Goodbye to "The Uniform"
Having been to my fair share of job placement workshops in the last ten years, I’ve seen plenty of things change: overall look of your resume, using social media as a networking tool, etc. But there is one thing that hasn’t changed over all that time. A black, gray, or dark blue dress suit, simple blouse, minimal jewelry and makeup, and tame, straightforward hair. Sound familiar? The recommended dress for an interview, according to “those in the know” has not changed for at least ten years, probably longer.
When I first started to venture out into the professional world, I followed this to the letter. I wanted to look capable, reliable, and dependable. Not knowing anything about anything outside of college, I took the advice of my teachers and counselors very seriously. Black jacket, blue shirt, sensible black shoes; although I’ll admit I went little crazy wearing black slacks instead of the highly recommended black skirt. In which this became my interview uniform and somehow carried me successfully into a position at an engineering firm.
A few years and a dip in the market later, I was on the hunt again. Given the continued advice from career counselors, I brought back the uniform. During this adventure, though, I started to notice that I didn’t feel overly confident while I was wearing it. Of course, I didn’t feel confident the when I first used the ensemble, but then I was too young and inexperienced to know any better. Wanting to keep true to what I thought were the standards, I still used it, going from one interview to the next, feeling like a pawn in a game. I had bills to pay, though, so I kept at it, doing my best to infuse my personality into the interview itself. My confidence as a potential employee was at the lowest of low, but I continued to dress the part of the dutiful designer. Finally, I managed to land a job at a much smaller firm. The entire experience was quite the opposite of exciting, so much so that I grew to resent my interview uniform and would rarely wear any of the pieces outside of getting grilled on the other side of someone else’s’ desk.
A few years and promotions later, and once again I am out in the open, looking for a new position to call mine. Those years and job hops, though, built my confidence back up and taught me a lot about myself and how I want to play this game of engineering designer and trainer. Still, when discussing wardrobe for interviews, the same standard dress is recommended. When I got the first call for an interview, I grew tense at the thought of digging out the black on blue on black. One night, though, as I was battling children, dinner, and dishes, it hit me; I gave away my interview uniform during a phase of The Magic Art of Tidying Up and hadn’t replaced it yet.
I dissected my brain trying to think of what to do. I had jackets, but none of them matched any of my slacks. I had sweaters and cardigans, but even visualizing the potential combo felt too matronly for the role I wanted to portray. I wanted to come across as knowledgeable, reliable, confident, but still approachable and fun. More importantly, I wanted to feel that way.
During the last few years, not just in my career, but in my life, I have become a big believer in a person’s energy and the effect it can have on a situation. Positivity attracts positive vibes. If you want an experience to be fun, take control and be the fun. Life happens no matter what, but the energy you bring, you contribute, you express, is entirely up to you.
Lying in bed, mentally running through my closet, I decided I needed to dress in a way that reflected my energy, not in a way that reflected the industry. They were interested in hiring me, after all, and I owed it to them, and myself, to present myself as true to my vibes and ethics as I could. Black on blue on black is just not who I am. I am color. I love color, bold and bright. Color makes me feel happy, content, and at peace. The next morning, I pulled together an outfit that I had worn for date night the weekend before and had felt fabulous. Soft gray fitted slacks, a purple patterned blouse that had a flow to the hem, black and gold ballet flats, and a trim mustard yellow leather jacket. I kept the accessories and makeup minimal – because I prefer it that way, not because someone told me to. I walked into that interview happy, non-frazzled, and not the least bit nervous. They were going to like me, or they weren’t. Either way, I presented myself in a way that was true to me, and I was feeling great about it.
So often, particularly in the world of job searching, interviews, and first impressions, it is easy to get told that you must dress one way to present the proper image, and believe it to be true. But it isn’t. Those recommendations are great, and most often are meant to be helpful, but they usually leave out the most important part– your energy. If dressing black on blue on black makes you feel like the bad ass that you are, then rock it. If it doesn’t, find something that does. The energy you bring into an interview will create a much more memorable first impression than what you have covering your skin. Don’t worry about how the interviewer will interpret clothing. Not getting the job after showing up with your best slaying energy is much easier to move beyond than if you went dressed in someone else’s energy. I promise.