Thanks to The Cut's 2012 article (and 2017 sequel) about what prospective Vogue employees wore to meet with Anna Wintour, we now have some much-needed perspective on the stress of prepping for a job interview. At least most of us don't have to impress Nuclear Wintour.
That said, one of life's great skills is knowing how to dress for an interview. It's a fine line between expressing your unique personality while respecting the company's dress code and general professionalism. How do you stand out from all the other candidates while also representing your best self?
We spoke to Carol Ann Loo, a human resources and corporate training consultant, for some pointers on how to prepare for a job interview and make sure you're up to the challenge.
The modern resume
The way to get your foot in the door is with an awesome resume that can be read by a digital tracking system. "Elaborate illustrations or extreme fonts don't scan well," says Loo. "Systems look for keywords, phrases, and dates to narrow down qualified candidates. Your resume should be no longer than two pages and, of course, perfect in grammar, spelling, and punctuation."
Prepare, prepare, prepare
You've landed the interview? Great—now the real work starts.
"Research the company, its market, history, key players, and any current press," says Loo. "Check out sites like Glassdoor to learn about the job's function, salary, bonus structure, and benefits. Glassdoor and LinkedIn can also provide information about the company culture: look for keywords like 'conservative' and 'traditional,' vs. 'creative' or 'expressive,' and take cues from employees who have posted about their experience."
Next, create a list of parallels between your work history and the job's requirements. "Practice questions and answers that reflect your experience back to the company's expectations," Loo says. "Prepare a brief personal branding statement that identifies your experience and career expectations. Practice so it's a fluid response to opening questions like 'Tell me about yourself.' And use it as a jumping-off point for detailed explanations about the valuable skills you offer."
Dress to impress
Before the big day arrives, take some time to think about your wardrobe (a Nordstrom Trunk Club stylist can help you with this).
"Strive to present the best version of yourself," says Loo. "Wear a more conservative version of your usual work style. Finance, accounting, legal, and consultant positions usually prefer a candidate to arrive in a suit. Don't assume that you can express more creativity when interviewing in a more creative industry." If you're unsure, you can ask the recruiter or HR representative about the company dress code beforehand.
"Men should play it safe with neutral suits, but add something to express themselves, like a great necktie," says Loo. "Women have more flexibility, but it's safer to opt for a more coordinated outfit, preferably with a jacket. Maintain a light hand while accessorizing. Bring in color with a striking scarf, pin, or purse. Keep jewelry tasteful and leave the 'family jewels' at home—nothing is worse than flaunting a huge diamond ring that is noticeably smaller than that of the interviewer."
Business casual means a different approach. "Pressed casual slacks and an open neck button-down for guys; slacks and a coordinated top that tucks in or covers the butt is preferred for ladies. Never wear jeans to a job interview, even if they are the most expensive pair you own."
The key, she adds, is to be comfortable so that you aren't constantly fidgeting or adjusting your outfit. And don't wear new clothes for the first time to the interview. Even if you wear them around the house a little beforehand, make sure you are comfortable with fit, pockets, buttons, and zippers. Also be sure all of the basting stitches, hangtags, and exterior labels are removed.
"A candidate should always be well-groomed," says Loo. "Have clean, manicured nails and clean, dry hair. Women should keep hair neat and casual, while men should be freshly shaven or have their beards groomed appropriately. Refrain from playing with your hair or stroking your beard—both make you look nervous."
Loo also stresses that less is more when wearing cologne or perfume. "Nervousness combined with certain ingredients can distort or intensify the fragrance, making a small office or interview room unbearable. Resist the temptation to spray your scent before entering the building."
The interview itself
"The best representation of yourself includes a warm smile and a strong handshake," Loo emphasizes. "Don't skimp with these essentials. And remember to bring a notepad and writing instrument in a simple portfolio. Jot down a few questions for the company representative—while taking brief notes is okay, keep your attention on the interviewer."
And make sure you have extra copies of your resume ready, in case someone else joins the interview. Your interviewer may not have one handy, and, if they like you, might invite you to meet other members of the team. "Paper stock is not as important as it once was," adds Loo, "but a clean printed version is always appreciated."
Question and answer
While you're not expected to be psychic, anticipate some of the questions you may be asked.
"The interviewer may prompt you with questions to have you describe previous job activities," says Loo. Action-based questions will ask you to describe an activity you were involved with in the past, how you responded to it, and its outcomes. Theoretical questions ask you to describe what you would do in a situation that you haven't faced before. These are intended to get you to think on your feet and use skills from previous situations in a new circumstance.
Of course, then there's the dreaded question: "What are your weaknesses?"
"There is no good answer to this," says Loo. "Briefly explain something you overcame (like taking on too much work, not saying no, or staying late at the office), then explain how you overcame the challenge or that you are still actively working on it."
Impress me, impress you
Most of all, be proud of your accomplishments and explain what and who helped you along the way. Be well-prepared and comfortable discussing your experiences. Don't try to project a false persona, name-drop, or give cliché answers. Remember that it takes careful preparation to project the very best version of yourself, but it's important to be genuine and true to yourself. "If you have to project something other than yourself," says Loo, "you will never be content at this position."