Job candidates fail or succeed based on the first impressions formed during the interview process, which makes personal appearance and wardrobe choices a major consideration. When you prepare for an interview, avoid picking a briefcase that could be seen as a female-specific accessory. Pass over items sold in colors and designs traditionally viewed as feminine, such as pink briefcases and bright satchels, and opt for a neutral wardrobe partnered with a coordinating, conservative case.
The briefcase you take to an interview needs to be large enough to hold file folders containing your resume, a cover letter, references and any additional documents unique to your potential job without crossing the border into light luggage territory in terms of size. It should also comfortably pull double-duty as a small handbag so you can avoid carrying both a purse and briefcase into the meeting. Make sure it has room for a wallet, your keys, cell phone and other small items in interior pockets or compartments.
Unless you received an interview for a job in an industry where traditional boxy briefcases are the standard, business dress guidelines allow for a bit of leeway in your document carrier of choice. For example, Salisbury University advises that a small briefcase or tote is acceptable women's business attire. When you only need to bring a few files to your job interview, consider carrying a professional tote that keeps the documents at your fingertips through a topside opening. Totes capable of standing upright while retaining their shape provide easy access to contents and can sit comfortably on the floor beside your chair throughout the meeting. Avoid bringing along a hinged briefcase, since it requires a flat surface to be opened comfortably.
Colors and Textures
Whether you walk in with an old-fashioned square briefcase or a sophisticated leather tote, opt for a gender-neutral shade like black, brown, navy blue or tan instead of accessory colors stereotypically marketed as feminine, such as pink and other pastel shades. If you need a pop of color, think burgundy or a deep hunter green to keep the focus on you and not on your case. When you choose a bag constructed of a material that allows for greater design flexibility, skip patterned prints unless they are limited to the lining of the bag or appear as a minimal accent.
After picking out your carrying case, familiarize yourself with its features to make sure you can open it without missing a beat at the interview. If you take a briefcase with a locking feature, deactivate the feature or preset the combination before arriving for your meeting.
Job interviews in many fields, such as photography, advertising, architecture and writing, require the presentation of traditional materials, such as your resume as well as a larger portfolio containing samples of your work. When a direct match is not possible, choose a briefcase and portfolio that complement each other to put your best foot forward. Even if you are applying for a job where personal expression is encouraged or demanded, play it safe with neutral accessories at the interview unless you know for certain bolder items will be well received.
Ashley Mott has 12 years of small business management experience and a BSBA in accounting from Columbia. She is a full-time government and public safety reporter for Gannett.