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Advice for the Lawlorn

New York Lawyer

August 3, 2009


Dear Ann:

Whenever I see fellow female students dressed for interviews they are wearing skirt-suits, is this the way to go? I feel much more comfortable and pulled together in a pants-suit (no worries about runs in stockings, skirt riding up, etc.), but I don't want to send the wrong message (whatever it might be).

I'm also quite tall and might tower over some interviewers - does that mean I should go for flats over heels - something that wouldn't really be 'possible' in a skirt . . . .

I can't believe I'm even thinking about this, but it seems like every little thing counts so . . . .


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Dear Thinking:

You are so right . . . every little thing does count, especially these days. The job market is so tight right now that the slightest mistake really makes a difference. You want to make certain that you are at your very best on an interview, in every possible way. And that does come down to that first impression . . . .

I know that I have written about this over the years but it never hurts to bring it up again. Studies have shown that the decision to not hire someone can be made in the first sixty seconds of an interview and that kind of a decision is clearly made on a first impression. It might be based on a poor handshake or too much perfume or the way you are dressed. Sadly, none of these impressions need be made if you are aware of what you are doing prior to going into the interview.

Make sure your handshake is firm, not a bone cracker but not weak and clammy. Just a good, firm, confident handshake. Look the interviewer in his/her eyes, smile and let him/her know how happy you are to be meeting with him/her.

Forget the aftershave or perfume the day of an interview. This isn�t a date, it�s a business meeting. Oh boy, this is a real pet peeve of mine. I don�t get it. Why do people pour on the perfume or aftershave before going to the office? I once actually fired an assistant after three warnings about her perfume. Day after day she insisted on dousing herself with cheap, stinking cologne that made the rest of us sick. The first warning was done in private, as was the second warning. The third warning was in a meeting when I saw my recruiters� eyes rolling and people actually gagging. There was no fourth warning � just a termination of employment. And I can tell you that on the rare occasion when I have interviewed someone wearing perfume or aftershave so strong that it is overwhelming, the interview has been very short. Fortunately, I have yet to meet a viable candidate who has a liter of perfume or aftershave poured on herself/himself.

The day of women being forced to wear a skirted suit is long behind us. However, I still think it is the best way to dress for an interview . . . but that is just my opinion. If you are happiest in a pant suit, then go ahead and wear one. I like skirt suits but ultimately I don�t think that is the deal breaker and quite frankly, I don�t know that anyone cares anymore.

Here�s the good news � you don�t want to wear your 5-inch Louboutin�s to an interview so don�t worry about towering over the person you are about to meet. If you can�t find an appropriate pair of heels to wear, be advised that flats are the height of fashion at this time so please know that you will look lovely in your French Soles or Manolo Blahnik flats with a skirted suit. By the way, the newest look for the fall is a menswear-type shoe and you will be able to wear them with either skirted suits or with a pants suit.

The biggest issue, as I see it, is not whether you wear a skirt or a pant suit but what you are wearing under the suit jacket. Please be sure to wear a blouse or top that is appropriate. I will never forget the recruiter who worked for me who insisted on wearing a �teddy� with her suits. She always looked as if she was wearing underwear under her jacket instead of a blouse and ready to hit the bars at happy hour. Again, remember where you are going. This isn�t a date.

Although money is tight right now, especially for those of you for are unemployed and looking for a job, I do suggest that if you are going to purchase a suit for interviewing purposes, don�t cut corners too drastically. I am not suggesting that you run to Armani and spend $4000 on a new suit but on the other hand I don�t think you should try to buy the cheapest looking mess on the rack. Shop smart � sales are amazing right now, in every store around. The key is to remember that first impressions are critical and you want to give an interviewer the right first impression: you are confident, self-assured, well put together and the right person for that firm or company. Best wishes!

Ann M. Israel
President, Ann Israel & Associates


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