Interview Advice

Interview advice for the professional woman, including what to wear for interview attire, from skirt suits to high heels. Please be sure to check out our Guide to Interview Suits!

The Hunt: Professional Tote Bags

professional tote bagsSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

We haven’t done a Hunt for professional tote bags in FOREVER, so I thought we’d do one now.  With OCI/EIW coming up we should discuss what makes a great interview tote, which I’ve always seen as a pretty major subset of professional tote bags. A great interview tote should:

  • be large enough to hold a folder that contains the absolute latest version of your resume
  • have structure to it — if you put it on the floor it will stand up or at least lean (so — while I love me my Planetes Longchamp bag, I wouldn’t interview with it — it’s also for this reason that most of these bags are east/west bags rather than north/south bags)
  • be mostly solid and lacking logos all over it (so in my book most Neverfulls, Goyard, and MCM bags are out — but a Neverfull in an Epi leather is a different issue)
  • have enough organization that you can ditch your purse and just carry the tote bag (or, put another way, it becomes your purse)
  • not be primarily as a laptop tote — unless you anticipate needing your laptop during the interview, you don’t need the weight and the added stress of keeping tabs on your bag (but see our laptop tote roundup if you’re looking for one)

I once joked that if you’re just looking for something to shuttle papers to and from the office, most of the rainmakers I knew carried boat bags, or at least the tote bags one gets for donating X dollars to charity or attending a conference, suggesting it was all part of “what your tote bag says about you.” Now I think it’s just because those suckers add up over the years and they’re perfect for sticking in your office closet! (Although I will note – an LL Bean rep recently told me that this bag can hold up to 500 pounds because it was designed for carrying ice blocks through the winter. Ice blocks, huge binders, whatever, right?)

So ladies, let’s discuss — do you carry a tote bag as your regular purse, or only if you’re interviewing or otherwise carrying a folder? What do you look for in a professional tote bag? Do you prefer hand-held briefcase/satchel styles, north/west styles, east/west styles? Leather, nylon, or coated canvas? Have you bought any great ones lately, or do you still carry any older ones?

First, a roundup of some general categories:

Best-Selling Work Totes

Some of the best selling work totes of all time are linked to in our Hall of Fame styles mentioned above — here are a few of those, pictured, ranging from $168-$298: 1 / 2 / 3 // 4 / 5 / 6

Featured Work Totes

Best-selling, classic styles are great, but sometimes you want to know what else is on the market today.  So: six bags we’re liking today:

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Work Outfits with Black Heels

classic work outfit ideas with black pumpsWe just rounded up a ton of great black heels for interviews and beyond — and they’re such a basic, versatile piece in your work wardrobe you hopefully don’t need TOO many ideas for how to wear them to work.  Still, I thought it would be fun to come up with a few work outfit ideas, including a very conservative/classic interview outfit.

The Very Conservative Interview Outfit

The ultimate goal of any interview outfit is to not have your clothes distract from your resume, your accomplishments, and your words.  Note that your heels should be walkable — enough so that you can trek to a restaurant two blocks away (and back) in comfort. If you’re buying your first suit, do check out our recent roundup of suits for every budget, as well as The Corporette Guide to Interview Suits!

A note on pants suits vs. skirt suits:  Skirt suits used to be considered the most formal option, but pants suits are accepted almost everywhere these days.  (Stay tuned — we’ll do a poll very soon to get a broader voice on the topic.) Still, there are benefits to the skirt suit that make it worth discussing. First, if you’re buying a budget suit, it’s FAR easier to find a skirt that looks good by itself than suiting pants that look good by themselves.  Second, if you’re buying suiting separates, I always think you should seriously consider buying all of the pieces that are offered — and hey, you’ve got to wear the skirt suit sometime, right? (Pro tip: don’t forget to dryclean your suiting separates together, too, so the wear is consistent.) Finally: if it’s raining, snowing, or other nasty weather, I’ve always preferred a skirt or dress — nothing’s worse than wet pant hems! (Proper rainboots are great for your regular commute, but if you’re going to have limited options for changing shoes once you arrive, you may want to read our old advice on how to interview in a snowstorm.)

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Job Hopping: Yea or Nay?

Job HoppingLadies, let’s talk about job hopping: Do you view it as the only way to get ahead? Do you worry about being viewed negatively if you’ve had too many jobs in too short a time? What do you think is the minimum time to stay in one job?  

In the recent past, job hopping was universally seen as negative. It was said to make employers question your commitment and reliability, and job hunters were often advised not to include short-term positions on their resumes and to stay a certain length of time at jobs they hated to avoid tarnishing their employment history.

The GenXers and Baby Boomers among us — especially those with parents who stayed at one company for their entire careers (can you imagine that today?) — may still have a negative impression of frequent job changers. In the last few years, though, the news has been full of headlines reflecting an evolution in how short-term jobs are viewed. Articles that wonder if job hopping is “losing its negative stigma” or “losing its bad rap” and those that give tips on how to change jobs “strategically”  are just a few examples. While job hopping isn’t exactly welcomed by employers, surveys and studies have shown a change in attitudes, especially among Millennials, about switching jobs more frequently. Check out these representative stats:

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5 Things to Always Bring to Interviews

what to wear to office holiday party bring to interviewsWhat should you bring to interviews? We’ve rounded up stylish interview totes in the past with a few suggestions for what to pack them with, but I don’t think we’ve ever talked about our explicit list of the 5 things you cannot forget to bring…

  1. Your paper resume.  If there are any new accomplishments since you started corresponding with the company, make sure you give it to everyone with whom you interview — it’s a great excuse to bring up your new accomplishments.  Even if there is nothing new, bring it and offer it to everyone you interview; it makes you look prepared and like an open book. Keep your resume in…
  2. Folder.  If you’re handing out your resume it shouldn’t be folded or crinkled at all.
  3. & 4. A pen and notepad.  You never know what the interviewer is going to throw at you — he or she may want to rattle off a list of job duties, or projects/subjects you’ll need up to speed immediately, etc.  They may mention a great book that you don’t want to forget.  Instead of reaching for your phone — which can be misinterpreted as “time for me to check my emails/text messages/Instagram,” grab a notepad instead.  You’ll also get bonus points for looking prepared.
  1. Walkable shoes.  Especially during an interview, you never, ever want it to appear that your fashion choices limit your mobility or actions.  If you can’t keep up walking down the hallway with someone… or you need to change your shoes to walk two blocks to a restaurant for lunch with an interviewer… or you’re in such pain that you need to kick your shoes off under a conference table… you lose points with all of that. (Check out our guide to comfortable heels if you’re on the hunt for a good pair for interviews.)

Ladies, what do you always bring with you to interviews?  Would you change anything on the list?  How do you handle writing samples and other accomplishments (i.e., do you bring a brag book or the like?) 

Psst: we’ve talked in the past about how to keep your resume updated, and what to wear on interviews.  

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The Worst Career Advice You’ve Ever Heard

worst-career-adviceHere’s a fun question for today: what is the WORST career advice you’ve ever heard? I just saw an article about this at Inc. — about how “follow your passion” is really dumb advice — and I thought it might make an interesting topic for us over here. The worst advice I ever got was a version of the “follow your passion” advice, when a career coach once advised me to “Find something you love — like baseball! — and then go be a lawyer for baseball.” I kid you not, those were the exact words. Putting aside the wonky sentence structure, so many things struck me as wrong about this. Maybe I like baseball because I like drinking beer in the stands while talking to friends! Maybe I like the excitement of the game, or the statistical analysis of players’ performances! Maybe I like collecting baseball cards, or following the players over the course of their career as they move from one team to the next? Whereas someone who ends up loving sports law would, presumably, have a passion for contracts, intellectual property, and all the other things that go into the game and the business of sports. [Read more…]

What to Wear for Informal and Informational Interviews

informational interviewsWhat’s the best way to dress for informational/informal interviews that may or may not lead to “real” job interviews? Should you play it safe and wear a suit, or is it appropriate to dress a bit on the casual side? Reader L wonders…

I was invited to have “a conversation” with a very powerful woman at a foundation where I would love to work. For the initial conversation, I was advised to wear business casual. I felt my choices were right on — sleek understated black pants, closed-toed shoes with some skin showing, a high-end plum jacket in wool crepe, and some very interesting but not flashy jewelry. My conversational partner wore exactly the same components, but my choices were a couple steps dressier than hers.

The conversation went well, and we will continue our discussions. My question is what to wear to the next meeting. I have a summer suit I would be inclined to wear; even though it’s casual (navy/white linen tweed pants with a matching open jacket), it is more serious than anything I’ve observed at the foundation. But, I’m not sure if this meeting is the time to wear it. What if this meeting is then followed by a formal interview? I will already have worn my best choice for an interview suit.

Congratulations on starting the conversation, Reader L! These casual interviews are always nerve-wracking, whether they’re informational interviews, internal interviews, or even everyone’s favorite, the “not-an-interview interview over coffee.” Previously, we’ve talked about how to dress for a kind of “pre-interview” that might lead to a real one, what to wear for an “informal” interview, and what to wear for a networking lunch, and I think your outfit instincts sound spot on thus far. A few notes though:

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