Interview Wear: Dress to Impress For Less

It’s almost the end of the school year. For college seniors that means it’s job-search time. As students order their caps and gowns, career fairs are sprouting up with the spring flowers while computers and apps on campuses are focused on job search.

As a young professional I vividly remember the months leading up to graduation day. Those nights were packed with goodbyes with friends, last hurrahs at campus hangouts and the storied senior year fountain run tradition. Those days were filled with a different kind of activity; I hustled from appointments with career counselors to job fairs and resume writing workshops.

I loved my alma mater, and in the days leading up to graduation I never felt that more poignantly. Not only was it the place that I developed and grew as a student, it also supported my next steps into the world. The USC Career Center did a fantastic job of connecting students with organizations that were actively recruiting, provided resume-writing help and even scheduled interviews. What the career center was not prepared to do, however, was give me fashion advice. 

“Always dress well, but keep it simple!” – Jared Tomas

OK, quell your fears and swallow your panic. Put down the maxed out credit card, and step away from those plaid pants.

When dressing for an interview, it’s important to remember that the interviewer is not looking at the label on your pants to determine the designer (unless you’re going into fashion) or contemplating the elaborate knot in your tie. The best interview fashion is fashion that the interviewer doesn’t even notice because they’re focused on what you’re saying and not what you’re wearing.

Easy basics include…

For Men

For Women

A black, navy, or grey suit Black pencil skirt
A blue or white shirt A black, navy or grey suit
A simple tie A simple blouse
Black leather shoes 2-inch black pumps

 

I recommend looking at Target’s “Wear to Work” line of clothes, which features designers such Isaac Mizrahi. Or take a look at J.C. Penney’s “Work Clothes,” which has over 2,000 products.

“When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on.” – Coco Chanel

Now that you’ve got the basics, don’t ruin your look by over accessorizing. An interview is not the time for your fabulous clinking charm bracelet, six-inch sparkling heels or that SpongeBob tie your younger brother gave you.

Ladies: Choose simple and discreet jewelry that accentuates your outfit without distracting. Try sites like Stella & Dot or Jewelmint.com to find inexpensive designs.

Gentleman:  Stick to a simple tie with soothing colors and a classic cufflink style.

So how are you going to afford it all? Follow these 5 tips for budgeting while you shop for interview clothes:

1. Become your own barista

Those all-nighters you pulled in college cramming for exams and writing term papers made you dependent on a steady caffeine drip of Starbucks, Peet’s, Coffee Bean or Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s time to put away your Gold Card and delete the Starbucks app from your iPhone. Did you pay attention to the fact that your Venti Mocha Caramel Sugary coffee concoction costs you upwards of $5 (and be honest, some of you are going three times a day)? Skip the store and start brewing at home. Starbucks even makes fantastic instant coffees that you can stock up on. By cutting out one coffee house coffee per day, you can save $150 in one month, which will buy a  nice pair of slacks or a pencil skirt from J.Crew or Banana Republic.

2. Pack your favorite eats and treats

Gone are the days of meal plans and discretionary funds loaded onto a student ID card. It’s time to accept that you can’t eat out every single day. Spending $10-$15 on lunch is draining your bank account and holding you back from attaining a true “interview chic” look. Try packing your lunch during the week from leftovers the night before and hit the town on the weekends. By sticking to leftovers and brown bag lunches just twice a week, you can save $80 in a single month, enough to purchase the perfect interview black leather shoes.

3. Make your list and check it twice

Santa Claus is right. It’s important to make lists. When attempting to save money, the key to staying within your budget is to sit down and carefully determine what you need and even more importantly, what you need now. Then when you get to the grocery store, pharmacy or the mall you are focused and on task. Only you know how much you’re overspending at the grocery store, but when I put this into practice, I saved an excess of $40 per grocery trip (plenty for a new interview-friendly accessory like a necklace or tie).

4. Take the bus

Gas is expensive. If you’re lucky enough to live in a metropolitan area that has public transportation, you should use it. From New York City’s subway to BART in Northern California, sometimes it’s best to just put down the car keys and buy a bus pass. Depending on how much you’re driving and the size of your car, gas can cost $50 every time you fill up.  If you can cut down your trips to the gas station to every 2 weeks, it could save you up to $100 (a trip to the hair salon before your next big interview).

5. Treasure hunt in a thrift store

Now the fun starts. Did you know that you can buy fantastic interview-worthy designer clothing for very little money? It’s time to channel your inner pirate and go on a treasure hunt through Goodwill, local charity stores such as the American Cancer Society Discovery Shops and The Junior League. Within those walls you will find lightly worn clothing with price tags that will make your bank account shout with joy and your mother smile proudly. The last time I went to one of these thrift shops, I was able to score a beautiful interview-appropriate dress originally priced at $150 for only $40.

This is an exciting time to be a graduating senior in college, and there are a lot of big and difficult decisions that need to be made. Don’t let decisions such as what you wear to your interview or how to pay for your interview clothes keep you up at night.

Comment below and tell us about your best interview-worthy “frugal fashion find!”

  • Stephanie Kong

    Great tips! You can also try buying gently owned clothing on eBay or newer services focused on high end clothes, like Poshmark or thredUP!