Finding the right clothes to wear can feel daunting. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Knowing what to wear once you’ve scored an in-person interview can give you the confidence you need to walk in and leave everyone you speak with feeling impressed. It seems simple enough – dress appropriately – right? However, finding the appropriate look isn’t always so straightforward.
I’ve interviewed and worked in all kinds of industries: Saas, Financial Services, Beauty, Tech, B2B and Entertainment. Each of these industries has it’s own unique microculture in the world of business. The individual companies, in turn, have their own particular culture that makes them who they are.
We all know how powerful a role the idea of being a “cultural fit” can play in you receiving an offer of employment or a rejection notice. And how you dress can go a long way in helping the imaginations of your potential coworkers. Understanding how to choose your interview wear is about understanding the cultural norms in each industry. Finding the golden mean between a variety of companies and ultimately selecting something that makes you feel confident.
We’ll walk through the five major sectors where EA, PA, AAs, and VAs are found, gain an understanding of their cultural norms, and review some wardrobe themes that will help ensure you’re ready to go into your next interview self-assured and looking the part.
Fashion & Beauty
Top of mind here always seems to be the same thing for those in assistant land and those outside: The Devil Wears Prada. Newsflash, if you’re thinking of attending this interview with a smokey eye – don’t!
Landing an interview with your favorite fashion or beauty brand can be a little intimidating. You’ll likely be wondering how closely the public face of the brand matches the office environment. Imagine you snag an interview with Marc Jacobs, Condé Nast, Louis Vuitton or even Vogue. Knowing how to make a first impression and demonstrating you can – and do – fit in will be key in securing employment.
Fashion and beauty companies are distinct from other areas of industry in that they have a public aesthetic which is well known and easily identifiable. There are two distinct categories for the purposes of this article: prestige and commercial.
When we think of companies running prestige brands we might think intense makeup, luxurious clothing and faux fur (or Yikes real!). But it’s not all blue steel and catwalks. More than looking good, you need to deliver on core skills, but that’s for another article. Companies leading commercial brands (like Target) also have an aesthetic, though obviously less intimidating than, say, Tiffany’s.
Wear fashion-forward clothing that fits you well; nothing too big and certainly nothing too tight. Blazers are always a great idea because they are fashionable and also help to set a more serious tone. Colors are welcomed, just be sure they coordinate appropriately. Think complementary rather than matchy-matchy.
Commercial Fashion & Beauty Recommendation
Wear a button-down shirt, preferably white with little to no branding visible. You don’t want to mistakenly wear a competitor’s clothing into an interview. While I’ve heard of it being a great conversation starter for some, it has turned out to be a non-starter for others.
Insurance & B2B +SaaS
The SaaS and B2B space are both enjoying a bit of a boom right now, so if you’re currently on the market chances are you’ve come across one. Major players in this space include Salesforce, Payoneer, and Xerox.
Many of the B2B companies might also qualify as “tech companies”. However for the purposes of this article I want to make a few distinctions. Saas B2B’s (Software as a Service sold by a business to a business) aren’t all strictly “tech company”. Some of them are listed on Crunchbase, have Founder CEOs, and have software as their main point of sale. But in practice, they behave more like we’d expect from an insurance or travel company. They aren’t overly formal but certainly steer in the direction of the more standard business traditions. That means unless you’re an engineer, no jeans or hoodies at these interviews.
Insurance + B2B Recommendation: Wear clothing that is comfortable but not overly formal. A nice pair of blue slacks or khakis, or reasonable colors should also generally be fine. Grab that blazer and put on some more formal office-appropriate shoes (see example below).
Finance & Legal
Financial Services and Legal Firms certainly represent the classical sector for EAs and PAs. This is where some of the first “secretaries” emerged, and where the traditional totems of prominence still remain important. Depending of course on what kind of firm you work with you could need be less buttoned up. Especially for interviews, however, always stay on the safe side.
Finance & Legal Recommendations: Keep it traditional with neutral colors. Embrace the tried and true black and white contrast fit, beloved in this profession. You can always make it fun with understated but creative earrings and a chunky take on a pearl necklace. I suggest a modern briefcase bag of some sort. A black or nude heel/flat should complete the look.
Tech + Startup + Remote
If you’re job hunting in any of the major tech hubs; Silicon Valley, Silicon Forest, Silicon Cape, Silicon Alley, or Silicon Slopes, chances are you’ve done or will do a virtual interview on Zoom, Skype or Google Video. You might have been nervous about what to wear or wondering how much it would matter. Virtual interviews, like phone screens, are a tool to determine whether or not it’s worth their time to bring you in for an interview. If you’re doing a virtual interview for the entire hiring process because you’re applying for remote positions the recommendations are still the same.
While a lot of companies pay lip service to the idea, tech companies and especially sartups care deeply about their culture. They rely on talented, clever people bringing their whole selves to work in order to solve a wide variety of complex problems. If you’re the kind of person who compartmentalizes and feels best taking orders, this kind of proactive out-of-the-box environment might not be for you.
Tech + Startup + Remote Recommendations: Sometimes referred to as “smart casual” the themes you’ll find here are comfortable clothing. Something that is most true to who you are and not too distracting. Properly fitting t-shirts are fine, and wearing a casual blouse is always a great safe choice.
While the entertainment industry as we think of it is generally secluded to Los Angeles and New York, areas in the south including Miami, Atlanta, and Virginia also have robust filming sectors. Toronto, Vancouver, and London also represent areas where there are established and thriving entertainment sectors. Each of these places has its own specific nuances influenced by culture, climate, and history. However, it’s safe to say that across the board “the arts” are generally more colorful, open, and cutting edge. If you want to fit in here, especially in the role of PA, it’s best to not come off overly stuffy.
To be clear, this would not apply to say those working in the more corporate aspects of entertainment, say in a large telecom company like Verizon. Entertainment applies more to celebrity personal assistants and the PR side of things. Think glamorous Hollywood parties or flashbulb filled premiers.
I suggest something stylish with a bit of flare, see examples below.
In our industry it hard not to be aware of the ways we’re viewed as extensions of our bosses and teams. Establishing yourself as a culture fit from the beginning is a great way to give yourself that little edge that can push you over the top.
Specifics aside, it should go without saying that anything you wear should be neat, clean, and ironed if necessary. Ultimately, nailing your interview and securing a job offer will not come down to what you wear, but it’s important to put your best foot forward when on the hunt.