Dressing for the Teaching Interview

I just finished my Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate and began the job search. When I started sending out resumes of course I jumped to the important part, the interview outfit (not the practicing for the interview or the reviewing grammar so I wouldn’t fall flat on my face the first day). I had no idea how to dress for teaching interviews or teaching because I’ve never been a teacher before.

I read a lot of articles online and they ALL said to wear a suit. I had a feeling that was way out of line for an ESL teaching interview, since from what I’ve seen of actual ESL teachers they do not come even close to wearing that in the classroom. The rule for interviewing is to dress one notch above what you would wear in the actual job. I concluded that the authors of those posts were much older than me, much more conservative, and also probably teaching in private schools or public high schools, which have a more institutional, and thus more formal, feel than language schools. So that left me with no advice.

I know that teaching, at least for me, demands a more professional look than my general daywear, and yet it isn’t a formal situation in which a suit or anything even approaching a suit seems appropriate. I knew I needed a look that made me feel comfortable and confident, because my nerves are already shot about being up in front of an entire class. Having on an outfit that doesn’t feel like me when I’m up there will probably be enough to reduce me to tears.

Stymied, I turned to my fashion advisor, Valeria. I then spent two (exhausting and frustrating) days trying on my clothes and sending her photos. I know photographing outfits is hardly a new idea, but I don’t really do it. Do my friends really care what I’m wearing? Do I want to post my outfits online? No and no. So this was a new thing for me, and it made a huge difference. Usually it’s just me sitting there looking at myself in a mirror. If we just look at ourselves in the mirror, no one is helping us but ourselves and we already know we don’t know what to wear. When you only seek advice from yourself, there is no dialogue, and it’s a conversation with someone who knows something that we don’t that helps us grow.

Sadly, she rejected at least 75% of my clothes for various reasons. Puffed sleeves? Out. Too loose a fit? Out. Apparently I look best in structured clothes (I had to ask her to define this). Those pants make your legs look stumpy (true). This was the hardest one to hear because I loved those pants. Think of how many times I wore them and looked stumpy. But clearly, stumpy is not a good look. I started to think I wouldn’t have anything left to wear to work in.

I tried on every work appropriate top in my closet, and found out that t-shirts, which I have a lot of, are not work appropriate unless they are in dressy fabrics, so those went to the non-work side of the closet. That took a huge hole out of my options, let me tell you. At that point I panicked and went on a wild (and according to my advisor, premature) shopping spree. Basically I bought a bunch of stuff that she then rejected. I did come out of it with a black blouse and a white blouse that are perfect, and a few new pair of shoes that I love.

So after this process, I had a closet with a section blocked off for absolutely-not-for-work wear, and the rest of the clothes had been about 50% advisor approved. However, we were running out of time, since I had some interviews coming up. I had to jump straight into sending her photos of interview outfits. In the end I went with a pencil skirt and a plain, tailored blouse, and heels. In the right color combinations, this outfit can look appropriately summery, because it is in the nineties here, and still be formal enough to look like you are competent and conscientious, which has to be the point of an interview, right?

It was a very corporate look, which is universally acceptable for an interview, and I felt comfortable in it although very dressed up. I suppose it worked because I had three interviews in one week (and wore the same outfit to all three – sorry), and got offered all three jobs. Did my outfit have anything to do with getting the jobs? Probably, yes, if you believe that first impressions are all important, which I do. Although I was vastly more dressed up than the interviewers and the other teachers I saw in the schools. And I do mean vastly. I’m sure I had “new teacher on an interview” tattooed on my forehead. That’s okay, but I’m sure I really had “new teacher with a trust fund on an interview” there instead. But I think we’ll save the compulsively overdressing post for another time.

If I could do it over, what would I do differently? In other words, that was a good outfit, but what would the perfect teaching interview outfit be? Something like this:

The perfect summer teaching interview outfit (courtesy of http://www.bananarepublic.com)

Short sleeved blouse in a summer color. Pick a color that looks good on you but that isn’t too bright, because you’re trying to appear serious. By the way, her hair is more going-out-at-night than serious. Her pencil skirt is good too, although I don’t like patterns very much. Go with whatever you like, but keep it fairly basic. Avoid doing the white blouse and black skirt thing though, because then you get into the area where you’re showing absolutely no personality. You need a little verve because it says you’ve got a spine, but not too much or it says you’re crazy. As for accessories, she has bangles that would absolutely drive me crazy if I were her interviewer. Stick with something more basic. Yeah, I guess what I’m saying is stick to the basics, but add a little flair with color or simple accessories. The key if you’re doing an outfit like this is to avoid the heels, because that is really going to set you apart in a teaching environment. Trust me.


4 responses to “Dressing for the Teaching Interview

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