In the 90s there were standard rules for women to follow when dressing for an interview (e.g., blue or black suit, stockings, white button down shirt, etc.). And frankly at that time, it was what worked, especially when interviewing at large corporations. During college, one of my two jobs was working part time at the Career Resource Center at USF. I saw many candidates come in with their burgundy portfolio pad tucked under their blue or black blazers and matching skirt. Shoes were always blue or black. Yawn. In the end, they all looked the same and no one stood out. And I realize it's shallow to judge a candidate by their appearance when in fact you should be looking for fit, personality, and skill set. However, appearance and hygiene are also important. You're looking for the complete package, the diamond in the rough.
I've since managed technical writers and have interviewed more candidates that I ever cared to in most of the companies I've worked for. I've sat in on interviews as an observer as well. Somewhere along the way, I've picked up the keen ability to weed out good candidates from not-so-good ones in a matter of minutes. I'm very aware of, and in tune to, eye gestures, hand movements, and body language. Maybe it's because I have to focus on details in my line of work. Maybe it's just because I'm a sensitive person by nature. Or just common sense. When you start telling toilet jokes at a lunch interview (true story), I'm done with you. Lunch interviews are typically when candidates let down their guard and open up a bit. That's why companies take you to lunch. They want to see if they can get to know the real you in a short amount of time. Will you open up? Will you drop your guard? Do you have a sense of humor? Are you fun, serious, psycho, down-to-earth, indecisive, quiet, etc.? Will you say something inappropriate in a different setting? Lunch interviews should be no different than office interviews. You are still being scrutinized as a potential hire.
So what should you wear then? Slacks, suit, dress, blazer? Yep. All of them. Pile them all on at once. In all seriousness, you need to do some research on the company and the culture before making the decision of what to wear. You may be able to get away with slacks and a button down for a smaller, more casual company. You may be able to get away with my custom designed Carrie Bradshaw goes to Vogue suit I feature below. Because of the funky jacket, I don't tend to wear it to conservative interviews. As hubby put it, "it's a big progressive."
However, regardless of company size or culture, I tend to dress the same for interviews, I would rather be overdressed then regretting my outfit choice. This Vince dress and Zara blazer is my typical interview outfit. Dress, blazer, and heels. I have a lot of great dresses in my closet. Lots of patterns, stripes, great colors, etc. Now is not the time to wear anything wild. Structured blazers are my go tos. So while I don't follow the "blue or black only" rule, I do gravitate toward neutral colors and prefer solids when interviewing.
I have additional challenges that I need to be aware of when interviewing. I have tattoos. Therefore, I will always, always cover my arms in interviews. You never know if the person you are interviewing with will share your love of expressing art on your body or detest your markings. I also am aware of regional differences in tattoo opinions as well. In Florida, it is very common for people to have tattoos. In Connecticut, not so much. When I interviewed with my current position four years ago, I wore a pinstripe suit and a buttoned down shirt. Granted I interviewed in February and slacks kept me warm. I also wore boots to keep my feet warm. It wasn't until a month after working at my current job that I let down my guard and showed my arms. And it was only after my manager's tats were peaking out of his polo shirt that I felt comfortable in doing so.
That brings me to another point - climate. It's summer. It's hot out and suits are just an invitation for sweat. You're already nervous and clammy, do you really want to don a long-sleeve shirt and blazer in 90 degree heat? The dress I have on below is cap sleeve. So I can still stay cool in the heat, throw on my blazer right before I enter the interview, and still maintain a look of professionalism. If you wear a suit, I suggest a short sleeve or sleeveless shirt underneath during the warmer summer months. Just be careful with sleeveless. You never know if you'll need to take off your suit jacket because of office temperatures.
My nails will always be freshly manicured for an interview. I go get the $12 special with a light pink polish. I typically wear my hair down when I interview, but also prefer my faux bun. Don't do a top knot or high ponytail. It's fine for every day, but too trendy and young-looking for interviews. A low neck ponytail with a simple hair tie the color of your hair or a neutral hair barrette is also fine.
I never wear flats to an interview. Always heels (nothing above 3"), always closed-toed, always simple, and typically black or brown. I do worry about the tattoos on my ankles. However they are small and my ankles are not typically what is being focused on in an interview. If I'm feeling particularly sensitive to my ankle tats, I just opt for dark, but sheer hose or slacks. If I'm going to wear slacks, I make sure I have the complete suit with matching blazer. It's too hard to try and coordinate dark pants with a dark blazer. Fabrics vary in color and texture and the mismatch will be obvious and you will look unkempt.
Here are the pants and jacket I ordered online while Ann Taylor is having an extra 40% off.
Lastly, makeup. Keep it neutral. Brown shadow, brown or black liner, nude lips. You want your skills and personality to shine, not your lips.
Oh, and I don't recommend my polka dot dress for interviews. Wear it on the first day of work instead. With a blazer.