How to dress for an interview…. (for Women)

Though I know that this topic has been addressed more times than I can count, I’ve been asked to add a post on how to dress for an interview. Dedicating today’s post to my students, the elegant ladies in my family, and the ladies of MHI in Murray Hill, NYC, who are dedicated to fostering the concept of dignity and elegance among professional women.

Let’s take this from the top, then, shall we? Here goes:


Beauty starts from the inside! The secret to a “power suit” is the energy you bring to it.

Try to get a good night’s rest beforehand. In the morning, take a look at yourself from top to toe and repeat to yourself “I am a beautiful, intelligent, dignified professional woman.”

Allergy season? PTA and other deadlines to juggle? Fake it till you make it.

So nervous you keep forgetting your name? Take your ID with you….

Remember that you are a trained and competent woman who is worthy of this company’s consideration. Breathe easy, be yourself. (

You know how a dog smells fear and barks at you even if you’re standing far away and waiting for him/her to pass? Employers can smell fear too, only they don’t bark. They just don’t hire you. It’s important to have a positive and confident attitude about yourself even if you’re feeling nervous about the interview. Don’t think about how badly you need the job; think only about how you would benefit the company. What qualities do you bring to the table?


(1) Length: If you have long hair, keep it pulled back and tidy. If you have short hair, make sure it is neatly clipped/trimmed/styled.

(2) Type: If you have “problematic” hair, make sure it’s styled properly for the interview. Ask your stylist/hair dresser for recommendations on how to tame your locks. If I can keep my mediterranean frizzlock in check, no feat is impossible….

(3) Accessories: You want to present an air of feminine dignity and organization. DO NOT clutter with a thousand clips or wear an overly colorful scarf/headband, etc. The idea is for YOU to stand out, not your accessories.

(4) Style/Color: Pick a style that suits your face. Pick a color that suits your natural skin coloring. Don’t just go to the salon and ask for the latest gimmick. Remember… feminine dignity.

A former student walked into my office one afternoon and asked if I could coach her for an interview she had with a major corporation in the city. My eyes went directly to her latest hairdo. A veritable rainbow, cut asymmetrically and visible from the campus courtyard several stories below my office. I literally saw her coming. I sighed, smiled and looked her in the eye. “Sure.”

“I know, I know,” she said instinctively reaching to pat down the neon yellow and pink bits of her hair. She had just done this to herself that morning before the call from the placement agency. “I wanted to do something fun. I didn’t know the agency would call with something this awesome so soon.”

Without a word about it, she understood the concept of “dressing down”. We proceeded with the coaching, and in the morning she stopped by before her interview, her hair properly repaired and clipped back to suit her face.

Moral? If you know that you are gearing up for the job hunt, try not to get anything too outrageous or distracting done to your mane….


Everyone always asks me what sort of makeup I use, not believing when I say just the lipgloss. Every day I see true beauties cake their faces over with packs of skin-toned mud followed by an array of colors applied to their eyes, cheeks, lips, teeth, etc. “The Mask” is always so phenomenal to behold. I have a couple of stories to go along with this, but I’ll save that for a separate post and move along for now….

You’re going to a job interview, not a club — unless, of course, you are auditioning for a club and need the layers of MAC to counteract harsh lighting. In most cases, all you need to do is the following:

(1) Skin: Scrub your face daily. Try to remain blemish-free, and on days where you can’t manage that, consult your dermatologist for spot treatments and healthy cover-up options. Avoid generic OTC items that may cause further damage/clogging to your skin. Avoid using any new products on the day of your interview — you might end up with a nasty surprise.

(2)  Eyes: Keep your eyebrows neat and trimmed. Whether you’re sporting thicker (Brooke Shields) or thinner (Marlene Dietrich) brows, just make sure they’re properly groomed before you head out. Avoid loud eye makeup. A little mascara works well. VERY conservative eyeliner if you absolutely must. Avoid anything with a shimmer. Leave the colorful stuff at home….

(3) Lips/Cheeks: Something in a neutral tone is best for an interview. Gloss works well in most cases.

(4) Teeth: Just aim for clean — no spinach between the teeth, you know? Try not to overdo the tooth-whitener within a week before your interview. If you feel absolutely compelled to have this done, have a professional do it; don’t just reapply the OTC strips.

(5) Nails: Nails should be neatly trimmed/filed. In most cases a neutral color is preferred over anything too bright. You don’t want to distract the interviewer/panel. Avoid rhinestones and other “over the top” looks that are currently en vogue in some circles.

(6) Scents/Perfumes: That really musky scent your guy loves? Leave it at home. Try to work with a clean, crisp scent that shows you mean business. A light perfume is acceptable and, when applied appropriately, shows that you are classy and professional. Not sure what scent suits you best? Ask for a consult at Bloomies/Lord & Taylor. Take a reliable friend along for a second opinion. Don’t get anything overpowering. Still uncertain? Skip it. It’s not a requirement for the job….


Always check to see if there is a specific dress code and dress accordingly for the interview. While some places do not specifically outline recommendations for a “uniform” in the workplace, it’s generally understood that nothing too short, tight, or low-cut should be worn to work. Colors should be in conservative shades, with minimal accessories. You want to exude a capable confidence when you walk in to the interview.

(1) Colors: First off, remember to work only with colors that suit your natural skin tone. Women are generally encouraged to wear black, white, grey (dark/light), or blue (dark/light) on interviews. In the spring/summer months taupe or beige is also generally acceptable. Current trends also allow for burgundy, very light pink, or a conservative pattern combining any of the colors listed (e.g., a blue-and-white pinstriped shirt). Avoid overly bright colors that may distract the interviewer(s) from your face and your resume. You don’t want them to feel like reaching for their sunglasses. Other colors like purple, brown or green were not really placed as “unprofessional” but are also not generally listed in the standard color pallet for an interview. Once you have, the job, of course, these colors are usually acceptable.

(2) Length/Fit: You want to wear something that fits you properly, whether it’s a dress, a skirt-suit, a pants-suit, a coat, etc. Skirts are expected to be knee-length. Pants are expected to be tailored to suit your height (with whatever heels you’re wearing). Avoid anything that is too snug. A woman’s figure is lovely. Clothing should accentuate this natural beauty without being gaudy. If your panty/bra line is showing, if the buttons look like they’re about to pop, if the seams seem like they’ll burst when you sit down… put it in a bag for good will and put on something a little less snug.

(3) High/Low Cut: Really, ladies, I shouldn’t have to say this…. If your blouse is too low-cut, don’t wear it to the interview. Not sure whether it’s too low-cut? Go to the mirror. If anything is visible when you lean forward, go change your blouse. If your skirt is too high-cut, don’t wear it to the interview. Not sure whether it’s too low-cut? If you see the seams of your hosiery when you sit, it’s too high-cut; if you see your thighs at all it’s too high-cut for an interview. If it’s long but there’s a slit going up to your thigh…. Well, you get the idea.

(4) Style: “Professional Style” means different things to different people. The ultimate standard is a collared shirt or a shell along with a suit. Variations of this (blouse and skirt/slacks, vests, dresses, etc.) have been adapted over the years, but at different capacities in different companies. Check out the place and the expectations online beforehand to know what will be acceptable. I’d recommend the standard if you’re not certain. Better safe than sorry in this case. Never go into an interview with a sheer or sleeveless top; wear a jacket for the duration of the interview.

(5) Stockings: If you’re wearing a skirt/dress, wear stockings…. (Again, I shouldn’t have to say this.) Keep nude/tan stockings in stock. Black stockings are not really considered appropriate business attire. Opaque black stockings MAY be the exception in the winter months, but certainly nothing with a pattern. (Keep a spare in your purse just in case.)

(6) Safety: Some workplaces let you wear what you like, as long as certain requirements are met (e.g., in a laboratory or hospital environment, on a construction site, etc.). In such cases, check with Human Resources for a list of acceptable and unacceptable attire.


Check on the company’s dress code before delving into your pile of accessories. Some companies have very specific requirements for safety reasons.

Interestingly enough, this is where I tend to say “go with what feels right.” The accessories I’ve worn to interviews over time have changed drastically based on where I was seeking employment. While I only ever wear two rings on my fingers (one professional, one personal), my earrings and necklace are there to bring the “ho-hum” suit to life and show a hint of my creative personality. It shows that I follow the mainstream but also think outside the box. Having said this:

Size Does Matter!

(1) Earrings: Avoid earrings that are TOO chunky or large. open the palm of your hand. If the earring is larger than the center of your palm (about 2cm), it’s not appropriate. If the width of the earring is more than .5cm, it’s not appropriate. If it weighs down your earlobe or drags from your earlobe to your clavicle, it’s not appropriate. Simple gold/silver hoop or post earrings are best in most cases. Pearls are alright, but a little too starchy for some women in terms of the style.

(2) Necklaces: Anything too long or dangly may not work well with the executive personal you are trying to maintain. If you have a very long chain, try looping it into two strands and wearing it outside the collar of your shirt OR looping it three times and wearing it inside the collar; the strands should hit different lengths, like this: A Chunky necklace in a bold color/pattern is considered a “power piece” and is acceptable if it suits your face, your outfit, and the position to which you are applying. (Close your eyes and imagine whether the CEO of a Fortune 500 would wear this. Now picture what position you’re applying to in relation to that image. Should you wear the necklace or try something else? Avoid dangling pendants. You can wear those once you’re hired (unless there’s a specific dress code.)

(3) Multiple Piercings: Um… If you’re not expecting to see them on your interviewer, leave the extra studs and hoops at home. They’ll all be there when you get back.

(4) Belts/Shoes: Nothing too bold here. Make sure that your belt matches your shoes and bag. Old fashioned? YES, that’s me, but oddly enough people really notice. Do not wear sandals or open-toed shoes to an interview. Do not wear those 5-inch stilettos. Wear a classy heel. Again, the goal is to show that you’re ready for business, not a tight-rope sideshow at MSG or a night at the Copa….

(5) Briefcase: Really, in the age of the iPad not everyone carries a briefcase anymore. Just have a few extra copies of your resume handy with a copy online in case you need to email it to anyone on the spot. Only have what you need, including something to take notes if necessary. Leave any “extra baggage” at home — literally. Don’t just carry a briefcase around just for the heck of it. If you have something more efficient looking (like one of those leather dossiers that zip shut), go for it.

Did I miss anything?

Oh yes!

SMILE, look alert and remember your mantra:

“I am a beautiful, intelligent, dignified professional woman.”

Wherever you tread, do so with dignity.

Good luck on your interview!

Anything else? Please feel free to add to the list or recommend specific styles and products.


How does the First Lady select her go-to outfits? Read about it in this article:


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