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Career Strategies for Librarians
Your Visual Presentation: Dressing for an Interview
by Sally Gibson

Workplace attire has become increasingly more casual.  Business casual is now the standard uniform
for many libraries.  However, outfits that are perfectly acceptable at one library might not be tolerated at
another.  Unwritten rules on attire, plus the fashion sense of co-workers, also affect the daily decision of
what to wear to work.  The official dress policy at Creighton University is “no jeans” yet librarians can
wear jeans on occasion as long as they claim to be shifting or doing another “messy” job.  It is amazing
the number of people needed to shift the collection on Fridays!

How do you know what to wear to an interview at an institution that you do not currently work at?  As a
potential employee there is little opportunity to discover the standard dress code at an institution.  
Candidates should keep in mind that the status quo expects the candidate to be wearing formal
business attire.  Therefore it is best to meet expectations and wear classic business attire to a library job
interview.

You do not need to wear a conservative navy suit but you should wear a tailored outfit with a nice cut that
fits well.  An Armani suit is not required, but your choice of attire should be free of gaps, holes, stains and
puckering at the seams.  All hems and buttons should be tightly in place with no dangling strings.  For
men, a suit or a dress shirt and tie, with or without a sports coat, looks very professional.  Women can
choose to wear a suit with either a skirt or pants, or a dress.  A small print or accessory is perfectly
acceptable and allows some of your personality to come through.  Neutral colors like navy, black, gray, or
brown are a safe bet.  In general it is best to wear a tailored outfit that hangs well.  If you have any doubts
about your choice for an interview outfit then do not wear it.  

Do you have a business outfit that gets a lot of compliments every time you wear it?  Is there a color that
looks really good on you?  When deciding what to wear to an interview, choose an outfit that has received
unsolicited praise.  It is usually a more honest response to your overall appearance.  Colleagues and
friends will mention when you look nice, but they hesitate to say anything when you do not.  If you have
any doubts about the impression you make in an outfit, ask someone who is willing to give you an
honest answer.  A trusted friend or sibling is usually willing to tell you that the outfit just does not work.  

You should also feel comfortable and confident in your outfit.  You want to worry about answering
questions, not about what you are wearing or should have worn.  A super conservative suit might fit the
interview stereotype but it is better not to feel as if you are walking around in someone else’s clothes.  
Choose something that makes you believe you are ready to take on the world, or at least the library
interview.  If you feel comfortable in your attire then you can forget about your clothing and focus on the
interview.  Your choice of an interview outfit does not need to be a true reflection of your personality.  Your
actions, manner, and conversation are a better means of representing who you are.  No one is expecting
the standard business attire to mirror your personality.  The search committee will most likely not expect
you to maintain formal business attire once you are hired.  Your true style can emerge after you are
hired.  

It is best to plan for a walking tour of the library as part of the interview.  The length of the tour depends on
the size of the library, so keep that in mind when selecting your shoes.  You want to wear polished dress
shoes that do not leave you limping at the end of the day.  Chances are no one will notice your shoes
unless they are scuffed or falling apart.

Finally, the search committee has one opportunity to meet you in person.  They are looking for clues that
will tell them you are capable of doing the job and will fit into the organization well.  The committee
expects the candidate to know basic information about the library, to ask questions, and to dress in
business attire.  I have never heard about anyone being surprised that the candidate wore a suit, but I
have heard comments about someone wearing jeans on the airplane, a baseball cap to dinner, or a
wrinkled cotton shirt to the interview.  If you are the best-dressed person in the room no one will
comment, but if you are the worst dressed then you can expect several reactions once you leave the
room.

By wearing business attire you meet the expectations of the search committee.  They can focus on what
you say during the interview and not on what you are wearing.  It also ensures that you will be judged on
your skills and ideas alone.  Dressing appropriately is really one of the easiest ways to impress the
search committee.  Interviewing in formal business attire does not guarantee that you will get a job, but it
will not prevent you from landing one.

About the Author:

Sally Gibson is the Reference Librarian/Database Coordinator at Creighton University's Reinert/Alumni
Memorial Library in Omaha, Nebraska.  

Article published September 2003

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