Interviewing in Washington, DC: What NOT to Wear
We all know that interviewing isn’t easy (especially in Washington, DC) and I have been there too many times. Clearly, I’ve failed at ‘getting the job’ more times than I’ve been handed an offer so here are five tips so you don’t blow it within the first five seconds of a handshake.
This is not individualism time
I understand that you’re an American and being unique makes you special, after all, your parents have been telling you this your entire life. Words from the wise, you want to stand out from the competition and be remembered for what you know and can offer, not what you dress like. Things like piercings (besides the ears), tongue rings, face tattoos, and hair dyed other than the standard colors is high risk. Times are a changing but learn how to assess risk with such assessments. Also, makeup is like a supplement, not a meal – no need to cake it on. Remember, whether you are seeking a position on The Hill, with a think tank or heaven forbid you have already sold your soul to a lobbying shop, less is more. Even the most ‘progressive’ folks like Bernie Sanders dress like it’s 1955 and clothing like that has a long history of power (and to some degree laziness).
Dress for the job you want, not the one you have
This is assuming you have a job right? If you don’t then here is where you start. A lot of folks you will encounter are either well off financially or come from cultural backgrounds as such. I’m not saying that you need the latest designer fashions but make sure you aren’t wearing garments that don’t fit correctly. The easiest way to know what to wear is to look at other people in the profession. For instance, in the think tank world, there are communications, policy, development and administration type roles. All of them interact with internal and external stakeholders different and dress as such. Know the role you’re applying for so you can play the part well.
No wrinkles, make sure everything is cleanly pressed
Now I remember this time in high school, it was the late 90s and white collar kids tried to look ‘working class’ by wear Hollister and Abercrombie clothing that was ‘pre-wrinkled’, destroyed and even had fake oil and grass stains on the jeans. I’m not quite sure why the “I just rolled out of bed” look became in flux because the old teachers back then let us know that we were inappropriately dressed. Make sure all of your garments are pressed, ironed or steamed. I make sure some of my items are done by the dry cleaner and the rest I do with a steamer. With modern day tech fabrics and coatings, there are several wrinkle-free options out there.
No party clothes
This tends to be more challenging for women than men because they have so many options to choose from in the beginning. For guys, wild colors, leaving your shirt unbutton really low and pants that are tighter than a sausage casing are sending the wrong message. It’s important to feel comfortable in your clothes but save the Thursday night errr… I mean Friday night clothes for after the sun goes down. Showing off body parts as a time and place but in front of your prospective employer is not one of them.
Dress up, not down
I have always said that there are many tribes in society, whether you are with the jocks, emos, band geeks, math nerds or supposed ‘non-conformists’. Each tribe has its own uniform but the leader of the tribe is always dressed ‘one step’ higher than the rest. You want to get noticed in a crowd but you don’t want to be mistaken for a clown. Both will be remembered, but for opposite reasons.