Need Advice On Dressing For A Job Interview
May 14, 2019 4:05 PM   Subscribe

I have started job hunting for the first time in nearly a decade and have just been called in for an interview to an office that I know will have a very different culture from what I've been working in. Tips for dressing appropriately desperately needed as it's been a long time since I've paid attention to fashion. Details under the fold.

After nearly a decade in a very casual office where jeans are worn daily, I (female, middle-aged) have been selected for an interview for an senior administrative position in a mid-size Canadian law office.

I'm not sure what the best choice is for clothing for the interview, and as it's the day after tomorrow, I need your help! Is a jacket necessary (which I don't have but could hustle out and buy)? Would a simple outfit of slacks and a top pass muster?

I have pumps, so I'm covered there.

I know too that all clothing has to be clean and neat and any jewellry should be understated. I haven't worn makeup in years and don't want to start now, but I will do my nails in a pale colour.

I am also applying for similar positions with our provincial government, so if anyone has any tips on clothing for that, I'd love to hear them.

posted by purplesludge to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A jacket always adds authority, but it's not always easy to find a good-fitting one if it's not something you have much experience buying or wearing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:43 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

From the American POV, you should be wearing a suit to the interview. However, I don't know how Canadian culture would vary on this point.
posted by praemunire at 4:44 PM on May 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

In general yes, I would at least wear a smart blazer that coordinated with your skirt or pants. A blouse in a solid color, with possibly a nice necklace. Nothing that jangles jewelry wise.
posted by emjaybee at 4:47 PM on May 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

Do you live near a Banana Republic? They have decent wool suits. I think unpainted nails are fine (and maybe better if you're not getting a professional manicure).
posted by pinochiette at 4:51 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Agree on the unpainted nails. If I were you, I’d get a nail buffer block and just make them nicely trimmed and buffed.
posted by Weeping_angel at 5:04 PM on May 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yes, you need a jacket to interview at a law firm. If it was as a lawyer you would need a black suit but for a non-lawyer position you can likely get away with something less stuffy.

The government interview probably still calls for a jacket but more flexibility there. I work fo the federal not provincial government, though, so someone with more Toronto experience might know better.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:22 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Blazers are a requirement for job interviews if you're in an office, I think. Especially law. However, I've managed to find the darned things in thrift stores without issues.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:27 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I read somewhere that women who wear skirts or dresses statistically do better. It's super sexist and terrible, but I find it hasn't proven me wrong. Wear a nice simple dress in a solid color and a blazer. It covers everything from casual to formal.
posted by KMoney at 5:45 PM on May 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

The best advice I've ever gotten for interviewing in any law office is, "They shouldn't notice what you're wearing at all." That means no big and flashy jewelry, no bright nails, understated makeup (all of which you have covered, sounds like), no bright clothes, no bright shoes. In general, best thing to wear is the most boring and well-fitting black or dark blue suit you can find, and yeah, I'd go with a skirt. A white blouse is ok with the suit, but no colored blouses, and only dark and neutral-colored shoes. Sounds awful and retrograde, but I've been at the law game a while now, and it's been borne out many a time. Also agree with unpainted, clean nails.
posted by holborne at 7:28 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also noting you can ask your contact there what the administrative staff normally wears. Better to ask than assume. If you feel awkward asking, make a comment about how companies are all over the map these days. But the general advice to go a tad formal when in doubt usually holds.
posted by troyer at 7:49 PM on May 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

If this is Toronto we're talking about, a suit would be a good idea albeit not necessary for a mid-sized law office. Big-city Western Canada is maybe a notch down in terms of formality, but a blazer is still a must.

I work in something public sector-y in the Prairies, and it's pretty common to see job candidates interview in sheath dresses and a coordinating blazer.
posted by blerghamot at 8:03 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

This may be harder to achieve for the sort of office you're applying to, but the last interview I had I used google image search to find examples of what people were actually wearing at their desks in a normal workday, then for my interview I went one level up.
posted by traveler_ at 9:31 PM on May 14, 2019

Consider checking out a Banana Republic Outlet store- they usually have inexpensive but pretty nice suits. H&M may work too.

I have a friend who's a law clerk in a tiny Canadian law office and she does dress pants, a pullover shell type blouse, and a cardigan or informal blazer. So if you get the job you may not need to buy a ton of suits- but interviewing in one is still probably wise.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:33 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to spend a lot on a blazer, I've seen decent ones at H&M and JC Penney. I would just go to the mall and look. I do think a blazer is appropriate. You might be able to get away with a nice cardigan but a blazer looks much more serious.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:12 AM on May 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just interviewed for a job just like this, except I was coming from a restaurant back of house (!) instead of an office. Echoing folks above, I went with all H&M: grey blazer, super crisp white button up shirt, plain black pants. No jewelry or makeup, buffed nails, black faux suede shoes.

I got the job. I hope you do, too! Good luck!
posted by obstinate harpy at 5:12 AM on May 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you're going to make a mistake, err on dressing up rather than down. If there's a client facing part of your job, you want to look like you would dress on those days, not the casual every day days. If someone comes to a job interview in jeans, even if that's the office culture, than one concern is if they even can / will dress up when needed. Plus, dressing up does tend to make them appraise you as more competent / higher status. First impressions and all that.
posted by xammerboy at 6:24 AM on May 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

3rding Banana Republic. Just go in there and tell them you have an interview. Today, regular stuff is 30% off (and there’s 40% off sale items).
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:47 AM on May 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you just cannot find a blazer or dressy cardigan that fits well and works, go with pearls as a third piece.
posted by jgirl at 6:55 AM on May 15, 2019

I work for a provincial government. Regular business attire will be fine there. My last interview I had a suit, with a light camisole (not a button up blouse - I don't like to be distracted with worries of a button being undone when I'm answering questions), and ballet flats for shoes.

Law firms are much more conservative (I have a couple of colleagues who used to practice law and report that colours are frowned upon in law firms - stick to black or navy blue).
posted by Kurichina at 7:30 AM on May 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Having worked at one of the most conservative of all East Coast law firms, I'd say for an admin position a suit in any neutral would be fine, so if you look better in tan than in black, okay. Also pinstripes/chalkstripes are acceptable, but not windowpane or other patterns.
posted by praemunire at 9:12 AM on May 15, 2019

Depends a bit in the city but I think at least a blazer is advisable. Memail me if it's Vancouver. Many midsized firms are fairly casual but it's hard to say.

You should be able to do sheath dress and jacket (not necessarily same colour, but if different pick good colours.) Banana Republic may be pricier than its worth if it's a one time thing - you may never need a full on suit again, none of the admin here wear them. They may have some okay sales. H&M will do. RW&Co is okay if they have some boring colours - they might have boring winter stuff on sale. Avoid frills and interesting colours.
posted by lookoutbelow at 1:33 PM on May 15, 2019

Here's a site that might be helpful: Corporette Guide to Basic Women’s Suiting and The Corporette Guide to Interview Suits (plus various other pages of interest). There are a lot of helpful tips (be careful trying to match different blacks; if buying on a budget, it can make more sense to go with a skirt rather slacks, since slacks are harder to fit, can tend to look more frumpy if the fit is bad, and more obvious when styles change (ie skinny, vs straight leg vs ankle pants, vs boot cut, etc.); dry clean both/all parts of a suit together so they don't become slightly mismatched; wear something with sleeves under a blazer to avoid more frequent dry cleaning, and other tips. And there are a lot of photos (like on this page) for generally grokking the overall vibe/look.

I'd definitely bring the slacks you think might work, plus the shoes you will wear, to wherever you will shop for a blazer and get the advice of sales people for how to put together an appropriate look with new pieces.

Also, this is just my own impression, but I imagine a tiny bit of makeup would sort of be more understated (not noticed) than zero makeup. Like a wee swipe of mascara, very light application of sheer face powder, and lip balm or similar with just a tinge of color (not glossy). Again, that's a thing that a good salesperson could help with, but I'm totally with you if you feel like it's over the line for you.

Good luck with the interview!
posted by taz at 12:23 PM on May 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

If this helps, the same thing you would wear to a an introductory meeting with a new client whose confidence and business you hope to win.
posted by jander03 at 4:35 PM on May 16, 2019

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