How to Dress for a Temp Job Interview

Unlike any other job sector, the use of temps has jumped more than 50 percent in the last four years (Source: American Staffing Association). This is terrific news for the optimistic worker who actually wants to be temporary, and it’s not bad news for the pessimistic worker who really doesn’t want to be temporary, but needs the work to pay the bills. For better or worse, temp jobs are on the rise. But the question that no one is asking is this: are temporary employees’ skirt hems on the rise, as well? What’s the story with temp attire anyway? How exactly are temps supposed to dress?

Temps are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, but fashion is fickle. We know the hiring trends, but do we know the fashion trends on the temp scene? We know the employers’ hiring numbers, but do we know what employers consider ‘cute little numbers’? Or what they consider just too ‘little’? Or too casual? Or too loud? Or too sexy? Or too messy? Or too ‘90s? The professional ensemble extends beyond just clothes. I think we can all agree what an assault on the nose too much perfume is, but what about hair spray? Can we all agree what an assault on the eyes some hair styles cause? What about make-up? Lack of make-up? Nail polish? Jewelry? The list is endless. You might think that it basically comes down to common sense, personal opinion and style. If only it were that simple…

Here’s a typical scenario: A temp agency emails me with a low-paying temp job prospect that you are humbled but grateful to receive. Unfortunately, sometimes even the most qualified and professionally savvy temp has to interview for a $10/hour temp job. The agency’s email includes a 4-page document detailing ways to prepare for an interview. It provides basic suggestions – review their web site to get familiar with the company, prepare five questions to ask the interviewer, have references available, etc… but it also includes one brief and unclear point: the company’s dress code is business casual, so they recommended you wear a dark-colored suit to the interview. Since when is a suit of any color considered ‘business casual’, you ask yourself. When was the last time you wore a suit? Do you even have a suit? Let your interview outfit conundrum begin!

Following the suggestions of the temp agency, you google the company to familiarize yourself with it and seek out those five questions to ask. But you’re also hoping to get a sense of the company’s culture to assess if you actually should wear a suit. How emphatic is the agency’s suggestion? You decide to start browsing online and window shopping. With your unpredictable employment stability, but predictable wage of $10/hour, you don’t have a lot of options. Whatever you choose to wear could get you the job, or it could just get you pity.

I have heard and I agree that it’s always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed, but it’s entirely possible that the person interviewing you will be wearing a t-shirt and jeans. You may end up feeling like you look desperate or nerdy in any professional garb you wear. If you have suffered this awkward situation in the past, you may opt for the timeless and safe cashmere-sweater-and-tweed-skirt outfit. Very smart-looking. But the person interviewing you may be old-fashioned and/or narrow-minded and does not see “timeless and smart” – they only see “no suit”. You may end up feeling embarrassed and defenseless – they did tell you to wear a suit after all. Suit it is!

I have also heard and I also agree that there is no accounting for taste. Since your financial resources are limited, you may need to choose between trendiness and quality. You may choose trendiness and buy a new, inexpensive suit mass-manufactured for a Swedish chain store, and risk breaking out in hives. The hives may be an allergic reaction to the synthetic fibers or a reaction from selling out to The Man. Or you may choose quality and find a perfectly preserved, cotton-candy pink, three-quarter sleeve 1960’s skirt suit and risk the possibility of feeling like a little kid playing dress-up, or worse, you may not be taken seriously. My personal opinion is that the quality option is infinitely better than wearing anything manufactured in a sweat shop. Obviously these are extreme examples. I believe it is sound advice to follow the lead of your local news anchors’ wardrobe, but for clothes only. Pay no attention to their hair and make-up. You do not want to end up looking like a Stepford Wife. For your own sanity, avoid looking for above-the-neck decorating ideas on Pinterest. The onslaught of contradictory recommendations yielded from a simple ‘make-up for interview’ search will give you bags under your eyes, and not the Gucci kind. Resist Pinterest. This cannot be understated, although your make-up probably should be.

A dizzying number of articles have been written about appropriate hairstyles for job interviews. If you have straight hair, you shouldn’t have any trouble. If you have curly hair, it is an entirely different story. “The goal is to wear your hair how you’re most comfortable… You want to look polished but still look like you. Trying to take on another persona just to get the job probably isn’t going to work out”, says celebrity hairstylist Mark Townsend in a Dec. 2013 article in Cosmo. But then he proceeds to list myriad ways in which to make curly hair really straight including a blowout, a sleek ponytail, a chic French twist, a sleek top knot, a low bun, etc…. None of these styles seem comfortable, and may not be very “you” at all. My advice about curly hair is my same advice about most things in life these days: keep it simple, nothing too crazy. Imagine that you are having your picture taken the day of your interview. Think about the picture on your driver’s license, your passport, your high school yearbook. You may not get a chance to have that picture retaken for five or ten years, a lifetime or your next job interview, whichever is later. You don’t want to wring your hands worrying that your make-up lost you a job, so you may want to reconsider that shiny apple-red lipstick as featured in any Robert Palmer video circa 1982 before you leave the house.

There is no formula, no standard, and certainly no shortage of recommendations for what is appropriate attire for an interview. Amidst the effort, attention, and care you are meticulously putting into your outfit, do not forget the reason you’re getting dressed up in the first place: to get hired. Potential employers are more likely to read a neat and orderly resume than they are to read one that’s been doused in perfume. In the same way that it is immeasurably less stressful when your resume is accurate, it is immeasurably less stressful when your presentation of yourself is accurate. Personal expression will comfort you in familiarity, and it could also help you stand out from other candidates. Try wearing something small with a dash of color. Confidence and authenticity may be the only things you can control, and they are probably the most important things you can wear to a job interview. Now go out there and knock their business casual and not-too-flashy socks off!

Works Cited

Cardellino, Carly. “The Perfect Hair and Makeup to Nail Your Dream Job Interview”. Dec. 12, 2013. [online] Available at:  http://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/beauty/how-to/a17046/cosmo-beauty-advice-column-2/

American Staffing Association. ASA, 2013. Accessed on March 24, 2015 [online]. Available at https://americanstaffing.net/staffing-research-data/asa-staffing-industry-data/staffing-employment-sales-survey/

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Temp of the Year

Hello, there!

Long time! Looong time.

I got an email reminder the other day that my blog domain slushkitty.com is about to expire. You know what that means? Slushkitty’s 3rd birthday is coming up on March 20th! Happy birthday, you dear thing! For funsies, I looked back at my very first entries. From March 20th to March 29th of 2012, I posted three times. THREE TIMES! Cut to March 2015: I have not posted in six months. SIX MONTHS! I really have no reason. It’s not like I have been too busy working or something – I keep getting canned from temp jobs. Not really. It was just that one. And I walked out of another one. But just that one.

I have been under-employed or unemployed since May of 2013 – that’s almost two years! I have been temping since November 2013, and they have been sending me on a lot of assignments lately. The sympathetic and wonderful recruiter I work with even mentioned something about “Temp of The Year” and I am not even kidding. The more I am out there both begrudgingly and gratefully, the more Ghosts of Temp Jobs Past have been visiting me. Come, my benevolent anti-Scrooges, and take a walk with me….

My temping career began when I lived in San Francisco during the dot com boom, which lasted roughly from 1997 to 2000 (I had to google that because let’s just say I was totally out to lunch during those years). For five years, I worked at a flower company, being sure I wore flowers in my hair, until sadly they closed their SF office and I got laid off. Someone suggested I go to his staffing agency to get some temp jobs until I got a permanent one – he alleged they were really nice. I called and they wanted me to come in. So far, so good, right? I walked into the interview confident, friendly, adorable, and oh so very very high. The jerk told me that the way I was dressed made me look like I was interviewing for a job as a bike messenger. I walked out of the interview withered, surly, looking like a bike messenger apparently, and still oh so very very high.

When I taped myself back together, I started working with another agency. My first assignment was at The American Lung Association. I stepped out like every 20 minutes for a cigarette. It wasn’t the best match, but it was a really pleasant experience. Living in and booming with SF, I found a permanent job in no time, and I really loved that one, too. Until I didn’t. After five years working there, I whimpered with great haste back home to Boston where I gave temping another try.

I don’t want to talk about that glaring SF –> Boston gap in my resume – it’s really depressing. Let’s just say I was totally out to lunch during those 1.5 years. I eventually got a job selling plastic maracas for assholes. It sucked. I got another job selling dial-up modems for assholes. It sucked. It sucked and it sucked and it sucked my soul out for nearly six years. A sales rep sent me a vibrator in the mail and shortly thereafter I got laid off. Long story.

As I said, I have been under-employed or unemployed since May of 2013. At this time last year, I found myself working two consecutive temp assignments with two different people who had Tourette’s syndrome. Whoooop whoooop. I worked a bunch of other jobs since then, and they were pretty dull, so dull I can only vaguely remember what they were.

This past Christmastime, I got a job where the fact that I have zero sense of direction was confirmed. Auntie told me that she read that some people are just born without that sense. Something about in utero brain damage. In any case, they had me going on bank and post office runs every day. And every single day, no matter what direction I took, I wound up in Post Office Square. It was like the city version of The Blair Witch Project. Using the GPS on my phone was not helpful at all because I was always within feet of my destination. No matter how fast I ran so I could see the little arrow showing me which direction I was running, I could never find the turn I was supposed to take to get to my destination. Because it was Christmastime, I blamed how long I was gone on the long lines at the Post Office. Thank you, baby Jesus!

That assignment ended because they found me another job covering for a woman who was going on maternity leave. It was right by my house and the company was growing at an impressive rate. There was a good chance that it would turn into a permanent job! Woohooo! It didn’t. Partly because I have no sense of direction. The guy I was working with was one of those cooler-than-thou modern hippies – he had long but carefully coiffed hair and interesting facial hair. He had a framed picture on his desk of his really pretty girlfriend on the beach looking lovingly at him, while he looked the other way in contrived contemplation. He talked and blinked slowly. He never smiled. He recycled. Anyway, the company was in a warehouse in two huge rooms where everyone was in their 20s, hip, and scooted on scooters up the aisles of the open workspace. I was being trained somewhere in the maze of aisles where everyone looked the same, and he told me he’d meet me back at his work area. I roamed around, haunted again by the Blair Witch, everything looking familiar, and then Hey! I know where I am!, thought I. But I found myself standing right in front of him. I said, “Wow! You’re fast!” thinking he just beat me there. He glared at me with his smileless face and said, “No. I haven’t moved. The company only has two rooms.” I had just walked in a huge circle.

At lunch, they ordered burritos for everyone, so that was nice, but I was kind of a mess the rest of the day. I had that Hysterical Stupidness I may have told you about. I get so nervous that my brain feels paralyzed and can’t understand the simplest instructions, and just “yes” everyone to death while I fight back the tears afraid to ask for help. I chanted in my head all day the mantra, “This is your first day. No one expects you to know what you’re doing except you. You are the only one who expects you to know what you’re doing. This is your first day. No one expects you to know what you’re doing except you. You are the only one who expects you to know what you’re doing”. When I left for the day, I gave everyone a huge smile. Never let them see you sweat. Huge toothy smile and big wave, “See you guys tomorrow!”.

Seven hours later in Cambridge, TOIL and I were walking down the sidewalk when he gave me a double-take, stopped me, and said, “look at me”. He gave a hearty laugh and told me I had something stuck in my teeth. I had a goddam head of lettuce from the burrito at lunch stuck in my teeth all day. The image of myself, huge toothy smile, “See you guys tomorrow!” nearly made me lose the burrito. That tomorrow was my last day there.

They must have been merciful and not told the temp agency I was incompetent and seemingly not very bright because they had me on another assignment at another law office the next day. It was during those weeks we had 200 feet of snow. I was still shaken from that last job and still suffering Hysterical Stupidness, but I think it went more or less unnoticed – the office was in administrative chaos. They had three receptionists – one was on vacation, one had given her notice, and the other had just walked off the job after three years and didn’t give any notice. The woman I was working for didn’t have time to train me on anything so she gave a mile-high stack of invoices from an entire year that she wanted me to scan and organize. The next day, she came into the copy room where I was scanning my little heart out, and said, “I am so embarrassed to have to ask you this”. I thought she was embarrassed because she had another mile-high stack for me to sort. Nope. She said, “Mr. <ancient partner of the firm> asked me to tell you to do something about your hair.” Wha?!?!? “I am so embarrassed I had to say anything to you”, she said. “Look at my hair! I have bad hair days too and this weather! This weather makes everyone’s hair a little messy”. Wha??!?! My hair looked like it does EVERY day!!! I went into the bathroom to “do something” about my hair, and started sobbing. I called Lily, DLD, and temp place crying my afro off, and they all told me I could leave, gave me permission so to speak to exercise my dignity. I went back into the office, messy winter hair untouched, and told the woman I was leaving, I wasn’t going to fix my hair, and Mr. <ancient partner of the firm> needs to learn some manners. She was very apologetic and told me that he’s a “prick” and she wished she could leave, too. It took some of the sting out.

The temp place asked me to come by since their office was around the corner, and when I got there, they all practically hugged me, lulling me back to the Land of Self-Respect, telling me I have beautiful curly hair, and what was his problem. Lily pointed out that it was a great lesson, and a measure of recovery that I refused to accept unacceptable behavior. Not only did it make me feel bad, but I actually recognized it was demeaning, and did something about it by leaving. Not only did I leave with dignity and grace, it didn’t even occur to me to walk into his office, give him the finger, and tell him to go fuck himself. What’s even better? I didn’t do a damn thing to my hair.

I started this blog saying that I hadn’t really been working, but now that I write about it, I actually have been working quite a bit. I’ve also been getting some seriously ridiculous blog material. I have been working yes, and I also started school, my Final Frontier. (Rest in Peace, Mr. Spock). I am easing my way into school by taking one class, English class “College Writing 111”. My second paper is due Tuesday. My topic is going to be “How to Dress Like a Temp”, and it will emphasize to temps the importance of bringing maps of the city and dental floss, and wearing their naturally beautiful hair and dignity, to all temp assignments at all times.