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What to wear for on-campus interviews

On-campus interviewing season is upon us.  I participated in the mock interview program at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law a few weeks ago and I’m going back for on-campus interviews in less than two weeks.

I remember participating in on-campus interviews myself.  I think it is an experience you never forget.

But it’s also an experience many people seriously overthink.

When I got back to my office from the mock interview program, interview attire came up in a conversation with another attorney. And, particularly, the fact that interviewees obsess about what to wear.

It’s an especially hot topic for the ladies; there are numerous online discussions about what makeup and jewelry are appropriate for OCI. There are hot debates about whether it is appropriate to wear a shell or fine-gauge sweater under one’s suit jacket instead of a collared shirt, and, if you wear a collared shirt, whether the collar should stay inside the jacket or over the lapels.

Not to mention the infamous skirt vs. pants debate. And, if you are married, should you wear your wedding ring to an interview?

My colleague commented that he really doesn’t notice what interviewees are wearing unless it is something really over-the-top.  But at the same time, there are probably interviewers who do care whether you wear a skirt or pants, pearls or a pendant, or 1 1/2- or 2-inch heels.

So yes, you will invariably be safe if you carry a leather portfolio and wear a well-fitting, dark gray suit with a white button down shirt and black shoes — for the ladies, make that a skirt suit with pantyhose and 1 1/2-inch heels; for the men, add an understated tie.

But if you are not comfortable in what you are wearing, even if you are dressed to technical perfection, you run a significant risk that your interview just will not feel right, which will make it much more difficult to convince the interviewer that you are right for the job.

And think about it: If the person the firm sends to interview applicants cares so much about your attire, what does that say about the firm’s culture? How do you feel about that?

So what would I recommend? Wear a suit. Make sure it is clean. Make sure it fits appropriately. Don’t wear anything absurd. Your clothes should not compete with you for your interviewer’s attention, but you should also not try to become someone that you are not just for the sake of an interview. In short, wear something professional and understated that makes you feel comfortable and confident.

As for me, I interviewed for my clerkship wearing a brown pantsuit with a salmon-colored, fine-gauge sweater, small earrings, an understated necklace and 3-inch heels. I never carried a portfolio. I was comfortable. I felt good. The interview felt right. And I got the job.