I Requested That She Wear Something a Little More Modest, As My Boss Was a Religious Sister

Monster Remix 10.10.06 by Flickr user grapefruitmoon



This anonymous interview is with an Academic librarian who has been a hiring manager, a member of a hiring or search committee and is currently a Director of Library Services (two locations). This librarian works at a library with 0-10 staff members in a Urban area in the Northeastern US.

What Candidates Should Wear

Should the candidate wear a suit to the interview?

√ Probably, yes (but it’s ok if the candidate wears something a little less formal)

An outfit with a coordinated blazer and trousers:

√ Counts as a suit

Bare arms are inappropriate in an interview, even in the summer.

√ True

If a woman wears a skirt to an interview, should she also wear pantyhose?

√ Other: depends on the length of the skirt, the age of the wearer, and the weather

Women should wear make-up to an interview:

√ Other: it’s a grey area (and not the color of the face), and cannot be easily answered yes/no. Whatever it takes to be professional, but not dripping / gooey / street walker type

Is there anything a candidate might wear that would cause them to be instantly out of the running? If you have any funny stories about horrifying interview outfits, we’d love to hear them.

I once interviewed a young woman (actually wearing a suit) whose blouse was cut so low it was hard to look anyplace else; this was probably 2004. When I called to confirm her interview time with my boss (a sister of Mercy), I requested that she wear something a little more modest, as my boss was a religious sister. there didn’t seem to be a problem with that, but on the day of the interview, she sent an email saying the position wasn’t really what she wanted, and she was canceling the appointment.

Can you share any stories about how a candidate nailed the proper interview outfit, especially if your organization does not expect suits?

the time before last that we hired, I asked the current librarians to be the interview committee (for a new part-time position). I came in at the end, to give them all free reign and also because I had been out ill with a very bad respiratory condition). The young woman we hired (April 2011) had graduated the previous December; she wore a tweed suit, had her long hair up in a twist, wore hosiery, had smart, but sensible low heeled pumps on to match. Add to that – she was / is one savvy young woman.

Do you expect different levels of formality of dress, depending on the position you’re hiring for?

√ No

Which jewelry may candidates wear: (Please select all that are acceptable)

√ A few simple necklaces, bracelets, and/or rings
√ Other: None

Which hair colors are acceptable for candidates:

√ Other: some ‘natural’ colors aren’t really that when dyed. It’s hard for me to overlook, but I know brains are not lacking if hair is wild

The way a candidate dresses should:

√ Be fairly neutral

How does what a candidate wears affect your hiring decision?

The last candidate (that we hired) is someone I knew when we overlapped in library school 98-99. I was amazed that she would wear such a low cut dress and would not have hired, except that the first choice decided she couldn’t live on part time, and my staff had worked with this 2nd choice in the public library arena. We are an academic, private, very small college.

What This Library Wears

How do you dress when you are going to conduct an interview?

a tad more formal than my usual khakis and short or long sleeved shirt. I don’t ever wear high heels, but would ordinarily wear hosiery and dress shoes.

On a scale of one (too dressed up for my workplace) to five (too casual), khakis and a polo shirt are:


What’s the dress code at your library/organization?

√ Business casual

Are there any specific items of clothing, etc. that are forbidden by your dress code? (Please check all that apply)

√ Flip flops
√ Other: here in the library we are more formal with our workstudies – no flipflops, low cut or very short skirts/shorts. they will either be sent home if practicable or asked to wear a very large t shirt we keep for the purpose. Staff (all librarians are staff) occasionally have to be reminded that low cut is not acceptable.

Librarians at your organization wear: (Please check all that apply)

√ Other: generally casual

Do you have any other comments?

The one question you didn’t ask – what is the age range of the person filling out the survey? While I graduated from library school in September of 1999, I had had a couple of professional positions before that and raised a family of three boys and one girl. I was single from 1979 – 1986, worked full time and had two in elementary grades and two high schoolers.

Some of your answers from which to choose I discerned as being much more focused on 30-somethings than any other range. With the number of us that have NOT retired when the next generation down expected us to. . . . we have a different slant.

I do not expect everyone to wear a suit or suit and tie, but I do expect them to be clean and neat; I don’t want to see body parts from a too short shirt or too lowcut top. Hosiery – was certainly expected in the 1960s, but not today, not even in an interview. Oh, and the young woman who wore the suit was 22 and is the only one of five who handwrote a thank-you note.

I have another story, too. One of my library school friends graduated in 2000. She also was divorced, kids grown, 2nd husband divorced her less than 10 years into the marriage as she had breast cancer. She supported herself working three jobs, one of them 29 miles away. She took a job cataloging, quit all of her other ones, and then they let her go after two weeks. NY is an ’employment at will state’, so they didn’t even need a reason. This friend showed up here for a job interview looking like something that the cat dragged in. I would have much preferred her to call and say there was a family emergency, could we reschedule? But she just showed up and said “ordinarily I would never come to an interview like this, but I knew you were my friend and would understand”. No, I didn’t understand.

Similarly, one of the college’s part time financial aid persons had a sister who had graduated from the same school I did, but a few years later. I provided the ‘real world’ answers to a project she had to do. No thanks – not even by email. She applied for a job we posted internally, but not on time. She did not get an interview.

You’ve hit on a valuable service to / for hiring managers. When we did not have an HR department, I personally wrote letters to all the candidates informing them we had hired another. Now, with HR – they don’t do that. It flies in the face of all sorts of ethical behavior in my book.

This survey was co-authored by Jill of Librarian Hire Fashion – submit your interview outfit to her blog!

Photo: Monster Remix 10.10.06 by Flickr user grapefruitmoon via Creative Commons License

1 Comment

Filed under 0-10 staff members, Academic, Northeastern US, Urban area, What Should Candidates Wear?

One response to “I Requested That She Wear Something a Little More Modest, As My Boss Was a Religious Sister

  1. Anonymous

    I do kind of wonder what the obsession in this interviewer’s responses is with cleavage?


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