What to Wear: to an Interview
For the most part, the days are gone when interviewing called for a basic black suit. As I mentioned here, depending on your geographic region and industry, wearing that standard suit will actually look inappropriate for the position and show a lack of cultural understanding on your part.
So what to wear to an interview? It’s both a fun thing to think about and quite tricky. You still need to look professional and put together, but also somewhat relaxed. Jenn is currently earning her MBA at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and has accepted an internship with Google for the summer. Before heading to b-school, she worked in Financial Services for Goldman Sachs in San Francisco and Summit Rock in New York City. You don’t get much more of a difference in culture than between Wall Street and Silicon Valley, particularly from the wardrobe perspective! She also happens to be one of the most put-together, best dressers I’ve seen. Here’s how she has approached her wardrobe for work on both coasts.
Jenn’s tips for looking great across industries
Suiting Up – a closet necessity but approach with caution
In general, I rarely wear a formal suit outside of going in for an interview in Financial Services or an incredibly formal event. Wearing a full suit can signal that you’ve defaulted to something generic and that you’re too junior to understand the unwritten rules of how to dress. I also basically never wear an all black suit, (except for interviews on Wall Street). I lean toward grey or navy instead. Of note, I buy a lot of suits together (blazer, skirt, pants and dress), and wear the pieces with other elements of my wardrobe. The suits I’ve bought from Theory have lasted me for almost a decade, and I wear the pieces separately all the time.
Cultural Changes – the biggest differences between dressing for NYC and Silicon Valley
In NYC, I essentially wore heels to everything. Since coming to Silicon Valley, I can’t remember the last time I wore heels. While I’ve noticed plenty of women wearing heels in SV, it doesn’t seem like wearing heels is required to indicate seriousness or sense of purpose (or sense of fashion). One practical note on wearing heels – in NYC, it’s standard practice to not wear your heels to or from work. I’d keep mine at my desk and change upon arrival. I generally wore a pair of black Toms to and from the office to hit the comfortable-but-acceptable mark. Of course, if I was going to a meeting outside the office with a client or a senior member of the team, I would wear my heels. Otherwise, going to lunch with my peers, I’d switch to flats.
The Uniform – NYC vs. Silicon Valley
In SV, my go-to “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to wear” option is either 1) a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress or 2) cropped black dress pants and a dressy-ish top. I want to come across as professional, but also that I’m culturally aware (and recognize that the rules are different than NYC finance). For one of my early interviews at Google, I wore a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress with Tory Burch flats. In NYC, I would always wear a professional dress and blazer. In NYC, I always always had my nails painted and perfect. Here in SV, I still try to keep my nails looking good, but don’t feel nearly as much pressure to keep them perpetually polished.
Accessories – bags, shoes and necklaces
I’m always a fan of non-flashy big necklaces. It makes you memorable, but not tacky. I’ve also jumped on the bandwagon of having the classic Longchamp bag. It’s sleek, well-made and is at a good price point. It’s also a really accessible option – I see everyone from my classmates at Stanford to partners at Goldman Sachs carrying it. I invested in a pair of Christian Louboutin heels when I moved to NYC. Here in SV, I tend to default to Tory Burch flats. But if you invest in expense shoes, having a great cobbler is a must – for both my heels and flats, I have rubber soles put on to help extend the life of the shoe.
The bottom line is that you need to feel comfortable – yet appropriate – to be at your best! Take some time to figure out what your go-tos are and you’ll be on the right track. Thanks Jenn!
And remember, looking good is only part of the formula for representing yourself well in stressful situations. Take 2 minutes to strike your Power Pose before interviews – you will do much better!