LOS ANGELES -- Lucky you. You've got a job interview.
Not only do you have to act confident when your palms are damp enough to moisten postage stamps and your stomach is lurching like an off-balance Maytag, but prospective employers expect you to look great, too.
No, not like you're going on a date or to a party, but professional and businesslike. Come to an interview with an outfit that's appropriate for the job and the company, said numerous local employers, who shared horror stories about people they never hired and tips for the types they would like to hire.
"We're constantly amazed at what women wear to interviews," said Diane Williams, a staffing specialist at Apple One employment agency in West Hills, Calif., which specializes in administrative positions at the executive level. "We interviewed a woman who came to us in a suit and looked fine, so we sent her on an interview for a corporate-level position. But the client called us to say that she showed up in a sexy denim dress with heaps of pearl necklaces and huge hoop earrings."
And then there was the woman applying for a $58,000-a-year executive position who arrived in a suit, then proceeded to take off her jacket, revealing a white transparent blouse with a turquoise bra underneath.
When dressing to impress a potential boss, there are a few standard guidelines to follow: Men should wear a suit or sport coat with a shirt and tie. Women should wear a suit or a dress with a blazer. A pantsuit might be OK for a woman who would be working in a back office where she's not visible to the public or clients, but it's not recommended.
Some employers are a tad fussy.
"If I'm interviewing a woman secretary, I'd expect to see her in a suit, tailored pantsuit or conservative dress with stockings and closed-toe pumps," said Lorie Messineo, an employment representative for Hughes Aircraft's Missile Systems Group in Canoga Park, Calif. "Skirts should be midknee and earrings should be small and not dangly; pearl studs are perfect. She should never wear loud prints, leather skirts, miniskirts, city shorts or boots."
Applicants for engineering positions, Ms. Messineo said, should come for an interview in a suit, white or blue shirt and tie, with trimmed facial hair and hair no longer than the collar line.
Don Vezina, owner of Sales Consultants of Ventura, Calif., a recruiting firm for national manufacturing companies, scrutinizes potential sales and marketing employees right down to their button-down Oxford shirts. He prefers gray or dark blue Brooks Brothers suits.
"Shoes are important, too, and they should be of good leather in a wingtip or buckled style," he said.
Those who like to dress with a bit more joie de vivre will find retail businesses more understanding. But leave the nose rings and bustiers at home, warn several in the business.
Saleswomen are expected to be fashionable at most retail stores, but it must be appropriate, said Jennifer Livingston, assistant manager of the Canoga Park Contempo Casuals women's clothing store.
"Just because jeans and tank tops are in right now doesn't make them good for a job interview," she said.
Some employers say clothes make the difference when they chose an employee.
When Pam Worden, principal of Plummer Street School in Sepulveda, Calif., must select between two candidates, she often favors the person with the sharper image, she said.
"But I'd wonder about a person with an overly perfect appearance, since teachers are working with children, and they can get dirty," she said.
Looking for that first job or part-time job at a supermarket, drug store or fast-food restaurant? You'll be overdressed in a suit, but don't think you can wander in after a day at the beach.
Still not sure what to wear for your next job interview?
Scope out the office parking lot and watch people as they arrive for work, suggested Hughes' Ms. Messineo. "After work, they may not look their best," she said, laughing.