When Liv Miller was preparing to interview for a new job at a renewable energy utility supplier, she researched the company’s recent acquisitions, wrote questions for her potential colleagues and planned her outfit. To a point.
“I wore what I would normally wear for a more formal day at work: a blazer, a sheath dress, make-up, nice jewellery,” she says. “But I definitely kept my fuzzy slippers on instead of tights and heels.”
Welcome to job interviews in the age of Zoom. In a moment when most of us can’t really go anywhere, plenty of people are still making moves – career moves. Instead of firm handshakes and tea runs with colleagues, an ever-growing population of jobseekers and university leavers is navigating a job market that has become almost entirely virtual. Which is a hell of a thing to dress for, when you think about it.
“It’s been very strange,” agrees Leah White, currently two months into her new job as a fashion and beauty communications officer at John Lewis. In less unprecedented times, she might have opted to mark her first day by wearing a new dress, or a blazer and smart trousers. “I felt I had to find a balance between choosing a nice first-day outfit and also remembering that most of my new colleagues were going to be dressed more casually than usual.”
So she went for a white T-shirt, noting that “the accessories have become very important.” Her go-to pieces are chunky gold hoops, sparkly hair clips and face-framing headbands, which she relies on to liven up plain T-shirts and fuchsia silk blouses alike. Even if she wears said blouses with joggers and Ugg slippers (the unofficial footwear of lockdown).
While many new hires met at least a colleague or two in a pre-lockdown interview, others have gone through entire recruitment processes remotely. Miller (who got the job) went from a first-round interview via Zoom in early March to starting her job as senior commercial adviser in mid-May – all without ever setting foot in the office or meeting her team offline. “Because we didn’t have handshakes and eye contact, I was very aware – probably a bit paranoid – about how I was coming across, and making sure that everything that comes across in a Zoom call was putting my best foot forward.”
“The difficulty is that you lose so many of the natural cues you would get in an office,” agrees Anna Berkeley, a personal stylist. “You have to be really on-it for those cues when you’re working remotely, and be ready to smile and listen a lot in the beginning.”
In terms of what to wear, “Go with something you’re really confident about.” A favourite colour is a good place to start – when in doubt, match something to your eyes. If you buy one thing, “it’s got to be jewellery”. But nothing jangly or distracting – in fact, it’s best to keep everything really simple. “Stick with what you’re comfortable with, rather than going above and beyond.”
The key is identifying your personal low-effort, high-reward formula for work-from-home style. Preeti Varma, who started a new job as a director at a market research company in April, has found that higher necklines (she loves a mock-neck jumper) help direct attention where she wants it to go during client presentations and focus groups. “I’m expecting people to look at me while I present, and wearing something with a high neck, with glasses, helps draw the eye to my face.’
Just because the rest of an outfit is off-screen doesn’t mean it should be an afterthought, however. “Of course I wear shoes! It’s something that puts me fully in the zone,” says Laurel Violet, currently interviewing for several early-career roles with museums, galleries and auction houses. A colleague from a previous job at an auction house taught her the importance of always wearing good footwear. “If you’re wearing shabby shoes, the client will always notice, and distrust you. They want us to be precise.”
To shoe or not to shoe
Now, slipping into her favourite Gianvito Rossi Portofino 60s (“at first they look like granny-ish kitten heels, but they give you tiny baby ankles, like Meghan Markle”) provides a little psychological fillip before a video interview. “Heels make you feel serious and sit up straighter. Your posture is better, which is important on a Zoom call, especially a long one when it would be easy to start to slump and look less interested.”
While many women say they would feel ‘ridiculous’ wearing heels for a video interview or another day working at home, Berkeley is unequivocal. “Put the heels on,” she instructs. “Do whatever you need to do to feel the part, even though nobody can see.”
Differences of opinion on to shoe or not to shoe aside, everyone agrees on the importance of demarcating specific work zones and staging those scenes. Backgrounds especially count during interviews, when anything messy or busy can distract from even the most qualified candidate. “You don’t want laundry in the background,” Miller says. She stacked books to bring her laptop camera to eye level (one of Tom Ford’s top tips, and a great way to avoid up-nostril shots), positioned a lamp behind her computer for flattering lighting, and shut the cats out of her office, which is really her spare room (“they can’t be trusted”).
Experienced interviewers also advise spot-checking your appearance in your camera before the interview starts, keeping a hairbrush and lip balm close for last-second touch-ups (scaly lips show up on camera), and making sure you have a notebook and glass of water close by.
And remember that the people on the other end of the camera aren’t the only ones mining your appearance for information. “Usually when you go to the office, you leave your home self behind,” Miller says. “Once you’re peering into someone’s bedroom or study on a Zoom call, really getting a snapshot of their home life, you do feel you’re getting to know them on a more personal level.”
The goal, of course, is to make it past the interviews and the awkward WFH months, and actually meet the people on the other end of the camera. “We’ve had some of those calls where you bring a glass of wine and chat, but it’s not the same. Zoom can only do so much,” Miller says. “The day we do go back to the office, there’s going to be a very big pub session in store.”
The Daily Telegraph