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Job Interviews: What To Wear

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If you've ever wondered why airline cockpit crews wear those military-like uniforms, think of it this way: How confident would you be if the captain greeted you in a polo shirt and khaki pants as you boarded the plane?

If you're interviewing for a new job-or your first job-it's important to highlight the skills and experience that qualify you for the position. But as if you want your health care career to really take off, your appearance during interviews has to inspire confidence so that you can pilot your way to a happy landing in the job you deserve.

So, from wingtips to Windsor knots and from heels to hairdos, ADVANCE is here to give your career look a makeover that matches the quality of your health care qualifications.

Opinions abound about what to wear (and what not to wear) to a job interview, and no one set of sartorial rules works for every health care setting. That's why it's important to do some reconnaissance about the dress style of your prospective work environment. Don't assume scrubs or lab coats are the only clothes you'll need. During the interview arrangements, ask about the street-clothes dress code, then dress a level or two above that standard.

William Burke, MHP, RT(CV), is the administrative director of South Shore Hospital's Cardiovascular Center in South Weymouth, Mass., and has conducted countless interviews over the years. "Recognize the culture," he says. "Say you were to interview in the information systems department of a facility staffed by 20-something dot-commers. Show up in a three-piece pinstriped suit and they'll look at you as if you had a canary on your head."

If you're applying at a hospital or other open-to-the-public environment, Burke suggests a visit before the interview. "Stop in and talk to patients, or talk to a member of the housekeeping staff, or just walk in and look around quietly," he says. Burke adds that the Internet has made showing up with inadequate information unforgivable. "Google is unbelievable-if you truly want a job so badly you'd throw yourself if front of a train to get it, you have to find out everything, every ounce of research, about the facility's past, present and future," he says.

Why do employers and interviewers place so much stock in the first impressions? "It's like selling a house," says Jeanne Boegemann, RN. "You don't want to give the buyer a reason to walk away." After graduating in May with an associate's degree in nursing, Boegemann in July interviewed at (and was hired by) Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, N.J.

Georgann Bruski, RT(R), is the director of invasive cardiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and frequently interviews candidates for clinical positions in the cardiac catheterization lab. "Once you are hired here, you are an ambassador to patients, their families, your co-workers and every other person who walks in the door," she says. "When people enter a facility, they judge it by the people who work there."

With that in mind, here is a list of interview fashion musts from a variety of expert sources.

 A conservative solid-color suit.

One piece of advice for men and women interviewees alike on which the experts universally agree: Dress conservatively. The de facto interview outfit is a suit (not a sport coat and slacks) and tie for men and a businesslike suit for women.

Jayne Miller is a physician assistant who has interviewed for jobs nearly a dozen times in her career. She recently interviewed for and got a job in the Kansas City area after having worked in San Antonio for years.

"I always wear a suit when I interview, even if they tell me it'll be a casual meeting," Miller says. "They can see me in my nasty scrubs when I get the job, but my interview is when I need to shine, and sometimes doing more than what they expect is a pleasant surprise to them."

Whether your suit is off-the-rack or bespoke, subdued colors in shades of blue and gray are best for men and women alike, fashion mavens say. Many sources caution men about wearing black suits to interviews, though, since the color could be viewed as overly somber. And brown generally is not considered a business color, so better to avoid it.

Chrystal Solola recently interviewed for and landed a job after having worked for 15 years as a PA at a women's health practice in Indiana. "When I interviewed with the CEO of (what would become) my new office, I wore a conservative dark suit with a skirt (as opposed to pants), which is still the standard for women (in my area)," she says.

Rules for avoiding an interview fashion 911: Skirt hemlines should not be more than a few inches above the knee, and slits should be small and centered on the back. Your skirt should cover your thighs when you are seated. Think Geena Davis in "Commander in Chief," not Calista Flockhart in "Ally McBeal."

"You should be covered from clavicle to kneecap," Bruski says.

While not all experts agree, tailored pants suits are appropriate for women in many areas. But some choices are never appropriate for an interview.

"I remember years ago," Solola says, "when one candidate for a job at my office came in for an interview in culottes"-an interview fashion faux pas of the kind Solola vowed never to make herself.

As for fabrics, don't worry if you can't tell gabardine from granola. Men simply should look for suits that are wool or a wool blend; women should seek wool, wool blends or microfiber fabrics.

Miller says local climate and custom can influence interview attire. "When I set out to interview, it was winter in Kansas City, and I owned two heavier-weight dark suits. But when it came time for me to interview in San Antonio in May, those suits would have stuck out like a sore thumb-and I would have suffocated. So I bought two lighter suits, in taupe and sage green, which were more versatile in any climate-and much more appropriate for an interview in southern Texas."

If you haven't interviewed for a job in years, you may no longer own interview-worthy clothes, or your body may have changed since you last wore them. This is where a good tailor can offer advice about the latest in conservative fashion and help with a nip or tuck to your clothes.

As Miller prepared for her most recent interview, she tried on the suits she had bought two years before. Since then, she had lost some weight. "Thank God I pulled them out a week before my interview, because they were virtually hanging on me." She had to get several quick alterations, but she says it was cheaper than buying a new suit.

While there's no need to mirror the latest runway fashions from Milan, make sure that your clothes aren't too far out of style, experts caution. For example, men's lapels that are too wide (three or more inches) or too skinny (an inch or less) can be altered by a tailor.

 A coordinated blouse for women, and a shirt and tie for men.

Women, if you are wearing a black suit, consider a colorful accent such as a scarf near your face to soften the look. Or wear a tastefully colorful knit shell underneath the suit.

For men, a conservative silk necktie is the safest choice, at least at the first interview. If you feel strongly about not wearing a tie, at least wear a collared shirt. Unless you're George Steinbrenner, avoid wearing a turtleneck with a suit.

Generally speaking, it's best to avoid shirts and blouses with busy plaids or stripes. Men can't go wrong with a crisp white shirt-always long-sleeved, no matter what the climate.

"I like to see a nice, neat, clean white or light blue shirt on a male interviewee," Bruski says. And, she adds, make sure your blouse or shirt is neatly pressed. "Wrinkled clothes show me that a person is too lazy to care about appearances. You don't have to come in clothes from Neiman Marcus. Just make sure your clothes are well pressed."

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Job Interviews: What To Wear

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