Further Questions: What Should Candidates Wear?

Edited on January 29, 2016 to add…

Wow, lots of discussion about this post! While there is much that could be said in response to the dialogue of race, gender, privilege, etc. and all associated expectations in the library world, I want to make this note brief. I am sorry that the wording and/or images on this post caused some bad feelings. That was not the intention, and it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of this blog’s creator and volunteers.

When the question about interview attire was posted in 2012, responses generated good discussion (and even some about non-Western/ethnic dress, so check that out too). When this question was posed recently, it was copied verbatim. Since 2012, we have learned a lot about assumptions and gender and dress. Due to my workload and personal circumstances, I did not stop to fully consider how such phrasing may be received in 2016. Similarly, time constraints (as well as copyright notices on websites with images I initially wanted to use) did influence the image choices.

Are there better images that could have been used? Yes. Do I wish that diversity (of all types) was more apparent? Yes. However, as with all questions and replies on Further Questions, time and other constraints render it nearly impossible to fit every scenario or address every consideration fairly. This is true for the blog’s creator and volunteers, as well as the panelists and all who have filled out a survey on Hiring Librarians over the years. Panelists rarely answer every aspect of a question, so I would have been surprised if each image was equally addressed. Regardless of how this post was received, I’m happy to see Hiring Librarians causing discussion all the way to the end! If you wish to dialogue further, please email me at hiringlibrariansquestions@ gmail.com. I would love to chat with you and share more than can be said in a short blog post! Thanks for reading! –Sarah


This week we asked people who hire librarians a question that was asked previously, and still remains popular on Hiring Librarians… the inevitable “What should I wear?!?!” question that nearly ALL job seekers struggle with during the job interview process.

Which outfit is most appropriate to wear to an interview with your organization? Please pick one for women and one for men, and feel free to provide commentary as to why you chose one over the others (or share how you might change an outfit). Bonus question:  Can you share any funny stories about horrifying interview outfits?

Female A : What Should Candidates Wear?

Female A. Source: Rotary Club of Clayton-Ladue, click on image for original.

Female B: What Should Candidates Wear?

Female B. Source: Accurate Court Reporting, click on image for original.

Female C: What Should Candidates Wear?

Female C. Source: J’s Everyday Fashion, LLC, click on image for original.

Female D: What Should Candidates Wear?

Female D. Source: Plus Size Outfits, click on image for original.

Male A: What Should Candidates Wear?

Male A. Source: The Denver Post, click on image for original.

Male B: What Should Candidates Wear?

Male B. Source: The Fashionisto, click on image for original.

Male C: What Should Candidates Wear?

Male C. Source: The Working Wardrobe, click on image for original.

Male D: What Should Candidates Wear?

Male D. Source: Epaulet New York, click on image for original.

Christine Hage songstressBased on attire only I would hire any of the first three women with a slight preference for the first woman. She looks like people in my community. I’m not sure how long the second woman would make at one of our services desks in those heels!
I’d feel comfortable with the guy in the suit and the guy in the shirt and tie, with a preference for the shirt and tie. He looks relaxed yet appropriately dress for work.
It also depends on the job the person is applying for. Reference? Youth services? Outreach? Library director? Bookmobile librarian?
I do look at how a person is dressed and figure this is the best they will look when they come on the job.
Clothing fit is important. I once interviewed a fellow that looked like a kid wearing his dad’s dress shirt. I appreciated his effort, but questioned whether he looked in the mirror before he came to the interview.

Years ago a library director colleague friend of mine got a complaint from a parent about a youth services librarian. The librarian had VERY high end designer tastes. The parent felt the librarian was dressed like a hooker, because she had a mini skirt on with high heeled leather boots on the came over the to of her knees. 

Neat, clean, well groomed, good smile and an upbeat personality go a long way with me, especially the smile. Does the person look approachable? Will they make our customers feel welcome?  Will they fit into our community?  Does their attire look like the used common sense putting their look together?

– Christine Hage, Director, Rochester Hills Public Library

Laurie PhillipsFor a woman, I think A and B are most appropriate. Honestly, I don’t care if someone if wearing a matching suit jacket and pants or skirt. Candidates should be dressed professionally and a notch more formal than you would normally wear to work. Female C is not inappropriate, *however* the blouse is a bit sheer. I have had a young female faculty librarian wear a similar blouse to work with a hot pink/coral bra under it and wearing a jacket that matched the bra. That’s just a no-no. Cute but not work appropriate. So I would say C would entirely depend on how you wear it. A jacket or cardigan could make it look more appropriate, but I’d skip the sheer blouse. I’ve seen women wearing a dress and jacket that looked more garden party than job interview. Be careful about that. Male A is the obvious choice. He’s wearing a suit with a solid shirt and tie and appropriate dress shoes. B and C are way too casual. Those shoes on B are not dress shoes. D would be ok if he was wearing socks and a jacket. I don’t mind personality or print. We don’t expect to have you completely strip away your personality. Show personality in your accessories! I don’t really have any funny stories, although I did have a friend who had a candidate who was trying to remove a knot from his shoelace with his teeth. Probably not a smart choice.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

Jessica OlinSince gender isn’t a binary, I say you wear whatever you feel is appropriate to the level for which you’re applying. In general, dress just a little bit nicer than you think you would dress if you got the job. If you feel unsure, check with a friend/contact who already has a job in the kind of library where you are interviewing. Don’t know anyone? Feel free to reach out to me and I’ll get you in touch with someone who can help.
– Jessica Olin, Director of Parker Library, Wesley College

MargaretI know you asked us to pick one for each gender, but honestly, I don’t have opinions on any of the outfits, even the more casual ones. They all seem fine. I might judge a man in an extremely ill-fitting suit, like David Byrne in the 80’s, or something that’s completely unflattering (“that pattern…girl…., whose couch did you have to kill for that?”), but even that won’t have much weight on my decision. As long as they’re clean, fully clothed and give a good interview, a person’s professional fashion sense is not really a deal-killer for me. Now, if you had put up pictures of people in ripped jeans and t-shirts or a tank top and flip flops, we’d be having a different conversation. Also, the City I work for has a rule about visible tattoos, wild hair colors and visible non-ear piercings (like nose) so those are issues that are usually brought up if someone is offered a job. I wonder, is this a generational thing? I’m at the tail end of Gen-X. We thought flannel and baby-doll dresses were a good idea.

– Margaret M. Neill, Regional Library Branch Manager, Main Library, El Paso Public Library

I work at a public research flagship institution in New England. Generally, business formal or one step down is going to be the best bet here because candidates will probably interact with the director, associate director, and department heads during their interviews, and half the staff at that level dress in business formal attire, while others generally dress in business casual attire. Candidates for department head and coordinator positions should definitely wear a suit or the equivalent for women. The fit and state of the outfit also matter; some candidates wear clothing that is too large or small, and they just look uncomfortable. I have also seen wrinkly or stained clothing and that can be a little distracting. Candidates will often take a tour of the library and will walk across campus for lunch, so comfortable shoes are important.


For a woman, outfit A, B, and C would all be appropriate, but in my opinion, it looks dated when the shirt collar comes over the jacket (as in image A).


For a man, outfit A would be appropriate, and outfit D would also be appropriate if accompanied by a jacket. Here is an article explaining why.

– Anonymous


Jason GrubbI feel the position you are interviewing for and the location of the position determine what you should wear. In Wyoming, any of these outfits would be appropriate. Male A and Female B may be too much if interviewing for a non management position, but better to be over dressed than under. We are flexible and casual. As a consequence, nothing surprises us, so no funny stories to share. Be yourself and wear what you are comfortable in.

– Jason Grubb, Director, Sweetwater County Library System

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email us at hiringlibrariansquestionsATgmail.com. Special thanks to the websites providing the images. Please click on the image to be linked to the original.

Thank YOU for reading!  If you liked reading, you’re going to really love COMMENTING.


Filed under Further Questions

8 responses to “Further Questions: What Should Candidates Wear?

  1. A

    Check out Link related to Librarian Fashions at https://www.facebook.com/groups/LibraryFashion/


  2. Kaijsa Calkins

    Interesting that the first reply wouldn’t hire the one plus-sized woman, or even deign to comment on her. She looks extremely polished to me (all the photos depict fine interview outfits). I also don’t see the need to have different advice for different genders, as stated by Jessica Olin.


    • Anthony Smith

      I too noticed that the plus size candidate was generally over-looked. My reaction was “shocking” rather than “interesting”.


  3. “Please pick one for women and one for men” ….
    1. As Jessica Olin notes, gender is not a binary.
    2. I do hope no one is judging candidates on how closely they conform to gendered expectations for attire. My employer obviously didn’t, because I’m a woman who wore a “men’s” suit & tie for my interview, and I got the job.


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  5. yz

    A few people said male D is ok, if he wears a jacket. Would he actually be disqualified if he didn’t show up wearing a jacket? That seems excessive unless we’re talking about a corporate library or director position.

    Now I’m worried because I don’t own any jackets, nor do I plan on spending the amount of money you need to spend on one for an article of clothing I’d literally never wear again after I’m done with interviews. I refuse to buy clothes I need to dry clean, unless it’s something I’d only have to get cleaned once a year or less. How many university libraries would refuse to hire me for a position under director for that? A few? A fair amount? None? Half?

    As an aside, some people are way too prissy about fashion “rules.” I see nothing wrong with wearing a tie but no jacket for a business casual type job, which is fitting for many librarian positions.

    But anyway, seriously, is “no jacket” going to be a dealbreaker for me to anyone here?


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