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!
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/