Monthly Archives: February 2014

Interview challenge: under $350

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I thought I’d give myself a small challenge today and see what it might take to suit up in pieces I might actually wear again.

I decided that sale items were fair game if they weren’t one-of-a-kind close-outs, but I made sure that the pieces I put into my hypothetical shopping bag met a certain standard–they had to be versatile enough that I would mix them in with other things I might wear once hired and they had to be good quality pieces that would stand up to scrutiny (no unlined jackets, no trousers that wrinkle if you look at them wrong, nothing that looks like it might not last a day’s wear–nothing that would go to the back of the closet and stay there for good).

What made the cut ?

I started by finding a jacket I liked that had some matching pant options. LOFT was having a sale so I gravitated to this suit, knowing that they offer a good range of sizes and that the fit and finish would be very good. Once the jacket and pants were settled, I moved on to a top. Since the jacket is an open style, I wanted a color to punch up the outfit a bit, but I didn’t want to spend money on a colored silk or poly shell which I might move to the back of my closet. I like T’s under jackets. They’re versatile and cheap and truly the Target brands are great ones (there’s no need to premium dollar here). And then it was on to accessories. Timex makes a great classic watch. Since real pearls can be had at the same price or less than many women’s retailers, I chose real ones. I opted for a pair of classic black leather pumps–in a rather non-neckbreaking height. And then, a Zara tote that looks almost as good as it would in leather.

Total cost: $341

Thanks a lot

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Fewer than half of the people I have interviewed have ever bothered to send me a thank you note. Those that did truly stood out from the rest of the pack and, if they had already made a favorable impression, this reinforced my positive opinion of them.

There was a time in the tech industry when the notion of a thank you note, even one sent via email, came across as tragically uncool. The notes were viewed as something from a past generation of workers. Hiring processes could complete in the span of a few days. And employees were so eager to prove themselves “rock star” talent with no need to appear grateful. Those times are behind us.

I have colleagues who have made the statement “I would never hire someone who did not send a thank you note.” I remember hearing that and sort of freezing in place, thinking that, had I not sent one, I would not be where I was–over such a seemingly small thing. The note would have no apparent bearing on my ability to do the job or my qualifications. But the note (or lack of a note) did convey how I might conduct myself on the job–it signaled my ability to be gracious, my consideration of others’ time, and my understanding of and willingness to fit in with business formalities.

And, if you’re wondering whether to use email or send a paper note, consider the hiring timeline. If they have said that they will get back to you in a day or two, by all means follow up via email. You run the risk of being lost in an inbox, but better that you get the message in front of them before a decision is made. But if some time can be afforded, a handwritten note on a classic card really makes an impression.

Stumped on stationery choices? Your goal is an undesigned designed card on high quality card stock with a heavy envelope in a cream or light blue. My top recommendation Crane’s note cards.

In the wild: gone wrong

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Sometimes we make poor outfit choices. We all do. We’re rushed. Or we get fixated on grabbing for our favorite items. But sometimes things go very wrong–as they did for our consultant who turned up this week looking less than the put-together field expert she should have been.

Her choices: a Nehru collared jacket in dusty rose velvet with a row of baby buttons up the front, black poly-blend, pleated slacks, a black rib knit turtleneck, pink topaz drop earrings, mother of pearl and horn bracelet watch, a long gold wire-wrap necklace with iridescent burgundy crystal drops, black athletic anklets with grey trim, terribly scuffed black loafers, and a black chiffon hair bow. I’ve done my best to recreate the actual outfit below. Words don’t come close to describing how wrong the overall outfit looked all pulled together.

When I thought back on it (and seriously, I could not stop thinking about how wrong it was), many of the key individual items weren’t wrong on their own. Where did she go wrong? First, like a bad magpie, she chose too many of her favorite pretty, pretty things to adorn herself. Second, no one over the age of ten or not cast in the remake of Heather’s can pull off a big hair bow. And third, from the ankles down she dressed as though she were working a shift at Cracker Barrel.

But is the outfit salvageable?

Yes!

And I even figured out two possible ways to style the core pieces and look like a polished professional ready to instill confidence in her paying clients.

It doesn't have to be like that

Skirting the issue

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I confess. I’m like a deer in the headlights when it comes to dressing the skirt suit for an interview. I love the way a skirt suit can look so fabulously polished and yet, I have such an aversion to wearing “pantyhose” that it is territory that I avoid like the plague. Bare legs paired with a dress or skirt haven’t been on the “no-no” list for years here in California unless you’re in the court room or in a bank. And in my mind, they are the trappings of an older generation (not to mention that I my pumps always slip off my feet when I wear them with hosiery). However, the interview dynamic dictates that we fall back to more formal, conservative attire–so bare legs become more of a question, even if they’re something that would totally fly in the normal office environment.

I recommend that if you go the way of the skirt suit, you absolutely err on the side of hosiery for your first interview. Go skin tone. Get as close of a match as possible. As sheer as possible. Sheer black nylons were left behind in the last millennium (for good reason). And opaque tights (even in black and even if they’d totally be your go-to at the office) can make even the chicest suit look instantly matronly. Nordstrom has some good nude options that won’t break the bank. Calvin Klein has some great super sheers, too. And of course, Wolford probably offers the best of the bunch–but their prices aren’t for most budgets.

Pro-tip: Avoid stay-ups–they never do. And skip the garters/stockings combo–the fasteners can show through thinner suiting material.

Or wear trousers. I do.

Cats and dogs

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It’s been a rough winter season for most of the US, but we’re just beginning to see rain here in California. Inclement weather can really throw a wrench in pulling together your interview look but if you have the right gear, you can still look polished.

It’s fine to carry a coat and umbrella to your interview. Your coat should ideally be a trench style that fits over your suit jacket. Leave your bulky ski jackets at home. If you’re braving snow, slush, or salted sidewalks, it’s acceptable to carry a tote bag big enough to hold your boots, and change into interview shoes when you arrive at your destination but avoid a dramatic costume change in the lobby.

Need some inspiration? Say no more…

cats and dogs

I negotiated and lost the offer

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“I negotiated my job offer and it got pulled” was the title of a blog post I read this morning. It cited the stories of two candidates who had received offers they thought were low but when the candidates asked for more money, the offer was rescinded. Although the recounting of the stories are second-hand, several things stood out about the scenarios.

In the first account, the candidate asked for more than the they were willing to offer and then went on to describe at least two more phone calls in which they tried to negotiate the salary up. Shortly thereafter, the HR person said the candidate “offended her and wasn’t a team player” and that they were moving on to another candidate. This seems like a case of “enough is enough” to me and the candidate should have picked up on the subtext and tone of the conversations far before it came to this. While it was good to ask once, and possibly counter, again, the offer process for a job isn’t a stand-in for the negotiation you would do at Crazy Eddie’s used-car lot. If the offer is fair and in the ball-park of the going rate, let it go. I’ve seen this “persistence” first-hand as a hiring manager. You’ve revealed an important piece of information about your work style and all you are really doing is exhausting me and proving that you will be a problem to manage once you’re working for me. The candidate closed their accounting of the situation with the comment “I read a lot about offers and they all say ‘negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.'” That was a wrong interpretation. It meant “negotiate”–once. Don’t just accept the first offer, but the repetition of the word? That part was just for written emphasis.

In the second account, the candidate asked for a 10% increase of the salary that was offered and justified that since they would need to move cross country. If the offer was already at or above market rate, asking for a perpetual salary increase to cover a one time cash outlay was a bad move. However, I find it difficult to believe that an employer wouldn’t hear a request for more money, and if that wasn’t in the cards, explain that the offer was “the offer” and the candidate could take or leave it. I think there is a lot more to what happened here than was disclosed.

You should always “negotiate”. The author of the blog that kicked off this post says you shouldn’t. I disagree. I see the point she is making, but I disagree. And, I say that as someone who has not always done negotiated (for specifically the reasons she cites!). Early in my career I had offers I felt were fair and generous and I graciously just accepted. But, as a good friend pointed out, what would have happened if I had asked for more? What if I had said, 9 bananas sound great, but I’d really prefer 10 (pro-tip #1 here, it’s always better to have a tighter reason than just “I’d prefer…”). They might have said “no”. They have 9 bananas. And pro-tip #2, that’s where you stop. But they might have said “yes”. And I would have had 10 bananas. And my next raise would have been on top of 10 bananas. All for the very low price of asking for it.

The folks claiming they lost the offer over the ask? Depending on how you look at it, it could be said that “negotiating” was the cause. But really, I think it was the “how” it was done, rather than that it was done at all.

Interview style recon

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It can often be difficult to figure out what exactly to wear to your first interview. And while I stand by my claim that you can’t go wrong with this number, the right outfit can vary by occupation and industry.

If you’re going to interview at a larger company and have the benefit of some spare cycles prior to your interview, a small lobby stake-out can tell you a lot about the workplace attire. However, it may not reveal what’s expected of you as an actual candidate. As an example, I worked for a number of years in the engineering arm of a high profile software/hardware startup. While I wore jeans, company logoed unisex tees, and Keds to work, my expectations were that everyone I interviewed would come prepped and dressed to show me their interview dance. Even in that most laid-back environment, a suit was a given for at least the first round and the absence of one didn’t go without remark.

Cue Glassdoor.com. Although I have visited Glassdoor before, it wasn’t until today that I had noticed that some users were including comments on attire. The volume of posts that include style comments is low, but it could lend some insight into what you can expect. You need to join if you want to view more than ten reviews but accounts are free so there’s not much to lose. And, Glassdoor reviews cover a wealth of meatier topics that can help you know what to expect and get you prepped for questions.