How to Land the Job of Your Dreams: The Arbitrary Interview Process

interview_blogI have been working at Beyond Spots & Dots for two full months. It feels like a lifetime. How did I get so lucky, when some people struggle to find a job they love?

I have been thinking  lately that the whole job search process is a blend of luck and strategy and wit and formula–therefore it is entirely and completely random. There is no “process.” No one is right or wrong, no one has the advantage. It’s everyone for themselves. Yet we try to help each other out by doling out these rules and say that they will work if you follow them to a T.

Like little robots, college students come out of graduation with resumes and cover letters in hand, and carefully practiced answers to interview questions. With a degree, some activities and an internship, they all look the same on paper. What it comes down to must be the interview. Continue reading

Choosing to Face the Ocean

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There were two ways my life could’ve gone. Be comfortable and complacent, taking the easy, known road, however unhappy I may be. Or step out of that comfort zone and dive into completely new waters, struggle through the unknown to discover something I love. I hope you can guess which one I chose. Continue reading

First Day, First Job, Big Sigh of Relief

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Someday I will be able to look back on the time I spent post-graduation running around tables with martini shakers in both hands and ketchup splatters on a starched white shirt, and I’ll laugh. Someday I’ll think back on the time I spent shivering in a swimming pool trying to get a little girl to put her head under the water, and it will be a pleasant memory. Someday I’ll remember the days that I put in four or eight or twelve hours of work and didn’t make a dime, and I’ll be able to better appreciate it.

But today, on the first day of my first real job, all I’m doing is breathing a sigh of relief. Today, all of the temporary jobs and short-term internships and sporadic hours are too recent. The six months I spent in frustration and bewilderment after I graduated without a job are too fresh in my mind. So today, after my first day, all I’ll do is breathe. And someday six months will seem like nothing. The jobs I worked will seem so distant. Someday it will be funnier.

Today I started my job as an Administrative Assistant for Steeltown Entertainment Project, here in Pittsburgh, PA. After interning with this nonprofit organization for several months, the position opened up and was offered to me a few weeks ago. This was the first of hopefully many good days.

On the mountain that is life, I am at the bottom. I haven’t seen much of the world, I haven’t met many people, I haven’t climbed very high. But I have big plans for myself. I have things to do, places to go. I am happy to have this opportunity to take my first step.

I may not have gone very far yet, but I couldn’t have made it here, and I wouldn’t be who I am, without some really great people in my life. My parents are my rock and my home and they let me move back. Jim believed in me more than I believed in myself. Hannah is my therapy, with hour and half phone conversations every week, the best friend I could ask for. Some really awesome PR pros (hopefully you know who you are) served as my role models and social media guides. And some great friends, new and old, were the best distraction.

Thank you to everyone who gave me advice, everyone who taught me anything, and anyone who had to put up with my incessant lament, “why, oh why can’t I get a job?

Now I can stop being stressed and frustrated. I can breathe a sigh of relief and let it all soak in. This is the start of something big, I can feel it.

 

(photo via)

Enough of 2012, Bring on the New Year

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The last time I took a moment to reflect about an entire year, I was a freshman in college and had experienced so much change between high school and the University of Delaware that it would have been wrong for me not to think back on it and appreciate it. At that time, I was growing up, moving out, making new friends, having new experiences and learning from everything.

This too, has been a year of changes. If I could have made a prediction years ago about where I would be at this point in my life, it would not be here. I would not be living at home with my parents, I would not still be serving at a restaurant, I would not even be in Pittsburgh. But now that I’m here, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Today, January 1st, 2013, looks just like yesterday, December 31, 2012. The sky is gray, snowflakes are falling gently from the sky onto what already looks like a foot of snow on the ground. The house is cold, the coffee is brewing, the TV is on. But people love a new year because we all want to say goodbye to the old and look ahead to what we have to come. We want closure for our troubles and we want a new beginning, a fresh start.

Well last night, my fresh start began with a glass of champagne and my dog, hanging out in the kitchen watching my parents and their friends play “Catchphrase.” I had to work last night. And I guess it was a fitting way to end the year. This year that I spent more time in a restaurant waiting tables than I did anywhere else. Why not end it that way too? But this is starting to sound depressing and my year was anything but. So I’ve said before, the best place to begin a story is at the beginning.

Last year I celebrated the new year in Buffalo, New York with a kiss from my boyfriend in a room full of strangers. It was a scene from a movie and it was perfect. A perfect prelude for the year to come.

I was finishing up my senior year of college. From January through May, my days mostly alternated between waitressing and going to classes. During my final semester, I only had to take three classes and had four day weekends. Which of course left more time for working. I worked a lot, but I made a little time for fun.

I enjoyed a memorable end to the production of my student-run television show. We successfully produced five shows during the spring semester and celebrated our accomplishments. I worked with some great people on that show, people with big ideas who will definitely go places. Without them, the show would not have been the same.

Jim and I took a short trip to Washington, D.C. in March to walk through all of the museums. It was an absolutely wonderful day. We went to Virginia Beach for a few days together during our spring break. The weather wasn’t on our side, but we had more fun than I thought possible in such a short amount of time.

In April I was honored to be a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding and watch her walk down the aisle to her new husband, so obviously in love and so obviously perfect for each other.

Jim dragged me to a Rick Ross concert at the end of our senior year. I tried to keep an open mind, allow my musical tastes to expand. But I don’t think they expanded that much.

I graduated from the University of Delaware at the end of May, one day before I turned 22. I graduated cum laude with a degree in Communication, a well-rounded resume and no job to speak of. I decided to celebrate anyway.

And then I had what I’m sure will later become known as The Summer of Frustration. The day after I moved back home, I pulled out the computer and typed up cover letters, tweaked my resume and scoured the job boards. I had goals, I had a system, I read “how-to-get-a-job” blogs and “how-to-ace-an-interview” articles (although I didn’t get many interviews). I updated my social media profiles and launched Measure with Coffee Spoons. I went on a solo trip to New York City to meet with a friend’s boss and talk about her company. And in between all that, I watched seasons three through seven of Grey’s Anatomy. Jim and I travelled back and forth between Pittsburgh and Buffalo. I went to a few Pirates games with my family. I went on my family vacation to Myrtle Beach. I babysat. I taught private swimming lessons. And I started running. All the while, wallowing in self-pity because I was job-less, living at home, and I missed my Delaware friends terribly.

By the end of the summer, I got hired at a new restaurant as a server and things started to look up. I took my nose ring out, got off the couch, and got a Macbook. I started interning at Steeltown Entertainment Project and loved it. I volunteered to work as a production assistant for an independent film being produced in the area.

Through all of that, I met some of the greatest people. I worked with some great servers and chefs and kids they call server’s assistants. People who love restaurant work and people who are in it for the money. People with big dreams and small incomes. People who are juggling school and work and children and husbands. People who are taking a break from school but when they go, they’ll make something of themselves. People who are perfectionists, who want every lemon on every plate to be facing the same way. People who don’t care, who bus the tables and get their stuff done so they can go out with friends. People who have climbed the ladder, who’ve fallen and gotten back up. You don’t know their stories, but they are inspirational.

I met great people on the set of “Lemonade.” People who are doing what they love, even if they don’t get paid for it. People who know what they want and are working to get there. People who don’t know what they want, but are figuring it out. People who have exactly what they want and every scene is a relaxing joy for them.

And I’ve met great people at Steeltown. People whom I hope to get to know better. Because I’ve accepted my first real job with them. And I start tomorrow.

This past year was about meeting and spending time with some amazing people. They helped me get where I am and I wouldn’t be who I am without them.

Here’s to closure for 2012. Now bring on the new year.

(photo via)

The Pursuit of Something Else

Sometimes I compare things in my life with movies. I’m sure everyone does, but maybe I’m a romantic and you hear me saying it more often. You know the phrase, “-but that’s how it is in the movies!” or “it never happens like that in the movies.” And people respond “yes Meg, but those are just movies.” 

Well I found myself doing it again. You see, I have good days and bad days, as does everyone. On the bad days I wonder where my life is going and whether I’ll  ever get a real job and I think about my friends who live far away and can’t visit and the student loans I’ll have to start paying because my six-month grace period will be up….. And on the good days I remember that life is an adventure and I’m just living it- that everything will eventually work out and then when I’m old this will all be part of the awesome story I have to tell.

So the other day, I was having a good day. And for some reason I started thinking about the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is based on a true story about a young man with a wife and child living in New York City. The man is a door-to-door salesman, but his hospital equipment isn’t selling well. They can’t make rent and his wife leaves him and their son. And this man just thinks that if he wore a suit and worked as a stock broker in a big city building that his life would be happy. So he takes this unpaid internship, while still trying to sell the hospital equipment and raise a son, and he goes through arguably the hardest part of his life and comes out the other side.

I own this movie, but I don’t think I’ve seen it in awhile. Which is why I was surprised that I was just driving along and it suddenly came to me. And I wondered, are we really in the pursuit of happiness? I don’t know if that phrase is quite accurate.

I find myself in a similar, but most certainly not exact, situation. I took an unpaid internship, in addition to the job that makes the money, and at the end of it, I hope a real job will be in closer reach. I’m working almost every day and I’m busy and stressed. But remember, I was having a good day. So I kept in mind that I don’t have a spouse that just left me, I’m not saddled with a kid, I don’t have rent to pay (right now), my internship isn’t a full time job taking up all my time, and I’m not homeless and sleeping in subways. And suddenly I felt much better about the situation.

My internship is two days a week, four hours a day. So far they haven’t had me doing anything super exciting, but there is the prospect of doing exciting things down the line. I really like what the organization is doing and the projects that I’m working on. It’s all very peace-hope-and-love stuff that you can’t help but get sucked into. The interviews that I’m transcribing right now do give me a little hope for humanity, if only there were more people with as much positivity and kindness as this woman. And I love the atmosphere of this non-profit/public television workplace, the people who say hello to me in the halls and the good vibes you get when people love their jobs.

I’m definitely in pursuit of something, but I don’t think it’s happiness. Hopefully there aren’t a lot of people in the world who are in search of happiness. I think that happiness can always be there, but often people are too tired or stressed to notice and accept it. And so they think they’re not happy. In the movie, Will Smith had happy moments, I think. His son was a huge source of happiness for him, when he noticed. The problem was that he broke his life down into a tiny little word used to sum up the whole time period (example: “This part of my life is called running.“) But life is so much more complicated than a single word and he limited himself by boxing it all in like that.

As for me, I think I’m happy. I think I have a lot going for me if I have a good day and take the time to remember it. I’m in pursuit of something else. The pursuit of a plan. Or stability. The pursuit of a long-term achievable goal. I wonder if we could spell that wrong and make it a sequel. I’m clearly in pursuit of something, but if I weren’t, my life would be boring. And I’m really looking forward to having a good story to tell.

An Explanation of My Life’s Next Chapter

And suddenly, with little notice, the unemployed has found herself incredibly busy.

For the first half, or more like two-thirds, of the summer, my days consisted of my morning coffee and newspaper routine, while watching the Today Show, followed by a trip to the gym or to the park for a run, then a few hours scanning career search engines and company websites, sending out a few resumes here and there…and then I would relax, read a book, sit in the backyard and get a tan, watch movies, take naps. I had quite the life, you might say. Student loans, cell phone bills and the prospect of a needing a new computer were hanging over my head, but no matter–I had time to nap. What working adult can say that?

But then I finally got through my server training and now my schedule has me waiting tables about 35 hours a week. I continued teaching swimming lessons to my neighbor as long as I could but I taught the last one last week. I still have my coffee in the mornings, but I don’t always have time to run or play around on the internet. Definitely no time to nap. And as soon as I got used to this new routine, I got an interview for an internship with a non-profit entertainment media company. I interviewed on a Thursday and on Monday, I got an email telling me I could come in to start the very next day. So now I’m interning two mornings a week and am able to keep working full time at the restaurant. Thankfully there are no more swim lessons.

I’m busy now, but grateful to have something to keep me occupied. Since the work schedules only come out the week before, I can only take my life one week at a time, but this suits me for now. I can still request some days off to visit my boyfriend or see a Steelers game. And let’s face it, too much time spent with the family would have started making me crazy after awhile.

So this little blurb is brought to you by a busy working girl to explain the lack of recent posts. And I have just gotten my new computer, so now I will be so excited to use it that you should probably expect a post every day. Or twice a day. Because it’s such a pretty little computer and I can’t let it just sit there.

My name is Meg and I’ll be your server this evening…

It’s the job you get during college, to make money for weekend fun and to stock up on Easy Mac. It’s the job you get because your parents want you out of the house during the summer. It’s the job you get because you spent all your money on weekend fun and now real life is glaring right in front of you after graduation. And then it’s the job you get because the real job seems to be eluding you, the unemployment rate is rising ever higher and you can’t stand one more day in your parents’ house.

Waitress. Server. Restaurant work. Busboy. Server’s assistant. Runner. Cook. Dishwasher. Whatever you want to call it. You’re working in a restaurant because it’s probably the one job where the unemployment rate is practically 0%. Restaurants are constantly turning over employees, whether they lose them to high school or college, or people leave for their real jobs, or they show up late and hungover one too many times. And if one certain restaurant doesn’t seem to be having any of those problems then there are a hundred others within a 20 minute radius of your house that would take you.

Restaurant work is not very difficult. It’s repetitive. Table sits. Greet, drinks, take orders, serve food, refill drinks, offer dessert, check. Goodbye, next table please.

It’s all about what you do to earn that tip. You have to be pleasant, smile, leave your emotions at the door. Forget about the fight you had with your parents, forget about the fact that your girlfriend hasn’t texted you all day–any little sign you show of not wanting to be waiting on that table lowers your tip a little more. Be funny. Tell a little joke that will make the people at your table laugh and distract them from the fight they are having with their spouse. Don’t check on them too often and certainly don’t forget about them. Make them feel like they are the only table you have, even if you are running around like a crazy person and sweat is glistening on your forehead. Just try to wipe the sweat away before you ask them if they are enjoying their meal.

If the people at your table are just not having any of it–the food is wrong no matter how it’s cooked, your service is terrible even though you’ve done nothing wrong, the check is too high even though you rang everything in correctly–then you force that smile to your ears as you say, “Thank you for dining with us today and please have a wonderful evening.” And don’t let them see you slam the kitchen door behind you in utter exasperation.

These are some of the things I’ve learned through working in a few different restaurants. I’m sure other servers will tell you the same thing. Restaurant work is not much different, no matter where you are. Some tables are great and others are frustrating, needy, complaining, and don’t leave good tips. In fact, if you watch the movie Waitingyou’ll get a good idea of what it’s like to be a server (with about 92% accuracy, minus the spitting). But  you might actually have to be a server to think it’s funny.

I started waiting tables in college, after I stopped swimming. I suddenly had an extra 20+ hours of time on my hands and I realized I was out of money. Miraculously, a restaurant that was just an eight minute walk from my house hired me as a server, knowing that the only work experience I’d ever had involved swimsuits and lane lines. But they trained me well, taught me the ten core values, drilled the mission statement into my head and gave me a huge written test involving every topping, dressing, and vegetable in the house. And I had “earned my kilt.” (It was an Irish restaurant and our uniform included a mini-kilt.) I became a great server and I loved the people I worked with. I hated 35 cent wing night, $5 burgers and selling shots, but I made enough money to get me through my senior year.

Last summer, I worked at a small bar and grille that might be considered a step down from the college bar. I got two days of training and then they shoved me at a table, where I proceeded to screw everything up because they hadn’t bothered to let me learn the menu. I hated the people I worked with and hated the hours. But hey, they let me read my book in front of customers when I was bored, so I didn’t complain–much.

And now I’m making a huge step up, I believe. I’m currently waiting–both on real-world jobs and on tables. The restaurant is nicer than one I could afford for dinner and so far, the people I’m working with are great. They trained me well, and it was easier to pick up since I’d already been well-trained before. I made a few flash cards to learn the menu and the manager validated me with confidence.

Those early lessons I learned from my first restaurant at college will always get me through the rough shifts. No one taught them to me, they were lessons that could only truly be learned from experience. “Please” and “Thank you” go a long way– with customers, managers, fellow servers, and cooks and dishwashers. Help bus tables, even if it’s not your table or your job–someone will help you later on when you need it. If you’re not sure about an entree or an ingredient or how to ring something in, ask. It’s worse to completely screw up an order and waste food. And always, always smile. You might make someone’s day. And yes, it’s almost always all about the tip, but you never know what kind of nice, interesting, or wonderful people you might meet.

So, welcome. My name is Meg and I will be your server this evening. (smile)

A Clean Face Means College is Over

Yesterday, I took out my nose ring for good. That tiny little diamond stud curling delicately into the side of my right nostril was the symbol of my youth, my college years, my attempted rebellion. It was the “stupid thing” you’re supposed to do when you’re young that your parents don’t know about, but I made sure my stupidity wasn’t permanent. I didn’t even ever think it was stupid. It was just–me.

In a world of trying to fit in and dress the right way and act like everyone else, I wanted to stand out in one small way. I had to go to every class, get a high GPA and make every swim practice and volunteer and participate in clubs; I was the oldest, the almost-type-A, organized and smart, setting a good example. In high school I felt like there was that small rebel in me just trying to break free. I was the one in the family who never screwed up, never got a detention, never skipped school, never stayed out too late or went to parties–I was the good girl. So I got my nose pierced.

It could hardly be considered “rebellion” when you look at the rebellious things kids really do. But it was something that no one would believe I would do. I wanted shock and awe, but nothing too outrageous. No gauges or industrial bars or skull and crossbones. A simple stud would do.

Freshman year of college, after the swimming season ended, I took a bunch of my friends to a sketchy tattoo parlor on Kirkwood Highway. They held my hand while the three-inch needle poked out of my face, and I was just laughing. It hurt so much that I was laughing and I just about broke their knuckles. It’s funny how you don’t see your nose on your face until there is an unfamiliar object stuck into it. For a few weeks afterward, I was so aware of the glittering jewelry in my face that people probably thought I’d gone cross-eyed from looking down at it.

I reveled in the second looks people gave me, I loved that they thought I was cool or brave. They asked me if it hurt, if my parents knew; or they told me I was stupid because I’d have a hole in my nose for the rest of my life. I hadn’t told my parents, but they would find out when I went home for Easter. I have tons of freckles so the hole is not that noticeable to anyone who’s not looking for it. I was just basking in the glory of doing something rash and spur of the moment and what I considered rebellious. (I had only considered my decision to get my nose pierced for about a day before actually doing it.) I even found myself turning my head for pictures so that it might show up. You could only see it if it caught the flash, and those were my favorite pictures of myself.

I’ve taken it out before and put it back in with no problem. In fact, I had an internship last summer and I took it out every morning that I had to work and put it back in at the end of the day. I’ve taken it out for a few job interviews. But yesterday I took it out forever. It was time. College is over, the parties are behind me, and the rebel in me is being forced into submission in order to find a job. Employers don’t want to interview someone with a distracting stud in their nose. They don’t want someone to stand out with a nose ring in a sea of earrings. They want clean-cut and normal. They want subtle femininity, clean and polished. No one wants the girl with holes in her face. (At least this is what I have been told about employers.)

So in my effort to find a job and impress people with how clean-cut and put together I am, I took it out. I also had to take it out because my new waitressing job doesn’t tolerate facial piercings either. It felt like I was finally putting my college years behind me. It’s sad because college was the best four years of my life (thus far) and my little stud was a reminder of all of that. It represented growing up and figuring things out for myself. It was my personal statement that I was not just another face in the sea of college students. But taking it out means growing up too, and moving on with my life. It’s an affirmation that I’m not going back to school and I have to look forward to the real world; and I will do so with a nose-ring-less face.

An Eight-hour Megabus Trip

This past weekend, I took a trip to New York City. By myself. Via Megabus. It was my first solo trip to the city (second time there ever) and my first time on a Megabus. Naturally, I was nervous, but I had a plan to meet my friend there and stay the night with her, so not as nervous as I might have been otherwise. So I would like to tell you some things about the Megabus, for those of you who have never been on one, or may be contemplating a trip in the near future.

First of all, I’d like to say that I had some previous (mis)conceptions about Megabuses. I pictured a Megabus as a grimy, single-level bus with a disgusting bathroom, half-full of dirty, crazy people. I thought the bus would be super sketchy and I was prepared to avoid eye contact at all times and hug my purse close for eight hours. Quite the contrary.

In keeping with my fear of being late for anything I lined up under the Convention Center in Pittsburgh forty minutes early. (But I still wasn’t the first one.) And I saw a lot of twenty-something kids–this was expected: the bus is pretty cheap. But they were like me, dressed like me, acting like me, college grads taking a trip to the Big Apple. Definitely not crazy people. Oh, don’t get me wrong, some people were very interesting. But I wouldn’t have called anyone crazy. I was surprised to see some families. Not surprised to see a few foreigners. Surprised at how much luggage some people had with them. Surprised at the length of the line–the bus was completely full.

The big blue bus pulls up–double decker, clean, with wi-fi and electrical outlets, and a moderately clean bathroom. Since I was in the front of the line, I got my pick of the seats. Figuring a window seat is a good thing, I sat on the top level, near the back staircase (in case of bathroom emergency) and was soon joined by a large, twenty-something guy. I didn’t speak to him. The last thing my dad said as he dropped me off was “Don’t talk to strangers.” Oh, parents. But I took his advice just in case. So the only words that passed between us were from me–“Would you mind putting this in the trash bag next to you?” He fell asleep on his lap leaning toward me and his sleeve kept touching my arm. But otherwise, a good seatmate, I suppose. The eight hour trip passed uneventfully with an unexpected rest stop (I thought buses didn’t stop. You’re hungry? Tough luck. But I guess I was wrong about that too.) So I only had to use the restroom on the bus once. I’m not sure if the window seat was the best idea. But at least I could look out the window easily as we pulled into the middle of Manhattan.

Return trip–a little different. This bus left at 4:20pm and wouldn’t get to Pittsburgh until midnight. I got a window seat again. More twenty-somethings this time. My seatmate was a girl about my age. And she promptly fell asleep on my shoulder. I shifted as far to the window as I could to avoid her mass of frizzy hair. She wore her headphones the whole time and I could hear the lyrics of every song she listened to. She took her shoes off and put her bare feet up on the seat in front of her. Needless to say we didn’t speak. The only words that passed between us were hers, asking  “Would you like a piece of gum?” This trip took a half hour longer than expected. But after we dropped some passengers off at State College, my seatmate moved, I put my feet up next to me, and fell into an uneasy sleep for the rest of the trip.

So, note to self (and others) about the Megabus:

1. Bring hand sanitizer. The first bus was out of sanitizer in the bathroom and I was thoroughly disgusted the rest of the trip thinking of  myself and all the other people not sanitizing our hands and touching all the same handrails.

2. Wear pants. Unless you enjoy the itching of raw wool seat cushions feeling like a bazillion bugs and needles digging into the skin of your bare thighs.

3. Bring a sweatshirt. The driver said he could adjust the temperature, but I was freezing for eight hours. And it seemed that no one else was, so why would he adjust it just for me? I pulled out all the extra t-shirts I had brought (one) and laid it on my lap, trying to think warm thoughts.

4. Pack more food than you think you can eat. With not much to do for eight hours, my brain just kept telling me I was hungry. And the rest stop is not something to rely on.

5. If you don’t have headphones, invest in earplugs. On the return trip there were two extremely chatty girls who couldn’t get seats next to each other. They yelled across the aisle instead. The whole bus now knows all about this girl’s interview, her friends who live in the city, her classes she took for jewelry-making, the contents of her portfolio, (which must have at least seven two-dimensional pieces and six three-dimensional pieces. Girl on the Megabus, if you read this, I am very proud of you, keep up the good work and I hope you get the job), etc, etc.

6. Don’t drink too much water. Have water, just in case. But don’t drink it unless absolutely necessary. Better to not even have to use that tiny little bus bathroom, especially while the bus is in motion.

I hope these tips help someone out on their next journey. I will most likely take a Megabus again in the future. It was a cost-effective way to travel without too much hassle. But of course, now I will be better prepared.

Searching for “The Interview Suit”

Hasn’t Elle Woods taught the world anything? Women can be successful lawyers and wear cute pink suits, impossibly high stilettos, and pass out scented resumes printed from their bright neon laptop, while carrying their little pooch in the crook of their arm. Right?

Well, as my public relations professor, Carolyn White Bartoo, would say: Wrong.

So I have potential interviews coming up and obviously I had nothing in my closet that remotely resembled the standard, black, one-or-two-button blazer with functional pockets (for carrying prospective employers’ business cards in one and your own in another while managing to shake hands and draw from the correct pocket. Duh.), with matching pants and/or skirt of the appropriate, right-at-the-knee length, and plain, one-inch-high, black faux leather heels. Oh, don’t worry, I have some plain, drab professional clothes, just not the perfect interview attire. I have a few pairs of presentable black pants, a couple short-sleeved nice blouses, and a pair of worn suede flats. These clothes served their purpose at the time, for events of lesser importance.

But now I am out of college, in the big leagues. This is real, people. It’s time for the Interview Suit.  Which, once I get a job, I will probably never wear again because either I will be in a creative enough field that they will worship my originality and choice of color patterns in my wardrobe, or I will be making enough money to buy a really nice suit that is allowed to show some variation of style. But for now, it’s the Interview Suit.

So yesterday, I headed to the mall with my mom with several stores in mind, hoping to take advantage of her superior knowledge of shopping. My mom had slightly different ideas about which stores might or might not have a “young” suit. I proceeded to tell my mom that I am 22 years old, out of college and entering the professional world–I should not be looking in a juniors department. But we hit all the stores possible in our local mall. And then ended up back at the first one we entered. So let me explain.

Although an avid shopper, my mom had to admit that she is a little out of her league when it comes to suits. She hasn’t worn one in many years. She said she doesn’t even own one currently. So in her head, she is thinking suits come together on the hanger and there will be plenty of options based on whether you prefer Calvin Klein or Anne Taylor or any other number of designers. I had no reason to argue with her logic; it seemed plausible. But we soon realized as we perused Macy’s that these days, while some are still hung together, many suits are sold as separates. Like bathing suits. And like bathing suits (which I also have an incredibly hard time finding), they come in all shapes, sizes, colors, patterns. At least in Macy’s. So we started pulling. She had a pile, I had a pile, we head to the fitting room. With the first skirt/jacket combo I try on, I realize I’m a petite. I don’t even try any of the others, and then we discover there are really no options for petites in Macy’s. Fail.

We moved on to J.Crew and found the most brilliant, perfect, wonderful, incredible suit–for almost $400. Now, some people, who are going to wear a suit many times in their life and keep it forever and love it like a child, might be okay with spending $400 on a suit. I am not one of those people. My mom was ready to throw up her hands and hand over the credit card but I refused. We kept looking. White House Black Market had a few options, on sale, but not my size. Of course, everyone is a size 2 these days, didn’t you know? We went to Nordstrom. Maybe it was the fact that I had my hair pulled into a messy ponytail that day, or that I was wearing a faded Old Navy T-shirt, but the sales clerks at Nordstrom seemed genuinely incredulous that I, of all people, would be looking for a suit. Humph.

“Do you have an interview?” the hundred-year-old lady asked with the air of a grandmother speaking to a five-year-old.

Why yes. I am 22 years old, have a Bachelor’s degree, and I will hopefully be moving into a high-powered job in New York City, thank you very much. Now go back to your register. 

We moved on. Slight distraction at the Victoria’s Secret semi-annual sale. But then moving on again, we realized it was getting late. So we headed back to The Limited, where we had started, having only  browsed the racks beforehand, not knowing what to look for. Well we had a much better idea, three hours later.

So, running out of time, we grabbed the “Drew Cut” and the “Clarice Cut” styles of pants. We dug through several styles of skirts and found a great blazer. I tried on flare pants and boot-cut, blue suits and black. (However, blue suits are hard to match shoes to so I would definitely not recommend that, unless you have some really great blue shoes.) And more quickly than I would have thought possible, I walked out of the fitting room in the perfect, black, tasteful, affordable Interview Suit.

But going back to Elle Woods. She worked incredibly hard to prove to everyone that a blond bimbo from Delta Nu can have just as much brains and be just as successful as any suit-wearing, briefcase-toting Harvard student. She gave her resumes “a little something extra” and stood out in the sea of students with her neon computer. She wore feather boas and sequins and sported her style with confidence and pride. Now, I do not quite share her exact style, but I do wish that it was acceptable for professionals to show their style, to wear a color. For example, I had picked out a red top to wear under the blazer in Macy’s and my mom raised her eyebrows. “Red means power. I don’t think you want to show power in a first interview.” Why not? Why can’t I show my confidence and wear a color of my choosing? Why can’t I deviate from the masses, stand out in my own creative and tasteful way? How am I supposed to stand out as the best candidate for the job if I look exactly the same as everyone else?

But, again Carolyn White Bartoo would be tutting at me. People judge. Employers judge. They make snap decisions. And they may not mean to, but they are not looking for someone dressed in red head to toe who looks like she’s going to take over the company. (Because apparently wearing red means that’s what you’re set out to do.) Employers want candidates who look put together, professional, and competent in a plain and subdued way. When you get the job, dress however you want, if they let you. But in the interview, you have to show your style in your words and in your previous work.

Elle Woods actually took a lot of crap in the beginning of her Harvard days because people immediately judged her. And in the interview, you only get a few seconds, a few minutes to make that impression, and you don’t need any distractions.

Oh well, I guess I can wear red tomorrow. But at least I got the Interview Suit.