If you’re wondering what to wear to your professional interview, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Showing up in your finest is a must! But what defines YOUR finest?
This is largely subjective, my friends.
The most important thing about dressing for this interview day, is that YOU feel good, and you feel like YOURSELF. Within reason of course. 🙂
Let me start by saying that I am not on an admissions committee currently, but I have been part of student admissions committees in the past, and I have participated as a resident interviewer. I have seen my fair share of applicants come through medical school and residency, and with that, comes discussion with the physicians and teachers on the admissions committees.
There are general rules on how to dress for a professional interview. Pretty much every article I found just by searching, stated that this is not the time to express your fashion sense, and you should wear a dark suit. However, every interviewer that you meet will have their own opinion, and times are changing. Meeting applicant after applicant, can be exhausting. It is a breath of fresh air sometimes to meet someone who looks a little brighter, or does things just a little differently.
It has been a few years since my residency interview… five to be exact. Wow that makes me feel old. I interviewed all throughout the country, on all the coasts, and I personally witnessed students following similar standards to what I am mentioning in this post. In this post, you see the exact replica of what I wore to my interviews, minus the shoes that I upgraded later to these 🙂
I rotated between a basic, white collared button-down and a looser, red blouse with a bow detail paired with my black suit. I was most interested to see if anyone gave me negative feedback on my brighter outfit, as opposed to my uber basic black and white. I even asked some of my interviewers along the trail! The general consensus was… it didn’t matter!
Suit– this is a must. There are a ton of great, professional outfits that do not involve a suit jacket, but this is not the time to wear them. You can always take off the jacket, which I tried to do as much as possible because I was always sweating! I do feel that a basic suit is best- black, grey, or navy blue. For the ladies, skirt versus pants doesn’t seem to make much of a difference anymore. Cue the round of applause! That being said, the suit needs to be tailored. That includes the length of the skirt/pants. Ladies, ensure your skirt is an appropriate fit. Try it on and sit down, to ensure it’s not high riding or too tight. Some of the interview season takes place in the winter, so if you are interviewing at locations that experience winter, the suit may need to be dry cleaned between wears (think, slushy snow that you have to walk through to get to the next building on campus.
- Panty hose– many will say you should wear these with a skirt ladies. My opinion? It’s your decision. I saw many bare legs on my interview trail. Black tights are an option as well. Especially if you’re trying to hide something (see discussion on tattoos later in this post).If you’re wearing pants, you could opt for the nylon footies which are far more comfortable than knee highs or full nylons + pants, in my opinion. Or you could go bare foot in your shoes.
- Socks– men, it may be up and coming to wear dress shoes with no socks, but don’t do this on interview day. Plus your nice dress shoes will start to smell, guaranteed! You will be sweating on interview day!!
- Belts– ladies this is up to you! Men, you are pretty much expected to wear a belt. Make it a nice one that doesn’t appear too worn. Think fresh, crisp, and leather (or faux leather if on a budget).
Shirt– here’s where I feel you can get a little creative. Disclaimer- many people out there may disagree with me. I personally prefer to wear a pattern, blouse with a detail, or color underneath my bland suit, not to stand out, but to feel like me. All shirts should be tucked in and wrinkle-free. This part is tough given your frequent traveling and sometimes lack of time to launder clothing. Ladies, if you’re questioning an extra button, probably better to use it, if you know what I mean. In terms of a collar, men- yes you need a collared shirt. Women? I think you could go either way. I didn’t wear a collared shirt when interviewing for residency, I chose a bow detail instead.
Bag– something simple, chic, and easy to carry. Trust me, you will be tired of carrying this bag. I like something clean, with a lot of support and structure. You may be going from your interview, directly to the airport, and this bag is going to get heavy.
- Portfolio folder– I loved having one of these to keep track of extra copies of my resume, and any pamphlets I was given on interview day.
Shoes– I like a closed toe, heel look. I physically feel more professional and poised in heels. The comfort level is important however. There will be A LOT of walking, on some of your interviews. If you are wearing a higher heel, this is going to get very uncomfortable. Flats are always an option as well, and certainly more comfortable. However, you may need to consider tailoring your pants so that they don’t drag, and whether or not you like the look of flats in this professional setting.
Jewelry– minimal is the way to go! I love jewelry, but large pieces can get in the way and be distracting. My must-have piece of jewelry for interview day is a watch. My current favorite is the Michele Deco Madison rectangular version. Not only does every professional need a watch, it will come in handy when you need to move from one interview to the next, and check in for flights! I don’t feel like myself when I don’t have earrings in. Although I never wear pearls in my day-to-day life, I always wear them in the professional setting. Studs are probably best for your interview, although some smaller dangled earrings can still be light and comfortable.
Hair/Makeup– I feel at my best when my hair is down. That being said, I have a lot of hair, and it’s tempting to play with my hair when I am nervous. Wear your hair in a comfortable, clean style that makes you feel like YOU, and keep those hands out of your hair, especially when in your interview. Makeup is a must for me, otherwise I don’t feel awake. I love a good makeup-less look, but never when I am in interview mode. That being said, keep the dark shades to a minimum, avoid glitter or shimmer, and maybe skimp on the eyeliner or at least make it a light layer. I feel like another person when I wear lipstick (this is great for certain occasions) so I avoid it in a professional setting.
What about tattoos/piercings??
Medicine may not be as conservative as corporate america, actually. Even if your interviewer doesn’t care much, tattoos/piercings may still be looked at in a derogatory manner, by patients that you encounter in the future.
You are going to have to use your best judgement on this one, ya’ll. I know a variety of physicians with tattoos, that were present prior to interviewing for medical school and residency. Many of them are in locations that are easily covered. I have had this small tattoo on my foot since the age of 17, and I really had no intention of hiding it on my interview trail, but if it were in a different location, I may feel differently. If you have a tattoo that spans a large amount of surface area, it is generally recommended that you conceal it (i.e. large tattoo on the leg- wear pants). If you have a facial piercing, I would recommend removing it for your big day. The goal is to avoid looking aggressive, or troublesome. We all know those things may not even be related, but admissions committees do not like to imagine a potential student/resident as someone who might draw complaints from patients, other instructors, or colleagues.
Although your appearance will be judged, it is highly unlikely that if you have what your interviewer is looking for, they will reject you based on the fact that you wore a bright shirt. And if they did… what does that say about them!?
Interview season can feel like Groundhog Day, or a bad dream, over and over and over again! You will never want to see your suit again, after interview season. Then one day when you’re looking for a job you’ll think “I hope I still fit into that suit”!
My personal opinion, is to choose one part of your attire, and personalize it. Especially if you’re worried about offending the more seasoned interviewers, this will help create a muted, yet personalized look, so you can still feel like the individual that you are, in a sea of black and gray suits. This is not to say “hey look at me”, or to be fashionable. It is about feeling like YOU so that you can perform at your best and let the real you shine through.
Photos by Abbi Cooley