How to Dress for Success

So you’ve just received that much coveted email that states you have been invited to interview for a PA program. The email contains some basic information about the format of the interview day and at the bottom it reads, “dress is business professional.” I don’t know about you, and maybe its because I’m a girl, but I freaked out. What am I supposed to wear? Do I have to wear a pant suit? Do I have to wear heels? All of these questions flooded my mind. It took me back to 8th grade when you’d go out to the mall with your friends and you’d all text each other to coordinate what to wear because you didn’t want to be the over or undressed person in the group. So I’m going to be your girlfriend for the day and let you know exactly what everyone else will be wearing so you can feel comfortable and confident come interview day.

Guys, you’re easy. Business professional dress for men is pretty standard. Collared button up shirt, dress slack, and a suit jacket. Fellas just make sure you invest in a pair of dress socks as well. Nothing screams unprofessional like your white Hanes ankle socks showing when you sit down and your pant legs ride up. Also don’t forget a belt. I don’t know why, but men that wear a suit without a belt just rubs me the wrong way. It screams “my mom wasn’t there to help me get ready this morning.” Also, while we are on the topic of feet, do not, I repeat, do NOT wear Vans. There is nothing about Vans that strike me as business or professional. What a nice pair of dress shoes. You don’t want to look like you’re going to prom in 1999, back when wearing suits and chucks was cool. The only debatable point in my opinion about men’s dress for interviews comes down to the tie. Some men choose to forego a tie, and while I don’t think that will keep you from getting into PA school, it definitely doesn’t hurt to wear one. Just keep it simple, a plain, solid colored tie that blends well with your suit jacket color. A tie just says you are willing to go the extra mile in professionalism and that’s huge. Also its a little way to show some of your personality with a pop of color in a sea of navy and black suits. And for bonus points, match your tie to your dress socks!

So ladies, we’re the ones who get fashion anxiety and we also have a myriad of options when it comes to professional dress. So I’m going to tell you about my attire for my first interview f0r  PA school and how I adjusted my ensemble going forward.

The school I was interviewing at stressed the importance of individuality in your interview attire. Don’t feel like you have to wear a navy or black suit to impress us, they said. Don’t try to be something you’re not, they said. So of course, I listened, and I felt so uncomfortable and on edge the entire day. I wore a charcoal gray and grayish blue geometric pencil dress with a black blazer. It was professional, but also slightly edgy and feminine which is “my style”, as they asked for. Every other girl at the interview however was dressed in a navy or black suit, so of course I stood out. I felt embarrassed and underdressed and that I wasn’t as qualified as the other women there. The rest of the day I was so focused on how I should’ve worn something different, and I wasn’t devoting myself to my interview.

I was not dressed inappropriately by any means, but I was not dressed the same as my peers which made me feel like I was the odd man out. For my next interviews, I determined to blend in and dress just like everyone else.

I still couldn’t wear a pant suit though, that seemed too Hillary Clinton for me, so I opted for a skirt suit instead. Pants are totally fine if that is what you feel more comfortable in. Just be sure that your pants are not ill fitting. You don’t want them to be too tight in the butt or that will look inappropriate. You also want to be sure that they are hemmed so you aren’t dragging a few inches of pant along the floor all day. I wore a navy pencil skirt with a matching navy suit jacket. Finding a suit jacket that flatters a women’s body is almost impossible, and for me it was important to find something that didn’t totally diminish who I was. I ended up with a jacket that wasn’t fitted, but it had a feminine cut to it that looked sharp and feminine at the same time. I opted for a simple off white blouse since my suit jacket was a little edgier. I paired it with a pair of nude, closed toe kitten heels. Heels are not required, many women wore flats but I feel more comfortable in heels. Whether you wear heels or flats, your shoes must be closed toe. Peep toe shoes, while cute and fashion forward, are not particularly business professional and should be avoided. And do not wear heels unless you really are comfortable in them. Almost all schools give you a tour of the school as part of your interview day and you don’t want to be hobbling around in heels that hurt your feet or that make you look like a newborn deer walking for the first time. One important thing to remember that adds a classy touch if you’re going to wear a skirt suit is that you NEED to wear panty hose. I know they are outdated, but panty hose are professional so suck it up. Another thing to be aware of is your nails. Make sure your nails are trimmed and even. If you do decide to paint your nails, keep it simple. Either use a light pink/nude color, or a classic french tip. You will want to keep jewelry to a minimum as well. I suggest only wearing a simple pair of stud earrings, if anything I at all. I opted for a pair of small pearl earrings to complete my look.

Ladies you also want to keep makeup to a tasteful minimum. Interview day is not the day to try out the new red lipstick you just bought from Sephora or to try contouring for the first time. Be authentic to who you are, but if you like to experiment with makeup, then maybe be a little more tame. There’s no need for a smokey eye, but a little eyeshadow and mascara will show that you are put together. This goes for perfume also; you don’t want to overwhelm your interviewer with 30 pumps of your Chanel #5. Just a light dab on your wrists or neck is more than enough.

When I went to my remaining interviews dressed in this manner, I felt a wave of relief. I know this sounds ridiculous but it made me feel like we were on the same playing field now. Like before, they were all superior to me and had a leg up on the competition because they were wearing the “cookie cutter” interview attire. I spent hours and hours preparing for my interview, yet walking in and seeing everyone dressed the same, and me dressed nothing like them, made me forget all my preparations and I was once again that little 8th grader walking around the mall in yoga pants and flip flops when my gal pals were dressed to the nines. There is something about the way we dress that really makes us feel at ease in a situation, or completely bewildered. I hope that this blog post can help some of you pre-PAs, and really anyone venturing out into the professional world, feel that much more confident and prepared when you walk into an interview and that you can command the room, and not let the room command you.