylishly striped and tailored shirt with a collar, somewhat like these:

Unfortunately these types of shirts seem to be out of the stores for the season, now that spring is theoretically approaching. I ended up with a crinkly white collared shirt that had a subtle sparkly thread and clear sequins sewn into the pattern. The texture of the crinkly fabric creates a subtle pattern and as a bonus, meant that I was able to avoid ironing the night before.

The sad part is that I spent at least as much time scouring the stores as I did preparing for interview questions. But I feel pretty confident that I made the right impression at my interview, so even my husband agreed that the thirty dollar shopping expedition was worth it.

1 comment:

Joy Houser said...

1. the ruffle shirt is adorable. Pair it with a black pencil skirt and a blazer and you've got it.

2. those striped shirts are hideous.

My experience, especially in recruiting and hiring people, has been that it really depends on the job you want. If it is in a fortune 500 company (lawyer, accountant, etc), you want to go with a nice, sharp black or navy suit. If you're going for an interview in the cosmetic/beauty industry (stylist, manager, reception, product rep), they want you to be up-to-date in fashion and have good taste so being trendy is good--as long as you also look appropriate.

You should always do some research on the company and their values, too. If they value creativity, or are a small business that is run by some hipsters, dress the part. If they value business and lots of proactive buzz words, then you should "suit up."

The point is to look you, but a professional you. If the job you're looking at getting is an external-dealing-with-clients job you need to sell yourself as someone people WANT to talk to and be around.

Having been to, I'm guessing, a LOT more job interviews than you in the past 10 years, that's what I've learned. And, I've always gotten the job (except for TGIFriday's, but we won't talk about that).

That's my two cents.

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