Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What to Wear to a Paralegal Job Interview

Alison Doyle, a job search expert, book author and prolific career columnist at About.com Careers, recently blogged about “What Not to Wear on an Interview”. She is a great job search follow on Twitter (@alisondoyle), and in addition to regularly blogging with excellent career advice, offers a free weekly email job searching newsletter.

My favorite part of “What Not to Wear on an Interview” is the list of attire to avoid:
  • Flip-flops or sneakers.

  • Underwear (bras, bra straps, briefs, boxers, etc.) that is visible. Don't wear any underwear that shows - even if your bra straps match your top.

  • Shorts.

  • Jeans.

  • Skirts that are too short.

  • Pants that are too low-rise or too tight.

  • Blouses that are too low-cut or too short - don't show your cleavage or your belly.

  • More on underwear and low-rise pants - make sure the top of your thong, if you wear one, doesn't show above your pants.

In summary, avoid looking like Jessica Simpson in The Dukes of Hazzard movie. (Not that she's not lovely, but would you trust "Daisy" to draft a legal document for you?) When in doubt about whether your thong might show, go for uncomplicated cotton briefs. With the stress of an interview itself, who needs to worry about whether his or her thong has somehow escaped the confines of the recommended classic business suit?

And that’s the basic tried and true recommendation by me, Ms. Doyle and anyone else giving career advice who’s worth his or her salt: wear a classic business suit to any professional job interview. In particular, most legal environments are conservative, traditional settings. Even if you’re lucky enough to land at the one law firm in your area where the employees are allowed to bring their dogs to work and wear yoga pants when they don’t have court – you won’t know that as a newbie interviewee.

Own at least one flattering and well-fitting, but classic suit in a neutral color, like black, gray, navy blue, or caramel. For women, buying a three-piece suit (jacket, skirt and slacks) is a great way to expand wardrobe options, and buying two mix-and-match suits is an even better way to build a limited wardrobe. Adding a simple, well-tailored sleeveless dress in a neutral color to wear with the suit jacket is another great way to expand the suit’s flexibility. (A suit to interview at a conservative private law firm or corporation is a costly but necessary investment. If you’re a student and your money will be tight for the foreseeable future, start haunting better consignment stores and clearance racks regularly to acquire at least one well-made suit.)

Mixing and matching conservative blouses in bright, flattering colors can give an otherwise traditional suit a bit of individual flair. (Men can incorporate this advice by buying attractive and flattering ties.) Ms. Doyle is right about pantyhose. When in doubt, wear them (you can always take them off as soon as you get back to your car).

Own at least one pair of good shoes with great arch support and a moderate heel. You’ll love them when you’re following that HR recruiter around a large corporate office, grateful that your feet aren’t killing you, and that you’re not in danger of falling off those sexy stiletto heels that you really wanted to wear to liven up that “boring” suit.

As far as interview jewelry, it’s hard to go wrong with a pair of simple, classic (faux or real) diamond studs, but they have to be worn in your ears and not in your nose. A small, classic purse and a leather (faux or real) portfolio for your resume and references will make you look organized and pulled together.

Hair and make-up? Think Michelle Obama and not Jessica Simpson. Less is more when interviewing for legal professional jobs – unless we’re talking about flip-flops, Daisy Duke shorts, or thong underwear.

6 comments:

  1. I still need someone to explain how Erin Brockovich managed to break every single rule and get away with it. Daisy Duke had nothing on her, and Erin is not pure fiction. I know she is the exception, not the rule, but give me a break!

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  2. That IS the rule: for every rule, there's an exception. :) Of course, when she started the investigation for which she became famous, she was also a drop-dead gorgeous former beauty pageant winner with no formal education and it was CALIFORNIA! Alas, the rest of us poor schlubs gotta suit up...lol.

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  3. Only one disagreement re: pantyhose. "When in doubt, wear them" - I would simply say "wear them". I can't think of a job interview where you should be showing up bare legged - even if your legs are tanned, freshly shaved and gorgeous! Of course, knee-highs work with pants, but be sure the tops will NEVER show!

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  4. Let the Great Pantyhose War begin! :D But yes, when going to an interview in the legal field, it's better to err on the conservative side and wear those durn pantyhose...even if the interview is in hip CA!

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  5. Along the lines of dress for interviews, one of the issues I used to bring up to my students was tattoos. Obviously, tattoos are permanent, but some people can be offended by them, including prospective law firms.

    I used to tell my students to assess their tattoos and then wear an appropriate outfit that would effectively "cover up" the tattoo. If the tattoo is on the ankle or leg, I suggested dark stockings to go with a conservative suit, even going as far as to comment that a tailored pantsuit would be appropriate at an interview.

    Additionally, perfumes and aftershaves that arrive 10 minutes before someone get there is an absolutely no-no.... Keep that in check as well.

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