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Job Hunting Tip: Go Shopping!

I’m excited to say that two of the Marines I’ve been coaching through their job searches have interviews next week. They’re both exceptional candidates and I’m proud of the work they’ve done so far in preparing themselves for these opportunities. Imagine my surprise when both of them contacted me today asking the same question (No, they don’t know each other). What was the one thing they were both focusing on before their interviews?

What do I wear to the interview?!?

Now, I’m not winning any awards for fashion savvy, but when I left law enforcement, I faced a similar challenge - I had to overhaul my wardrobe from the black pantsuit-with-space-for-a-gun-on-the-hip to more suitable and, arguably, more feminine attire.

In my time working alongside and interviewing newly transitioned veterans, I noticed a few “fashion trends” that must be addressed to ensure you avoid them! I’m going to speak first to male veterans, as this is where I’ve seen the most prevalent faux pas. Ladies - my advice to you will follow.

1) Are you going to a job interview or a barbecue?

This is the vet who is afraid to overdress, so he wears a polo and khakis to a job interview. Unless you are going for a job in Silicon Valley where you know the dresscode is uber-relaxed, do not do this. You will always make a good impression if you overdress because the employer will recognize your effort, even if it’s overboard. However, if you underdress, you can’t easily come back from that. It comes off as a sign of disrespect and you’ll notice it and feel self-conscious the whole interview. For an office job, this means a suit and tie. Yes, I know you hate them. I don’t think anyone actually likes them. Noone actually cares what you like. Sorry! In some positions that are more blue collar in nature, you can wear khakis and a button down shirt with a sport coat. You can always take off the coat if your interviewer isn’t wearing one.

2) Dude, where’s your iron?

Seriously? Is there a rebellion against ironing when you leave the military? Did you decide that since noone is checking the uniform you just wouldn’t do it? If so, I’m here to tell you, there’s a reason the military made you best friends with your iron and it wasn’t so you could iron your wife’s clothes for her (thank you, honey!). It was so you could look crisp, clean and well prepared. Now, I hate to iron more than you do (guaranteed - see above comment about hubby ironing since I do it so poorly), but on the day of an important meeting, you better believe I pull the iron out. If you can’t be bothered to show up looking tight and well put together for the first impression, imagine what that tells an interviewer about the level of effort you’ll put into working for them. Don’t make this mistake. Just. Don’t.

3) Is that your dad’s suit?

Ok, right after failure to iron is wearing clothes two sizes too big for you. Why is this a thing? I mean, it was a thing when I was in Junior High and for some reason we all wore XL Men’s t-shirts, which was flat out ridiculous, but for adults this should not be a thing. If you do not know what size you wear, go to an upscale department store and ask to work with a personal shopper. Better yet, go to a suit store and ask the tailor there.

And speaking of tailors - get one! Your suit should not hang on you like a kid dressing up in Daddy’s clothing.

Buy your jacket for your widest part (for many the shoulders) and have the rest tailored to fit your body more closely. This is not expensive but it is a detail that will make a difference. In the civilian world, people care about this stuff more than you ever have and, truly, it matters.

Overarching Guidelines: When deciding what to wear, put yourselves in the shoes of the interview team. Think about what they probably wear to work on a daily basis and think about how they will see you. They want to know if you can be an accurate reflection of their company, both internally and with clients. If you look a mess when you’re supposed to be trying to impress them, they can only assume you either don’t know how to dress right (more work for them trying to teach you) or that you don’t care enough to figure it out. If you overdress, they’ll forgive that and chalk it up to recognizing the value of a first impression. If you underdress, you can likely kiss the job goodbye.

Ladies - I don’t know if it’s harder or easier for us.

I think for women our options are so much more varied that it can be overwhelming. We also struggle with years of being required to dress in clothing that is fairly androgynous and makes us look like we’re trying to be dudes. When I left law enforcement, I was completely confused about what to wear. So I did the only thing I could think of - I wandered into a White House Black Market store (I thought their clothes were gorgeous) and stared at the racks looking confused until one of the sales ladies took pity on me. I told her my story (9 years of dressing like a dude, hiding a gun in my waistband, now nothing fits without my gun and I prefer to look like a woman). Debbie took pity on me, threw me in a dressing room and literally started “How to Dress 101” class with me. I didn’t agree to everything she recommended, but here are a few rules and tips I learned along the way:

1) In an office environment you will still want to go with something suit-like. 

There are many different styles of suits. Pick something flattering and comfortable. (Ask your Debbie equivalent or bring a friend - a very patient friend). To add some color, choose shirts that make your skin pop and make you feel good. I prefer to do sleeveless tops in the summer so you don’t get too hot. If you opt for this option, always keep a short sleeve cardigan on hand in case you need to lose the jacket, you can still keep your shoulders covered so you don’t seem too casual (though you won’t lose the jacket during an interview, just office work in general).

2) You’re going to the office, not the club.

Keep the skirts close to the knees and the necklines appropriate. For some women, when they get rid of the uniform they can’t get enough skin in the game. That’s not how you want to make an impression on a potential employer. You don’t want to be hired for your looks, nor do you want anyone to have cause to assume that you were. Draw attention to your brain and the value you create for an employer and you’re better off.

3) No jingly jewelry.

Who knew, right? Apparently all the jingling can distract from the message - that you are an awesome future employee. We wouldn’t want someone to miss that fact, now would we???

4) Undergarments. Get them right.

That’s all I’m going to say here but if you have questions, email me. No, seriously - email me, ask a girlfriend who didn’t wear a military uniform her whole life, or ask the sales ladies at VS. Don’t assume you’re getting it right.

Finally, for both genders, unless you are interviewing at a tech startup:

  • Jeans are not appropriate.
  • Tennis shoes are not appropriate.
  • Any clothing that is over three years old should stay in the closet.

Alright, those are your tips for the day. Please leave additional tips in the comments if you feel I’ve missed something.