who pays for coffee, combining an interview and a trip, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Who pays for coffee?

I started working in a new office a few months ago and am trying to navigate coffee buying etiquette. My new office is very small. There’s only my boss and me in my department, and another department with a handful of staff members. Also, I work for a nonprofit, so the budget for expenses is small. Finally, before starting this new job, I was out of work for a while, so I am trying to be frugal and to save some money.

Sometimes, my boss invites me to get coffee, so we can have a change of setting for our meetings, or we get coffee on the way to meet with a client. My boss always pays. Since we are a nonprofit with a limited budget, I’m pretty sure he is paying out of pocket for a good portion of these, but I’m not 100% sure. Should I be offering to pick up the tab, at least some of the time? Is there a way to politely offer to buy my own coffee while not offering to buy his?

I also have a coworker who often purchases coffee for everyone in the office. Most of the time, she just surprises us by bringing everyone coffee, but once in a while she’ll check in first before she goes for a coffee run. No one else seems to pay her back, though I could be mistaken. She has also never hinted at getting reimbursed — e.g., saying that coffee was about $X. I could offer to pay her back — but although I really appreciate a coffee, I wouldn’t have purchased one myself since I am trying to save money. Or I could return the favor and surprise her with coffee, but then I feel like I would need to buy coffee for everyone. Even with a small office, buying coffee for everyone can be expensive. On the other hand, she is spending that amount of money on a regular basis. Any advice?

When your boss suggests coffee, assume that either he or the organization is paying for it. It’s a business meeting, plus he’s inviting you, plus he’s your boss — each of those factors on their own point to you not paying, and taken all together, you definitely don’t need to pay. (And it’s very possible he’s expensing it, even at a nonprofit. That kind of thing varies by organization.)

With your coworker, you definitely shouldn’t expect to reimburse her if she’s surprising you with coffee that you otherwise wouldn’t have requested. But it’s worth confirming that others aren’t paying her back when she takes orders (it’s possible that it’s happening and you’re not seeing it). So you could ask a coworker, “Do people normally pay Jane back when she gets coffee?” (Who knows, maybe you’ll learn her spouse runs a coffee shop and she’s getting it all for free.) Or you could just ask Jane, “This is so nice of you — should I reimburse you for this?” If it does turn out that she’d prefer reimbursement and you don’t really want to buy yourself coffee, you can opt out of future coffee runs.

But if she’s doing it for free and you keep accepting, it’d be a nice gesture to pick up a coffee or some other small treat for her occasionally. I don’t think you’d be obligated to do it for your whole office, since buying a round for everyone is pretty unusual behavior. You could just casually say, “I was getting myself a latte and I picked one up for you too.”

2. Combining an interview and a trip, and how long employers can wait

I’m finishing up graduate school in June, and beginning my job search. I’d ideally like to work in California, which is tough because I currently live and go to school in Boston. Thus far, I’ve been up-front with the companies that I’m interviewing with — I finish in June and probably won’t be able to work until August because I need to take my boards and move across the country. With this timeline in mind, is it okay to move slowly in scheduling interviews? I’m actually traveling out in June to attend a wedding, and I received a request for a site visit/interview. Would I be wrong to try offer the dates of my trip and try to schedule the site visit during my trip? It’s unlikely that my travel would be paid for by the interviewing company, and I can’t reasonably start until August due to the reasons above. However, does scheduling an interview so far in advance make me seem disinterested?

This depends a lot on your field. There are some fields where it would be completely fine to apply now if you’re not available in August, and others where they’re going to be looking to bring someone on more quickly than that. If you’re not sure if it’s reasonable in your field, just be really up-front during the first conversation you have with an employer (“I should note that I’m likely not available until August because of X — does that work with your timeline?”).

But if they’re fine with that, then interviewing in June for a start date in August isn’t too far away (at least assuming it’s not very early June and very late August). That’s actually pretty normal for a lots of jobs; there are often six weeks or more between interview and start date — a few weeks or more to go through the whole process and make a decision, plus a few weeks after the offer before the person starts.

The tricky part is more likely to be that if they’re scheduling interviews now, they likely want to do those interviews now and may not want to wait until June to talk to you — because they may lose other good candidates in the meantime if they wait on you before deciding who to make an offer to. It’s usually easier to get a delayed start date than it is to push back an interview timeframe. Because of that, don’t get too wed to interviewing there in June. Just say something like, “I’m actually going to be in CITY on June 12-15 if that happens to work for your timeline, although I can of course come out sooner if you’d prefer it.” (And if at all possible, I’d urge you to go out earlier, especially if they’re paying for it — because they may end up finding other candidates they like before June rolls around.)

3. How can I get more comfortable dressing up for work?

I’m about to graduate college and I have a job lined up where the dress code is business causal. I don’t like wearing nicer dress clothes because it makes me feel awkward and out of place. How can I make myself feel more comfortable getting dressed up for work?

Well, a different way to look at it is that you’d look out of place if you were dressed more informally than everyone else. Sticking to an office dress code will actually make you look in place, not out of place.

That doesn’t solve the part about feeling awkward, of course — but you’re likely to get used to the clothes pretty quickly, and I bet you won’t feel nearly as awkward about it after you’ve been dressing that way five days a week for a month or so (and around other people who are dressed the same way).

And for what it’s worth, business casual is often a lot more “casual” than “business.” It’ll depend on your particular office, but you’re likely to see a lot more khakis than blazers.

4. Candidates seem scared to submit travel expenses

My workplace regularly recruits graduating college students. We invite our finalists to a day of interviews in Expensive Major City. When we extend the invite, we let them know that we will reimburse travel and can book on their behalf if they prefer (we understand that not every student can pay these expenses up front). We also include brief guidelines and a list of nearby hotels where they can get our corporate rate.

Time and again, I’ve noticed that our entry-level candidates never request travel reimbursement until after they get a yes/no about the job — even if it means waiting weeks to submit. Only one in three years has taken our offer to book flight and hotel for them. I strongly suspect recent grads think that asking for reimbursement will hurt their chances of getting the job.

The delayed reimbursement requests don’t really cause a problem for me, but I feel bad that candidates might be stressing out inappropriately about this. Unless they do something crazy, like ordering Oysters Rockefeller and $1,000 bottles of champagne from room service at the Four Seasons, they shouldn’t worry that submitting expenses — or not doing it — is reflecting on them. The offer is sincere, and we budgeted for it. Plus, it’s in our interests to get them here and to see them rested and at their best. Any way to let them know this?

Yeah, I bet you’re right that they’re worried it’ll somehow reflect on them. Maybe you could say something like, “We want to get you reimbursed as promptly as possible, so please don’t feel you need to wait until the hiring process is over — you can send your receipts to me any time, and actually sooner is better on our end.” Or, do you do any kind of follow-up with them post-interview? If so, you could include a line like “I want to get you reimbursed — can you send over your receipts?” But if you’re not already doing any kind of follow-up by email, that’s adding more work for you.

One other thought: You might get more people taking you up on your offer to book the travel for them if you present it as something closer to the default option. For example: “We’d be glad to book your flight and hotel reservation for you (just fill out the attached form so we have all the info we need). Or if you prefer, you’re welcome to book it yourself and we’ll reimburse you for it if you submit receipts.”

5. Can I recycle my examples in “tell me about a time when…” interviews?

I have been interviewing for positions for the past seven months. I have 10+ years experience in my field, but these roles would be a big step up. During the last interview I had, all of the questions I was asked save one (the very last question) were behavioral questions (“tell me about a time when…”). This meant about 12-14 “tell me about a time when” questions. I felt that by the last third of the interview, I was running out of new “times when.” I have experience, but there are only so many times that I have had to resolve conflicts or deal with a difficult person that are different and clearly highlight the skills I think they’re looking for.

So my question is, is it okay to revisit/recycle “times when” when answering behavioral-style questions in a single interview? Second, should I be expecting this interview style for future interviews?

Yes, if you’re getting a dozen different “tell me about a time” when questions, it’s okay to use a few of the situations more than once (assuming that you’re bringing out different aspects of them each time). Ideally you’d have at least four or five separate situations that you could draw answers from, but you don’t need 12 completely different situations to talk about.

And yes, expect behavioral interview questions for future interviews too. It’s a popular method of interviewing (and I’d argue a better one, since you learn a lot more by hearing people talk about how they’ve actually operated in the past; it’s easier for people to bluff or give BS answers to more hypothetical questions).

{ 437 comments… read them below }

  1. Woodswoman*

    For #3, I relate to your feelings about business casual, because that was me after working in an outdoor-oriented job where my outfit was a fleece jacket, zipoff pants, and hiking boots. I was so unsure about what clothes to get that I had friends take me shopping. But after several years in a business casual workplace, I can say it’s been great. At least at my workplace it’s as Alison says, more “casual” than “business.”

    My standard outfit is khaki pants with a sweater and a pair of comfortable casual walking shoes. When it’s warm, I swap the sweaters for button-front short sleeve shirts. And almost everything is from L.L. Bean–their clothers are comfortable and durable, and they have a great return policy even after you’ve worn things. I just get a bunch of different colors of the clothes I like, and it works great.

    1. LouiseM*

      +1. It’s all about finding clothes that work for you, OP, and that you like wearing. It doesn’t have to mean wearing whatever you think of when you think biz cazh.

      1. Specialk9*

        I highly recommend the Missus Smartypants website, it’s how I learned to dress, at work and out.

        $15 for 3 months and she teaches you (by a weekly email):
        *the basics of dressing
        *building a wardrobe (and she has examples of working with real people, thrifting or going to Marshalls so it’s approachable at any budget or size)
        *dressing for your shape (this was so important for plus sized me!)
        *how to use items in multiple ways so you stretch your wardrobe
        *how to find jeans
        *how to to buy a bathing suit
        *Work attire
        *Casual weekend outfits that still look polished

        It’s one of the best $15 you can spend, and you can fill your wardrobe with ThredUp and eBay.

    2. Woodswoman*

      Don’t mean to sound like I’m promoting a particular brand here. What I’m trying to say is that once you find clothes you like that are comfortable and fit well, it can make things less stressful to stick with those.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        No, I’ll second both LLBean and the strategy to find a workable piece and order it in several colors. And add Lands End for button downs and khakis if anyone happens to be a tall, thin man.

      2. Specialk9*

        Yeah, for me it’s Talbots and Eloquii. I buy them on ThredUp and eBay. For Talbots, I went to the store to figure out my size (they have vanity sizing).

    3. Anancy*

      I cracked up at your comment, because my spouse just finished trying on a supply of men’s LLBean button down not-quite-dress-shirt-but-almost. I agree that they are a terrific resource for business casual, especially if you live in a non-urban setting. (I meant that last line to indicate their clothes work well in an outdoorsy type place, but also realize it works well to order a bunch and return some if you aren’t close to clothing shops.)

      1. Woodswoman*

        Yep, that’s been me for sure. I’ve been in the professional world for decades and used to get anxious about how to dress for a new job. Until I found LL Bean to supplement my usual thrift store attire, and I’m located in a major urban area. On the rare occasion when I’ve needed to dress up, I wear my best thrift store score, a high-end suit that I got cheap.

        Years ago, I made peace with the fact that if an employer wants skirts and heels, I would never be happy so I don’t even bother applying. I haven’t owned heels for so many years that I’m convinced that if I wore them, I’d sprain an ankle within minutes.

      2. Snark*

        There’s a lot of companies – Toad & Co., Prana, Outlier all come to mind – that make presentable business-casual-if-you’re-in-a-mountain-or-beach-town type clothing out of technical fabrics that are stretchy and move with you. I wear a lot of stuff like that.

        1. Happy Lurker*

          I found a couple of Old Navy stretchy button downs and khaki’s. I have added that to my LL Bean, Lands End and even Express button down shirts (the Express shirts wash and hang like a dream and come in pretty designs too).
          Added to my inexpensive stretch fake dress pants and I have a huge mix and match wardrobe that I do not have a problem having meetings and/or job interviews in, but still look casual enough to feel comfortable. Like Woodswoman, I prefer to spend short money on my wardrobe and tend to spend $20 to $30 a piece (with the exception of Express shirts – those I tend to get about $40 on sale).
          Good luck with your new job #3.

          1. many bells down*

            Old Navy’s Pixie pants are my go-to work pants now. Express also has some really nice similar slacks if I needed to step it up a notch (which I never do because I live in Seattle).

            1. Specialk9*

              Oh yeah – and they have the longer inseam Pixies now (in addition to tall; before they designed them to end around or above the ankle, now they have them more traditional length as well, which I love).

        2. Lindsay J*

          Ooh, thanks for the names of companies. I’ll check these out along with LL Bean.

          I will be in decidedly not a mountain or beach town, but I need to wear business casual, but also work in warehouses that are dirty and may not be heated or cooled adequately, and go up and down a bunch of ladders, etc, and technical fabrics work better than traditional dress fabrics.

    4. Gen*

      As goths my spouse and I have never (after 15 years in the work force) felt comfortable in business casual. There’s a lot more rules to it that just ‘business’ where you can buy a few nice suits and be done. But I definitely recommend Woodswoman’s suggestion of having someone who is comfortable with it take you shopping to get your first few key pieces. Find something you can live with for now and see where it goes from there. It might help to think of it as a uniform, few people want to wear them but you’ll do better if you always present yourself as neat and clean within the standards of your new office.

      1. Erin*

        I loathe khakis and polos! I’d rather wear a suit or a dress. They make me feel like I was working in fast food again. Besides polos always look like a tent on a woman.

        1. Eye of Sauron*

          I’m with you. I think khaki and polos are fine for men, but I’m not thrilled with the look on women (most notably myself). For some reason they always look too big or too small on women, even if you’re lucky enough to be wearing a women’s cut polo.

          Whenever I’ve been forced to wear them I feel like I should be asking if you want fries with that or pointing out the toilet paper aisle, not the image you want in your head as a professional.

          1. Penny Lane*

            Yeah – khakis and polos are not a good business casual look on the majority of women. Polo shirts in general don’t flatter most women’s figures. They look like uniforms. But frankly polo shirts and khakis on men often look like uniforms, too. Polo shirts in general occupy a weird place in business casual. I think a man is better off going for a collared shirt and a woman is better off staying away entirely.

            1. Out of Office Message*

              Khakis and polos have become the default uniform for service-sector jobs and charter schools. They do not look professional at all.

              1. GreatlyMalignedStyle*

                *Looks around office at lawyers who charge $800 per hour, all wearing khakis and polos.*

        2. Grizzzzzelda*

          I went to a k-12 school…for all 13 years…and was stuck in Khakis and Polos…once I graduated I vowed never again…then after college I got a job requiring me to wear khakis and polos….but after I quit…I vowed never again…

          So yeah…polos make me think of school or big-chain retail. Whether they are on a man or woman really.

          So now I work at a business casual office (emphasis on casual…jeans and sneakers are permitted) and wear dresses, skirts, heels every day but Friday, when I’ll break out nice dark jeans and a nice tee.

        3. MysteryFan*

          Me Too! I know I am old and out of touch, but when I graduated college (in 1974) all I owned was hip hugger bell-bottom jeans and those little gauzey hippie tops. I couldn’t WAIT to wear grown up clothes to my first grown up (translate “sit-down”) job! the only problem was affording to buy 5 dresses and a pair of flats, but I squeezed it out with the help of my mother-in – law.

      2. Betsy*

        I’d love to see goth business casual. I’m imagining kind of steampunk looking waistcoats and pocket watches.

        1. Megabeth*

          Betsy, there’s a blog I ran across a while back run by a lady who does a goth/corporate wear look. It may be a wee bit more formal than business casual, but this might help visualize what goth business casual might look like: http://corpgoth.blogspot.com

          1. Specialk9*

            Love it! I wouldn’t

            I’ll admit she wears more colors than I’d expect based on my 90s goth friends, so I’d probably call her more steampunk without knowing. But she’s definitely doing her, in an awesome way!

        2. sometimeswhy*

          My goth business casual is actually really unremarkable. I started treating it like a uniform as Gen suggests above and that helped not only to get me used to it but also to help narrow the focus of my shopping. Everything matches. I never have to think about it.

          It drifted a bit but has settled at black trousers (I have several identical pair) + black, white, or grey top + black or grey flowy cardigan + boots + a small gothy accessory. The accessory might be a pin or a hair clip or my gothier set of glasses but everything is more suggestive-of rather than actually-being and it keeps me relatively comfortable and feels less like I’m in costume.

        3. AKchic*

          Black pants are a must (or skirts). Mine are usually black skinny jeans or skinny dress slacks.
          Black loose tank top (or a dark jewel-toned colored one, depending on the occasion)
          Cardigan. Doesn’t have to be black. It can be a dark color (jewel tones, muted forest tones, whatever makes you happy and coordinates well).
          Socks can be whatever you want – I prefer fun socks. Harry Potter, Deadpool, Supernatural, unicorns, MPL, She-Ra, cartoons, science themed, whatever. Fun, bright colors.
          Black shoes. I can’t wear heels (bad spine and bones in my feet that easily break) and I like kicking my shoes off so I generally go for slip-ons).
          I am lazy and hate doing my hair and make-up (plus I work in a warehouse on a military base), so my hair and make-up is pretty low-key. Ponytails (fun ties though), little to no make-up at work.

          Sometimes I will dress up and wear corsets to work, or dress up. Drives my mom nuts (she is very much a product of her time and is very “proper”, no… prudish), but she has no say in my clothing choices and the bosses don’t care what I wear as long as I’m covered and I get my job done.

    5. OP #3*

      I really appreciate your advice! I have a few friends who have started working so I try to get their advice as much as possible on clothing choices since I’m basically a deer in the headlights when it comes to buying clothes that aren’t ultra casual.

      1. Andy*

        Finally, another me! I HATE dressing up with all my being (and I’m talking anything dressier than a t-shirt!) Obviously I do it when I have to like interviews, but luckily I found an office where I can get away with super-casual.

        1. Adam*

          I agree, it’s great to hear other people feel this way too. I’m a guy, but have always struggled with business casual and knowing what’s appropriate, what goes together, how to match colors, etc., and I still struggle with wear to shop and how to make enough outfits. And business casual clothes seem so expensive! I don’t mind actually wearing these clothes once I have them, but finding something right continues to be endlessly stressful. And I have no idea what other kinds of shoes men can wear with khakis besides for dress shoes, which seriously hurt my ankles.

          I don’t really have a solution, except to dress slightly more casually than I probably should, and not to get too hung up on it. But it’s good to hear I’m not the only one!

          1. chocoholic*

            They are expensive, but my husband has worn Dr. Marten shoes forever. They do hold up well for a long time and they look good with jeans or khakis. Might be something to look into.

          2. General Ginger*

            You could probably do Chelsea boots, for some ankle support. Nothing pre-scuffed or chunky-heeled, but there are some nice leather Chelsea boots wtih flat soles out there. Image links in a comment to follow.

          3. Positive Reframer*

            In most places you could pull off a slip on loafer style shoe if that would work well. I’ve also seen some tennis shoes that were business on the top which might work depending on your culture.

      2. Susan Sto Helit*

        OP I don’t know if you’re a man or a woman, but I’ve taken male friends shopping for clothes plenty of times. I love it.

        Depending on your office there are different degrees of business casual, but whether you’re a man or a woman, the key to all of them is blazers/jackets. I’d generally suggest one gray, one black/blue/navy, and one colored if the office environment is something where that will fly (pick a shade that suits you and will work with your existing wardrobe; probably something in an olive green, burgundy/red or greyish purple. Nothing super bright!). They’ll go over smart pants and button-down shirts. They’ll go over jeans and a t-shirt to dress that kind of outfit up. They’ll go over skirts and dresses if you’re a woman.

        Make sure your jackets are comfortable and fit you well, and you may find that some of your existing wardrobe will work for you already. If not, you can use them as starter pieces to build outfits around, picking up pants, shirts or whatever else that will work with them. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in these clothes, so it’s worth trying to think of them as your allies!

        1. BlazerHater*

          I have to say I find the blazer advice really misleading! When I was starting out in my job, I felt like I had to always wear one even though they made me uncomfortable. Now, 4 years in, I almost never wear the blazers I bought to start. There are lots of business casual sweaters and tops that look just as polished.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I agree. My office is on the business side of business casual, and even then, a blazer means you have a presentation or an interview.

          2. Tardigrade*

            I have three knit blazers that are super comfy and still look nice for business casual. (See link in username.) They’re the only blazer-type things I wear outside of a special circumstance like an interview.

          3. Kathleen_A*

            The thing about a blazer is, you may not need one often, but it’s a *really* good plan to have at your disposal one that fits well so that when you do need one, you’ve got it. It just a few seconds, a blazer can turn a borderline outfit into a business casual outfit, emphasis on the “business.”

            And a good one shouldn’t be any more uncomfortable than any other light jacket. I have some that are ever so slightly stretchy and are even washable – so no dry-cleaning is needed. And the miraculous thing is, they don’t look either stretchy or washable, but they are, they are!

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              It’s good to have one or two, but I wouldn’t build a wardrobe around them.

              I build my wardrobe around my pants, because that’s the hardest to find. My advice to OP3:
              Think about what you like in normal clothes. What colors, necklines (ie, I hate normal t-shirt necks), fit (loose or body con), textures. Then go shopping for:
              – 2 – 4 slacks or skirts that feel comfortable. In most industries, women can wear slacks now, skirts / dresses are NOT required in biz casual.
              – Find 5ish low-key tops that share some things with what you like in normal clothes. For me, it’s jewel tones, v necks, soft texture (eg, turquoise sweater), NO DRY CLEAN. For Mr. Jules, it’s button front, long sleeve, funky pattern, slim fit. Land’s End is a looser fit, I think H&M is more slim. Honestly, I’ve found starter stuff at Goodwill and Target.
              – 1 – 2 things that stretch your comfort zone a little
              – 1 blazer

              In a year, go shopping again and get 1 – 3 more slacks (to total 5 or 6) and 1 – 3 more tops. In most offices, you only need 5 ‘normal’ outfits and one ‘present to the boss’ outfit. Almost no one really pays attention to what you wear as long as it covers you neatly and is not jeans, except you.

              1. Specialk9*

                Yeah, NO DRY CLEAN is so important!

                My basics are
                *A jersey wrap dress with 3/4 sleeves (it drapes beautifully on my plus size shape but looks so professional – I found it on discount and look for it on eBay. I now have it in 4 colors.),
                *Cardigans from Target (uh, too many colors by now!)
                *Old Navy Pixie pants, and dark wash trouser jeans I can wear to work (Chicos on eBay)
                *Shirts from Eloquii and ThredUp
                *Talbots blazers (eBay)
                *Elastic woven belts in a couple colors (eBay)
                *Nine West flats (I like a pointed d’Orsay shape bc it looks as polished as heels – d’Orsay means there’s a heel cup then it’s cut down to the sole and then a pointy toe cap. It looks very sleek.) The best price is actually on Amazon.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Sorry, accessory basics :

                  *Choose 1-4 accent colors (you really can just do 1 so long as you love it, it becomes your thing) and only buy in those exact colors so you can look super coordinated with no effort. I do sunny yellow, scarlet red, kelly green, and teal.

                  *Skinny patent belts to be worn at the natural waist, over or under cardigan or blazer. Target has had a good selection for $15ish. I’ve been wearing them for, oh Lord, 10 years now. It’s a simple way to pull everything together and polished.

                  *Colorful multi-strand necklaces – I like faceted Lucite (ie plastic) or seed beads. Ebay or those little kiosks at the mall or airport (just minimize the metal – they can have lead). Again only in your 1-4 accent colors.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Totally agree. And although a person doesn’t have to build their wardrobe around blazers, blazers can be excellent help in “dressing up” the formality of your attire. But this varies by industry, geographic region, and body type, so OP may want to observe what styles seem common or feel like a good fit with their aesthetic before committing to an approach (but this is certainly a good suggestion for one kind of approach).

              1. Triumphant Fox*

                I also find blazers to be a nice go-to if I’m not looking my best in general. If I feel like I look a little under the weather, or like nothing fits me, I sometimes compensate with a blazer because it provides structure when I’m feeling slouchy and can make me look a little more polished when my hair is in a braided bun and I’m trying to pretend I’m alive with blush and mascara. My go-to blazer is very comfy, though, and more of a boyfriend fit so it’s very casual. I haven’t worn a full-on suit blazer since I debated in college.

              2. Positive Reframer*

                I wear a blazer or structured jacket almost every day. My work tends to the buisness side more than the casual side but I’m the only one who wears blazers regularly at my level. Mostly this is a survival strategy as otherwise I freeze.

                Definitely ASK your new boss what the handbook says, what they expect and if they maybe have a link to a Pinterest board or something that would give you an idea of their expectations. Any decent person knowing you are a recent grad will want to help you with this.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Oh yeah and if you can, go and hang out at your new workplace before you start. Sit outside if you can, or even go into the lobby if it’s kind of busy. Just people watch and see how people actually dress. Often it’s different than how we imagine. That can save you a lot of money!

          4. Elizabeth H.*

            I’ve never worn a blazer in my life. The offices I’ve worked in have definitely been on the casual side of business casual, but I used to work in a more formal building (bc of executive offices) at my same organization where colleagues often wore blazer outfits and nothing bad has happened to me. It’s just not me. I’ve worn cardigans to every interview I’ve been on and have been successful.

          5. Penny Lane*

            I think what really distinguishes business casual for women is what’s called a “third piece.” That third piece could be a blazer – but it could equally be a cardigan/sweater. I agree with the other commenters – most business casual places I’ve seen, you don’t need to wear a blazer and wearing a blazer is on the dressier side (though one could wear more casually-styled jackets).

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              This has become my uniform over the last few years in my dressy-end-of-business-casual workplace. Dress pants, an array of sleeveless and short sleeve tops, and blazers and cardigans over that. Even if I wear jeans on Fridays I still look a bit more formal because of the blazer, which is nice when I get pulled into meetings with higher ups unexpectedly. The male directors at my office generally wear shirts and ties, sometimes jackets or suits, and everyone above that is always in a suit, (with women correspondingly formal), so I feel more confident in those meetings if I have a blazer on and not just a business casual top.

              My pants, blazers, and cardigans are 90% mix-and-match black and gray, and I go more colorful on the shirts. And I don’t have to think too hard in the morning when I’m putting together an outfit. I also dislike wearing skirts and dresses, which has pushed me more towards having a wardrobe that’s very consistent.

              There are plenty of other ways for women to do business casual, but this one works for me. It wouldn’t work in all offices, so it’s about finding a combination of workplace and clothing that makes you comfortable and confident (or at least not horribly self-conscious).

            2. Specialk9*

              @Penny Lane – third piece huh? That… Makes a lot of sense actually! Filing that away.

          6. Temperance*

            I never, ever wear them. I will wear a suit when I have to, but never a blazer on its own. I also super disagree with the color advice; olive green blazers look terrible on most skin tones.

        2. NJ Anon*

          I dress business casual. No blazers necessary. I wear khakis, corduroys and “colored” jeans with nice tops. No heels for me either.

          1. Kathleen_A*

            Jeans, even colored, would not count as business casual in many offices. You might be able to get away with it if nobody happens to notice that they are jeans, though. :-)

            1. Specialk9*

              Disagree, many business casual offices let you wear jeans so long as they’re nicer and part of a polished outfit. So no holes, rips, frays, whiskers, or such, and not too tight (no jeggings). And not the traditional lighter blue jeans – dark wash (dark blue) is ok, especially in “trouser” cut, black, any solid color that looks nice, and patterns that look nicer. So think Old Navy Pixie pants, or Chicos Platinum jeans.

              All paired with a button-up, or nice top (cardigan or casual blazer, jewellery optional for female presenting folks).

              1. Kathleen_A*

                I’m not sure what you’re disagreeing with here. All I said was that colored jeans would not count as business casual “in many offices.” I didn’t say in all offices.

      3. BRR*

        I felt uncomfortable at first because I never dressed up. A few years into the work force, it’s now just what I wear. A friend commented once that their casual wardrobe was suffering because they typically bought only work (business casual) clothes and I agree with that. I think a key part is business casual clothes don’t have to be uncomfortable. My work pants fit me better than the jeans I own.

        1. pleaset*


          Also, it’s not dressing up. It’s dressing right. It’s not big deal – find out what works, and practice it.

          I dress on the more formal side of business casual and it’s easy with practice and having good stuff that fits.

        2. Turquoisecow*

          Haha, same. My casual wardrobe is super limited and I don’t know what to wear on vacations!

        3. Penny Lane*

          In general – and not directed at anyone on here – I think some of the general discomfort with more formal clothing represents a failure on the part of parents — I think it’s part of a parent’s job to ensure that their child has occasions where he / she dresses up (whether it’s a wedding, a church/temple/mosque service, a nice Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s, a special anniversary dinner for the family, etc.) so that the child doesn’t grow up being “uncomfortable” in clothing that is above jeans and sweatpants, and isn’t flummoxed by putting together a wardrobe.

          This has nothing to do with blue collar vs white collar or socioeconomic status – as plenty of blue collar people who might wear uniforms / work clothing are perfectly capable of putting together a “nice” outfit to wear, and know how to dress for various occasions. And all of the kinds of clothing we are talking about can be purchased in resale shops or Target — so this isn’t about “you’ve got to be able to shop at Saks.”

          1. Gaia*

            Okay just no.

            My family was exceedingly poor when I grew up. There was no money – none – for clothes that didn’t work every day. We didn’t dress up for special family events because none of our family could afford to have special clothes that you wouldn’t normally wear.

            That isn’t a failure of my mother and I object to the very notion.

          2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

            I grew up incredibly poor and we went to church every week. I had exactly one dress for church. It was always purchased by my grandmother and it was what I “dressed up” in. I didn’t really have any say in what I got beyond whether or not it fit on my body. Shoes would be purchased 2 or 3 sizes too big so they would last for a while. When it was outgrown, another would be purchased. We didn’t dress up for any family dinners because that’s what rich people on TV do. (My perspective as a child, although I, at 40, don’t know anyone that dresses nice for family dinners) If I went to a wedding or had to dress up for anything, I was to wear the one nice piece of clothing that I had. Also, to shop at a target or walmart meant driving 45 minutes or more from our small rural town. No one had gas money for that.

            This is completely a socioeconomic status issue and to say that it isn’t takes a lot of privilege.

            1. Gaia*

              Exactly. Also, the idea that shopping at second hand shops or Target are something poor families can do? Yea no. My clothes were never new. Not from Walmart and certainly not Target (Target was where rich people shopped. I had no concept of who shopped at a mall). My clothes didn’t even come from thrift stores. They came as hand me downs and from the free bins.

          3. drpuma*

            I had to dress up for church every Sunday growing up and all it taught me was that dress-up clothes are uncomfortable. I’ve re-learned how to dress up an adult.

            Good for you if you learned from your parents, or are teaching your kids, how to feel comfortable in formal clothes. But your statement is way too broad of a generalization.

          4. turquoisecow*

            Wow, no.

            My family is fairly informal, and so were all our family gatherings. If I showed up to Christmas dinner wearing a fancy dress, I’d feel pretty left out. We didn’t dress up to go to church (although we also didn’t wear stained t-shirts or shorts), and there were no weddings in my family between 1982 and 2005(ish) so that wasn’t a good opportunity to teach about formal dress.

            Also, adult business casual (or business formal) clothing is completely different from kids’ formal wear-to-church clothing, or adult wear-to-wedding clothes. And fashion changed enough in that 30 year period I mentioned that it’s not like I could have looked at my mother’s outfit she wore to church in 1990 and decide that was a good model for wearing to a job interview 20 years later.

            I learned to model the clothing of people I saw around me, or on television, but not from my parents. Once I got to the age where I was deciding on my own daily outfits, Mom advised me on things like matching vs. clashing, and some appropriateness (ie no you can’t wear that to school), but she didn’t work in an office, and wouldn’t have been able to advise me on job interview clothing. My dad did work in an office, but he’s a guy and doesn’t pay attention to what his female colleagues are wearing. Also, he works in a completely different industry, so the dress code varies between his workplace and mine.

          5. Lindsay J*

            What I actually think is pretty common is people whose only experience is dressing up for church or special occasions, being forced into itchy wool suits, scratchy crinoline dresses, shoes that pinched their feet because they didn’t fit right or weren’t worn in because they were worn only once in a blue moon, and not being allowed to run around and play or even eat normally because their parents were worried they were going to ruin their one set of good clothes.

            So they associate “dressing up” as being terrible and uncomfortable, and don’t want to do it as adults because of that.

            I know I refused to wear dresses until, like, after college, because I hated the dresses my parents made me wear as a toddler/elementary school kid until I started refusing.

            There is a world of difference between a jersey material wrap dress and the frilly things my parents used to make me wear.

            Just as there is a world of difference between a pair of dress pants that fit properly and are made of cotton vs wool dress pants that are a little tight and a little short because they were baggy last easter but you’ve gained 15 pounds and grown 3 inches in the meantime.

            I think most adults can become comfortable in dress clothes (and I do have a bit of annoyance towards those – especially guys, honestly – without sensory issues that refuse to put on a pair of slacks and a button down shirt because they feel like it’s changing themselves or because they just refuse to deal with being slightly less comfortable for an evening at a wedding or an hour interview).

            But I really think that that comfort will come from going out, as an adult human being, and trying on some clothes to find something that fits well and is non-irritating, and that you like and have chosen yourself and finding that you do have options and they’re not all terrible.

            Not from being forced to wear something you don’t like and don’t have much (if any) choice in as a kid.

            1. Lindsay J*

              Like this is the stuff my parents would make me wear as a kid:



              This is what I would wear to work as an adult woman





              There are very few similarities in them other than that they are dresses. And I would wear the second set 1 million times before I ever considered putting on an adult sized version of the kid ones.

              1. Penny Lane*

                Oh for heaven’s sake, I didn’t suggest that the exact dress-up clothing a child might wear to church/wedding/funeral was the exact dress-up clothing an adult would wear. I was talking about the concept of having clothing that was a step up from jeans/sweatshirts/t-shirts.

                I feel like there is a competition to prove how poor everyone is. You’re right, I should have specified “unless one was so poor that there was absolutely no money for anything beyond the bare essentials.”

          6. Lenina Huxley*

            Uh, yeah, as hard as it might be for you to believe, buying formal clothes at “resale shops or Target” is not attainable for plenty of families. When I was growing up we would manage a couple of outfits for back to school shopping from Walmart and then most of what else we owned was from charity bins at church.

          7. Annie Moose*

            I grew up dressing up every single Sunday for church, and it still was weird for me to dress formally for work. What’s appropriate for church is drastically different from what’s appropriate for any office I’ve worked in. I don’t wear dress pants and a jacket to church; I generally wear dresses. Meanwhile, I never wear dresses to work, just dress pants and usually a jacket. I happily wear open-toed shoes to church; I can’t wear them to work. And so on.

            It’s a totally new style of dress for a totally new situation–it’s not that weird for people to have difficulties transitioning to it.

          8. Temperance*

            I could not disagree with this comment more. I was one of those kids forced to dress up for church every single weekend, and hated it. I dislike formal clothing because it reminds me of being small and uncomfortable and forced to wear itchy clothes that I hated to a place that sucked.

            1. Penny Lane*

              Right, but as an adult you get that business casual clothing isn’t itchy/scratchy/uncomfortable the way that, say, crinolines were for a child?

              I’m also guessing there is a socioeconomic component to the types of outfits one dressed up in for formal occasions.

              1. Gaia*

                There definitely is. Penny Lane I think you really need to consider the level of privilege it took to write that there is no socioeconomic aspect and it is a failure of parents to not dress up their children for special events. There is a large portion of our country that live under the poverty line and many of them could never afford to do this. I’m grateful that I caught on quickly and am now in a position where I don’t have that level of scarcity but I recognize it very much exists.

          9. Specialk9*

            I think it’s important not to jump on the Parent Wars bandwagon. Seriously, it’s impossible to please everyone (especially non- parents who often have laughable ideas about how parenting works) and it’s this terrible constant-judgment that gets heaped on parents. We’re just trying to survive, dudes, back off.

            When you’re a parent, you just pick your battles sometimes. There is a reason so many toddlers and preschoolers look like they were dressed by drunk orangutans! (“I DO! NO!!” “Ok fine, wear your bathing suit, tutu, and firefighter coat, looks awesome kid.”) It’s actually an important stage of development. But more importantly, we all just gotta get out of the house on time.

      4. Damn it, Hardison!*

        One more piece of advice – if you can, wait to go shopping until you’ve been at your job a couple of weeks, so that you can see what business casual really looks like for your peers. It can mean slightly different things in different places, and even within departments at the same organization! I’m in IT in pharma and jeans are common in my group any day of the week, but less so in some of the other departments.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Agree with this. Maybe you’ll have to get a couple pairs of pants and shirts to start, but I would focus on just the bare minimum to get through the first week.

          I started in an engineering company in 2000, and had had business casual=khaki pants and a polo shirt drilled into me for all of college. I was happy to see I could wear black slacks, gray slacks, dresses, skirts, etc. (Seems obvious to me now, but I understand where the OP is coming from not being comfortable/not knowing.)

        2. BuffaLove*

          Yes! I bought a ton of nice button-downs, shells, blazers, and dress pants before I started my first biz cas job, thinking I would wear them all the time – turns out my office skews REALLY casual, and I can get away with jeans, a nice top, and a cardigan.

        3. kb*

          Yes! I’d buy a few basics before you start, but wait until you get that first paycheck to do a major shopping trip. The great thing about business basics is that they’re able to be mixed and matched with multiple things and also usually so plain nobody will notice you’re wearing the same items in different configurations in the same week.

        4. Legal Beagle*

          I agree completely with this. Work there for a while and just watch.

          I’ve worked in law firms, nonprofits and government in small, medium and large cities — and business casual meant something much different in all of those cases. (In the legal services nonprofit, it translated to shorts and Birkenstocks.)

          There will be those who say, “Wear what you want. It’s ridiculous to care about this.” My view is slightly different. A professional costume designer once took the time to show me that clothes communicate a lot about the wearer — e.g., overall status, organizational place, and personality type — and that we all perceive this, if not consciously. Therefore, if this is a job where you’re hoping to be promoted down the road, it may be worth your time to give some thought to how you can dress business casual, but with a backup that allows you to be more slightly more formal if need be (e.g., you throw a light scarf or a costume pearl necklace into your backpack should you need to go to a meeting and your shirt/blouse is otherwise too dressed down).

          1. Positive Reframer*

            +1 for the emergency back up accessory.

            Also great for when you show up anywhere else and find the dress code is a little nicer than you thought.

          2. Specialk9*

            Oh yeah. And watch for what your peers wear, vs what managers wear. And then lean more towards what managers wear. People really do pick up subconsciously on those cues! ‘X seems like they’re ready to move up’ when some of that is clothes cues.

        5. Penny Lane*

          +1. Definitely good advice to wait a few weeks and see. I worked in a casual-casual office (jeans and t-shirts and sneakers were totally fine, as long as clean and presentable) but we did have occasions in which clients came in, in which we were still casual but we took it up a notch, and when we went out to see clients we were in more business casual.

          When you present to people, you need to look visually interesting. We had one senior person who wore all black – which is fine, I wear black 90% of the time as well – but it’s too “blah” when you are a presenter unless you add a scarf, an interesting piece of jewelry, etc.

      5. Annie Moose*

        From somebody who felt ridiculously awkward when starting my current job, which insists on business formal–you get used to it surprisingly fast. I felt like a little kid dressing up in someone else’s clothes for the first couple months, but after that, it’s just become normal. Just gotta get through that initial weirdness!

      6. Anonymeece*

        As someone who almost exclusively dressed in jeans, work boots, and flannel shirts before, I sympathize wholly! I also felt terribly out of place when I started, like I was playing dress-up. Now, honestly, most of my wardrobe falls into business casual because that’s what I spend the majority of my time in, and it doesn’t feel nearly as weird anymore. You do get used to it!

        1. Penny Lane*

          Right, but I’m sure when you were growing up you had SOME occasions beyond jeans/work boots/flannel shirts, right? I find it hard to believe most adults didn’t have the occasional wedding to go to, or special dinner, or what-have-you.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Most adults, sure. There are going to be at least a few commenters who didn’t, just by the definition of “most”. I haven’t been to a wedding that required anything more formal than a sundress and am annoyed at the expectations of society that I will some day almost certainly need to go buy a fancy dress that I will only ever wear once and spend the day feeling mildly absurd in. I’m not even going to buy an ultra-formal dress for my *own* wedding.

      7. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        I feel you. I wear jeans, tees, and tennis shoes daily. I’ve worked in very casual places for the last decade. However, I worked in banks (as a teller so more business than casual, but no suits) for a few years and a couple of offices after that where it was business casual. I’m extremely uncomfortable dressing up and I have no eye for color so I can’t match things. I tend to get black or grey dress pants and then wear black tops with the grey pants and other colors with the black pants.

        1. Specialk9*

          That’s actually Miss Minimalist’s recommendation. Make it so you can put together an outfit in the dark and still look good.

          Make your neutrals all the same color family or working together (eg black, grey, white; or navy blue and light cognac brown). Check on Pinterest (eg what colors go with navy, etc) if you’re not sure.

          Then choose a couple accent colors that match that neutral family and each other too (eg red and teal go with black-grey-white; green and pink with black-white or with navy-brown; orange and mustard with navy-brown).

          So let’s say you grab a teal shirt and red cardigan, and gray pants. Or black skirt, white shirt, teal sweater. Or white capris, red blouse, teal scarf. Black pants, grey blazer, teal shirt. White and black dress, teal necklace. Etc.

          Or you have a navy blue pair of pants, cognac brown belt and shoes, and pale pink blouse. Green dress, pink shoes, navy scarf. Navy skirt, green shirt, navy sweater. Navy dress, brown shoes, green necklace.

      8. RUKiddingMe*

        OP try Target’s work clothing. It’s a whole section in the women’s clothing department inside the stores, or check online. I know it says “work” (i.e. “professional”) clothes, but they are for the most part what I would consider business casual.

      9. HannahS*

        My business casual wardrobe has, basically, four outfits (and what brand the components are):
        1. khakis (Gap), shirt-with-collar (Old Navy, H&M), cable-knit pullover sweater (Gap, H&M), proper ankle boots (Josef Siebel–a splurge)
        2. dress pants (Banana Republic, Ann Taylor), tank top/camisole (Old Navy), thin buttoned up cardigan (H&M), dress shoes (Hush Puppies)
        3. leggings (Old Navy, Gap), dress (Gap), boots (Blondo–again, a splurge)
        4. dress (home-made, or Old Navy), thin cardigan (H&M), cloth shoes (like Bobs or Toms)

      10. TootsNYC*

        I mentioned it below, but I’ll say it here–if you’re in a large-ish city, check to see if the department stores have “shopper” services. They frequently are NOT an extra charge, and the person has experience in teasing out what people like, and they can make the shopping experience fast because they know the store and the merchandise.

      11. Hush42*

        One of the best pieces of advice I got when starting in the business world is to pick a single base color and stick with it (usually Black, Brown or Navy). That way to don’t have to worry about what pieces go with other pieces. i.e. if you base color is always brown then all of your accessories, shoes, tops, etc should go with brown. My base is Black- all of my pants and skirts are black and all of my tops and dresses are colors that can be work with black bottoms and black shoes. This allows me to just pull a pair of pants and a top out of my closet without worrying about whether or not they go together.

    6. KarenK*

      Just to clarify – LL Bean is great, but their return policy has changed. Don’t remember the details, but they went from taking anything back at any time to a much more restricted policy, at least by comparison.

        1. Snark*

          Yeah, it’s now one year. Same with REI, actually – a lot of the stores that have done unlimited returns had to clamp down on it.

          I worked at REI when I was in college. The abuse of the return policy was just obscene. I had a dude who’d come in every year right after dividends came out, return the previous year’s grungy, stinky Chaco sandals, and exchange them for a new pair. I checked out his membership records, and he’d gone through SEVEN PAIRS of $100 sandals.

          1. Really Rosie*

            I read about someone who would simply return all of her kids’ backpacks to LL Bean after the school year was over and get new ones, for free, for the next year.

      1. BuffaLove*

        They still have a great return policy; they’re just trying to crack down on blatant abuse (returning well-worn or thrift-store-purchased boots for a new pair, etc.).

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Yeah, both my husband and my cousin kept telling me to return my very well-worn LL Bean slippers for new ones, because they’ll take anything back. Um, no. I’m not going to abuse a return policy like that. The slippers are simply well-worn because I’ve worn them everyday for several years. Apparently a friend of my cousin would go to the thrift store and specifically look for LL Bean stuff so she could return it later at LL Bean for brand new stuff.

          1. sunshyne84*

            You get two thumbs up from me! I hated when people did stuff like this at my old store.

          2. kb*

            It really grinds my gears when I hear people promoting the abuse of generous store policies and/or having unrealistic expectations about the life of a product. Something made of natural materials just isn’t going to survive more than a few years of moderate-heavy wear.

          3. Irene Adler*

            I’m with you.

            I’d be embarrassed to return old, worn slippers -or any other worn attire- for that matter. I know it is abuse of the policy. Don’t care if others see it as okay to do. I’m the one who has to look myself in the face every morning.

            1. Luna*

              I worked in retail in high school, and we once had a woman return a clearly dirty pair of underwear. And the manager let her just so he didn’t have to deal with her crazy.

              People are animals.

              1. The Other Dawn*

                When I worked in a grocery store at the service desk, we had a woman who would return her half-eaten leftover produce every single week. So basically she would buy what she thought she would eat in a week, and return anything left over, even if it was an apple with two bites out of it or half a head of lettuce that was wilting. And the policy at the time was that no receipt was required and we would take anything back, no questions asked. People abused the policy left and right.

              2. Irene Adler*

                I believe it. Folks success in doing this because they count on others not wanting to deal with the ‘crazy’.

            2. Penny Lane*

              As a counterpoint – my spouse had an Eddie Bauer down jacket that was at least 15 years old. They had some kind of lifetime repair guarantee and the zipper broke, so I took it in and asked them if they would repair the zipper (if they wouldn’t, I would have taken it to a tailor, but it was worth asking). The salesperson said – this jacket is too old and we won’t repair it since we don’t sell this model anymore – and I was about to be hugely disappointed when she continued – but since we have this guarantee, please go pick out another jacket and pointed me towards the rack of (very similar, guaranteed to 30-below) jackets. So yes, they gave me – without any prompting – a brand new jacket to replace this one that was clearly well-used and well-loved. My spouse was ecstatic, and we will be Eddie Bauer customers for life.

              1. kb*

                That’s great! I personally think zipper issues are a little different than other wear and tear bc zippers are metal or durable plastic– they really should hold up for a lifetime of use. Whereas when I worked retail, people would bring in a well-worn cardigan that had clearly snagged on something sharp and expect a replacement. Nobody should expect cotton to withstand a sharp metal object– that’s just not reasonable. Or a shirt that “mysteriously and sponaneously discolored” (pretty obvious bleach stains). The issue is that for every customer with a legitimate defect, there are three more who contributed to the issue with improper washing technique or use of the garment in a way that’s not recommended.

      2. kb*

        It’s still a v generous return policy for clothes. You can return within 1 year of purchase with the receipt (I recommend getting receipts emailed so you can keep them on file easily). Most other retailers’ policies are 30-90 days. And tbh, for most clothing items, any real defect is going to present itself in the first few wears.

    7. Lou*

      Yeah, business casual is a funny one. In my office, there are people who never wear jeans and always dress quite smart, and there are ones who just wear a button down and denim everyday. I found my happy place in between – if I wear grey/black jeans and a plaid shirt I balance with some smart heeled boots, other days I’ll pair a smart skirt/dress with a more casual shirt. It’s the sort of thing you can only really get used to once you’ve spent some time in the office.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        I am surprised that jeans are considered business casual in some places. They never have been anywhere I’ve worked, nor most places I know about around here, for that matter. Denim (jeans and, in most cases, even skirts) is, in my experience, one of the few really clear delineators for “casual.” But hey, YMMV.

        1. chocoholic*

          Black jeans particularly seem a little dressier than blue jeans. I have a pair that I love and wear them all the time.

          1. Former Retail Manager*

            Sooo true about black jeans. I also have a pair of very dark blue wide leg jeans that have been mistaken for dress trousers more times than I can count. Seems to really depend on the wash and the cut of the jeans. I personally have some jeans that look nicer than my co-workers well worn khakis.

    8. MCL*

      Or thrift shops. My mileage varies as a larger woman (there are definitely options, though), but my husband buys button down dress shirts at Goodwill for like $5 a pop, and they always seem to have zillions of those.

      1. MCL*

        Er, I guess they’re more like casual button down shirts, not formal dress shirts. Anyway. Thrift shops can be a great way to build up your wardrobe and save $$$. I personally enjoy shopping Thredup, an online thrift shop.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Our local Vinnie’s always has actual dress shirts, some of them obviously taken from the “unworn since they went to the cleaner’s” section of the closet, in addition to nice business casual button-downs. It’s a great place to shop for men’s business gear, and I think they’re $3/ea.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Yep, ours too. I think it depends on the area. The independent down the street from me has almost none of these, but the Goodwill in the nicer part of town has a ton of both ‘casual button downs’ and ‘put under a suit, with tie’ shirts.

            1. CarolynM*

              This exactly – there is a charity shop in a very nice area that serves my boyfriend well! Not just actual dress shirts, they are Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, etc. Many times unworn and still in package for $5! He also amassed a huge Harris tweed jacket collection – all for $2-10 each. Prada shoes for $20. I don’t find as much in my size, but did manage to find some really nice field pants and upland hunting pants, still in package, that fit like a dream! I looked up the price on the upland pants and they were $430! Got the pants for $2 each.

      2. Woodswoman*

        Yes, thrift stores are the source of a lot of my wardrobe. I prefer to do my shopping in person rather than online, to make sure things fit. A local favorite store has everything divided up by type of clothing–sweaters, short-sleeve shirts, jeans, dress pants, etc.–and by color. It makes it easy because if I’m looking for a blue button-down shirt, I can walk right over to where they all are instead of wading through racks of stuff I’m not interested in.

    9. MissGirl*

      I need to look at LL Bean because last fall I could not find a pair of khakis to save my life. I ended up ordering online from Maurice’s and they stretch out so much by the end of the day I’m drowning.

      Dress a little nicer your first day. My workplace is on the business side of business casual. I wouldn’t break out the khakis on meeting days at my office.

      A year in and I still feel like I’m posing. On days I change into jeans when I get home feels like I’m shedding an unwanted skin. May my next job be casual.

    10. LBG*

      I find it helpful to think of my work clothes as a type of uniform. It sounds crazy, but work clothes don’t have to be your style, t.hey just have to be the style of the office. I wear a suit most days (my lawyer uniform) and I like it because they are like garanimals (if you are old enough to remember those!). I never have to think about putting together an outfit because a suit always goes together. I do have difficulties doing business casual, because it requires a skill I don’t really enjoy, trying to figure out an outfit. I notice what other women in my office wear, and try to emulate it if I think it would work for my body type. The woman in the office next to me specializes in “lawyer casual” and she is my new role model. She is a bit younger, so I have to watch that. Anyway, every job has a uniform of some sort. It helps me to think of it that way.

    11. Clewgarnet*

      I’d only worked in stables when I started my first office job, and tended to veer extremely formal as a result. I had an awful lot of skirt suits, for an office where everybody else was far more casual. This was followed by swinging too far in the other direction in my next job, with leather trousers, skirts with slits up to my hip, and thigh-length boots. (I cringe now, but it actually fitted the office environment perfectly!)

      My standard outfit nowadays is a short dress/long tunic, leggings, and knee-length boots. If I need to dress more respectably because meetings, it’ll be a sober coloured tunic/dress. Otherwise, I like to wear something loud and colourful, and preferably clashing with my purple hair.

      Give it time, OP, and you’ll develop your own work-clothing style.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        ok, I gotta know: what is your career path, that you went from stables to… marketing? advertising? high fashion?

        My mind is boggling at the hip-slit skirt and thigh high boots in an office, but boy would I have had fun with that.

        1. Clewgarnet*

          LOL! I started off as a riding instructor/groom, then became a reporter (suits), then a telecomms engineer. The thigh-high boots aren’t the usual dress code for the industry (to put it mildly) but this was a small company where the engineering department had been recruited largely by the first two engineers to work there. One was ex-Army, so recruited mostly ex-squaddies. The other was extremely active in the local kink/BDSM community, so…

          1. Thursday Next*

            If Alison ever decides to profile interesting career *trajectories*, I’d love to read about yours!

    12. Oxford Coma*

      L.L. Bean, Land’s End, and that genre is really good for thicker, holds-up-well business casual. I have to occasionally crawl around/climb on stuff that can be grimy (tech job, adjacent to construction industry). On me, the kind of pants the women on Corporette like would have snags and blown-out knees in no time. (Honestly, the stuff I buy feels a bit frumpy at times, but I’d rather my clothing last than have to constantly replace more stylish options. It’s an impossible dream, I want like…Prada Dickies.)

    13. Basia, also a Fed*

      I also have a few staple places for clothes. I get my nice khakis at Eddie Bauer, in gray, black, and tan, because they have sizes that are good for short apple shaped women. I buy cardigans in a variety of colors from Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, and Land’s End. I also buy shells and blouses that have only three buttons on top from those same three places (shirts that have buttons all the way gap for me in an unfortunate location). For shoes, I buy Easy Spirit. They have lots of shoes suitable for business casual that feel like you’re wearing sneakers. All of these places have huge sales at least twice a year.

      As someone else already noted, these might necessarily be the right brands for you, but the point is that there are plenty of brands geared towards comfort, so you can find the ones that are right for you.

    14. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

      For people who like to dress in traditionally masculine ways, there’s a really great channel on Youtube called Gentleman’s Gazette that has video tutorials on business casual and other dress codes (along with lots of other advice on dressing well, identifying quality clothing even second-hand, and other dude-ly topics). It’s run by this guy Sven who is strangely addicting to watch, and if you like his style of dress he has an online store where you can buy pieces made to his specs. Highly recommend!

    15. Mookie*

      This is me to a near-perfect T: outdoor trade, physical labor background, steel toe boots, no make-up because it compromises my sunscreen. When work is sporadic, I get office jobs, and switch out the steel toes for flat Chelsea boots in a prettier material and flannel-lined khaki for high-waisted linen pleated trousers, plus tencel blouses and the odd drape-y blazer. That’s as dressy as I’m ever likely to get, and my trick for feeling confortable is to size up to give the effect of something tailored to look stylishly loose. Clothes like that, when they’re appropriately snug, make me look awkward as all get out, but whether I’m fat or thin (I waver between the two for bulking and cutting purposes), this method is the most flattering for me, though it does go against convention for very short women. I always admired high waists and wide legs on women I took to be white-collar professionals (looked very grown-up to me as a child and low-key stylish), so it did initially feel like I was playing at dress-up, but I’ve found it suits my personality and I often wear certain pieces outside of work, just for fun.

  2. FutureDogtor*

    OP3: I graduated from undergraduate year and am now in veterinary school, and while we don’t have to dress business casual everyday we do have one day a week where it is highly encouraged to do so (to get us used to it), and many events that are business casual along with the expectation that we will be dressed professionally when we go to the hospital to observe. And a ban on sweats and such (although it’s pretty lenient, especially around finals!)
    In undergrad I basically never had to dress up, so I definitely needed to expand my wardrobe (fun for me because I enjoy shopping). I also felt super awkward wearing business wear for interviews! But I can honestly say that whenever I do dress up now, I know everyone else will be dressed the same (so you don’t feel out of place), and I am getting to be more comfortable in them and more confident (not awkward!). I think it’s really important to find clothes that you like and fit the dress code- so you are excited to wear them. If you like fashion. If you are more like my sister than it’s just important to make sure that you are physically comfortable in them along with them being work appropriate. It’s easier to feel awkward if you hate what you’re wearing and aren’t comfortable in it!

    1. OP #3*

      Honestly so true about the clothes being comfortable. I don’t think anything I have actually fits that well and it makes me dread having to wear it.

      1. Nea*

        Okay, this is gender-specific, so if you are not a woman, pls ignore. If you are: Eshakti to the rescue. Shop the sales (they have many in the summer) and spend the extra $15 to get dresses made to your measurements.

        I have a lot of their knit dresses. They fit like a dream… and feel like I’m wearing pajamas to work.

        1. curly sue*

          Just be careful if you’re in Canada – eshakti ships from India and the border duties are insanely expensive (over $60 for one dress the one time I tried).

          1. Polar Bear don't care*

            I’m in Canada and have ordered from eshakti three (four?) times and never got hit with border duties. Not saying curly sue is wrong, of course – it’s luck of the draw, I guess. But I second eshakti. I didn’t actually pay the extra to get them exactly made for me, just measured myself and used their sizing chart, but all the dresses fit great and yes, great pockets. :)

          2. Specialk9*

            I think they now have local hubs in 11 countries. US, Canada, Australia, UK, Germany, Singapore, UAE, France, Italy, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia.

        2. Not a Blossom*

          Yest to eShakti! I love their dresses and I always get compliments on them!

          I also don’t know if the OP is female or femme-presenting, but if so, I will say that I have several simple dresses that I wear with leggings in the winter, tights when it’s cool but not cold, and bare-legged in the summer that are as comfy as pajamas but look really pulled together. (I work in a casual office but I like to wear dresses.)

          1. Fiennes*


            Growing up, I thought of dresses as fancy/uncomfortable/etc. (Of course, my teen years were a fashion desert for casual dresses.) But non-constricting dresses of softer fabrics are actually some of the comfiest stuff you can wear. Were I OP, I’d snap up some simple cotton dresses from LL Bean/Lands End/the Gap, some cardigans, and a couple good pairs of flats. You can play mix and match with that forever without once wearing something uncomfortable. Yes, that’s different than what OP wears day to day—but sometimes a fancier/more formal version of the familiar will actually feel weirder than something entirely new.

            1. kb*

              I also used to have a hang-up about dresses, but now, imo, they are the comfiest professional clothing option. I have a big butt and also tend lose and gain weight seasonally in my lower body, so not having to worry about pant fit is amazing. Dresses forever!

              1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

                Saaaaame. I just have a weirdly-shaped body now, and fitting pants is impossible; if it fits in the waist, it’ll be baggy in the legs, that’s just the reality. So I tend to wear midi dresses with leggings underneath, and it’s outrageously comfortable and totally fine for business casual (especially since I also tend to wear flowy cardigans over it). I wear Pumas because I’ve worked in pretty casual offices recently, but the whole thing pairs fancier with ballet flats.

      2. Sam.*

        Hey OP! Getting friends to help you shop is a good idea, but I’d start with just a couple of pieces. Before you invest more in your wardrobe, I think you want to get a sense of where your office is on the business-casual continuum and get a feel for what’s comfortable for you to wear on a daily basis. Some things you’ll just get used to wearing, but there are others you might find worth avoiding if at all possible.

        I feel like the goal is clothes that you don’t spend the day thinking about. For me, I know that if something fits awkwardly, or is designed to be particularly restrictive, or is too short, or is just uncomfortable, it’s going to be on the back of my mind all day. Now that I know which characteristics really bother me, I can make sure any work clothes I buy don’t have those issues. Good luck!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Yes, this is the grown-up version of “well just go to school and see what the other kids are wearing, and then we’ll go shopping.”

      3. Observer*

        Before you look at (semi)custom clothes, or alongside that, do some shopping around, but branch out. While it’s true that some people have more trouble than others finding clothes that fit well, often it’s just a matter of finding a different brand or line – or moving to a different “category”, such going from regular sizes to petite. It may cost a bit more, but if you can find stuff that fits well, it’s worth the effort and money.

        1. PhyllisB*

          Speaking of petites, does anyone know a store/website that still sells women’s (plus-size) petites? I used to could find them at my local Belk’s or Dillard’s but now their version of a petite is something like a size 4 with a 32 inch inseam. I can find nice looking plus sizes, but at 5’4″ they don’t always fit right. Shoulders too big, sleeves and pants too long, ect. I don’t mind paying for alterations for Investment clothes, but don’t want to do it for my every-day pants/jeans and tops.

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

            Try Christopher & Banks. Some of their styles are very old-lady/elementary teacher-ish, but they have a lot of really nice pieces, especially their jeans and dress pants. I know their pants at least come in petite sizes. I’m 5’4″ as well, but their average pants usually hit right for me.

          2. automaticdoor*

            Talbots! Again, some of it’s kind of old-lady-ish, but their suiting is really nice, and there’s a lot of more casual pieces. They call it “women petite.”

            1. Drago Cucina*

              And if you catch Talbot sales it’s really great. Twice a year I stop by the Talbot’s outlet one my way back from a state meeting. The last time they had cable knit sweaters for $11. They fit great and are perfect with pants or a skirt. I’ve gone full Bree Van De Kamp with pearls or a scarf when I needed to bit a bit dressier, but not suit dressy.

              As a pear shaped person I never thought I’d wear pencil skirts. The neoprene skirts at Eloquii are my new favorites. I often wear them with t-shirts. (The viola fit is great since it’s not tight.)

            1. Nonprofit pro*

              Not really anymore. They were bought out by a different company and the clothing is nothing like it was before.

              1. Specialk9*

                The company that bought them also bought Talbots and Coldwater Creek. I think the decline happened internally.

      4. Snark*

        Consider looking for clothing that’s a little more expensive, but which has some stretch to it. Clothing that doesn’t move with you is a drag.

      5. Tardigrade*

        If you’re going to spend most of your time sitting down, or, heck, even if you aren’t, I advise you to consider pants with some stretch and give at the waistline to accommodate the sitting-pooch.

        1. Positive Reframer*

          Also that you won’t have to constantly pull up, or have front wrinkle/crease lines from sitting.

      6. Eye of Sauron*

        That’s the thing. When you are starting out, chances are you’re trying to wear things that you don’t wear often or you bought a while ago for that specific ‘thing’ and it doesn’t fit very well.

        You can get some very nice blouses (think flowy/breezy/loose) (TJmaxx, Ross, Marshalls, Kohls, JCP, H&M and other dept stores (JJill is also a good place to find looser fitting clothing, skews to an older demographic, but some very classic pieces can be found that would look good on any age) and a couple of nice white t-shirts or tank tops and start there. For pants you can never go wrong with a couple of pair of black or gray dress pants (JCP worthington is my inexpensive recommendation). Last a few neutral colored cardigans (cotton/linen for summer and in the fall wool – spend a little more in this category for quality (my favorite place for sweaters is woolovers(with a . and a com) . Nice black shoes in either a heel or a flat – for right now avoid loafer, clogs, or anything like that), make sure the shoes (or boots) aren’t scuffy or worn looking.

        With this combination you can then adjust as needed, the blouse/cardigan will work with either jeans or the pants you bought, the nice shoes will dress up jeans, the cardigan is the laid back cousin to the blazer. The nice layering t-shirts can be worn with just the cardigan.

        The other thing to keep in mind is to try on clothes at the store (this sounds like silly advice) if anything pulls or feels tight or otherwise feels wonky… pass on it. Nothing worse than wasting money on clothes that you hate or don’t wear because it’s not comfortable.

        Now that you’ve got enough to get through the first couple of weeks. Make an effort to buy one piece every time you get paid. It might be a new blouse or shirt or you may save up a bit to get a higher quality piece, but it’s easier to build a wardrobe 1 piece at a time and start rotating it in. At this point try finding a few blazers or adding skirts or button downs into the mix.

        Good luck!

      7. chocoholic*

        Target can be a good place to get some basic pieces – they have V-neck t-shirts and cardigans that can mix and match, you can add a scarf or necklace to dress it up or down. Button down shirts look a little more dressy, so maybe see if you can pick up a few of those.

      8. Elizabeth H.*

        I recommend checking out http://www.reddit.com/r/femalefashionadvice. There is a ton of fantastic advice about business casual for workplaces and they have a guide for beginners to workwear. If you consult their top posts you’ll see that there are a number of posts from other people in this type of situation, who are unsure how to wear clothing a level of formality above what they’re used to, and posts that provide guidance on choosing and wearing business casual clothing that is comfortable, fits you naturally and comfortably and still makes you feel like yourself. You can check out their guide here: https://www.reddit.com/r/femalefashionadvice/comments/71ng5r/business_dress_what_to_wear_to_work_and_interviews/ and other relevant posts here: https://www.reddit.com/r/femalefashionadvice/search?q=business+casual&restrict_sr=on

        This is obviously gender specific but I’m just assuming female because workwear for women is generally more confusing – but there’s r/malefashionadvice too!

    2. Who'da Thought*

      You’ll be wearing scrubs as an actual vet I’d assume? Being a vet is a messy business. My cat sheds all over the place and has drawn blood from the poor vet before (I felt so bad and embarrassed, but she didn’t seem to care).

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        At my vet office the vet techs wear scrubs, but the vets wear something more business casual.

        1. MCL*

          Yeah my vet wears a white coat over business casual. Techs wear scrubs. When I worked at a vet years ago, vets only wore scrubs for surgery and the like.

  3. AcademiaNut*

    If you don’t need to dress up very often, it’s possible that your good clothes aren’t actually all that comfortable – it’s not unusual to spend more time, effort and money on clothes you wear regularly, particularly as a cash strapped student buying an interview outfit at a discount or thrift store. So one way of making the transition easier is spending a bit of time figuring out what kind of business casual clothes (and shoes!) you find most comfortable and flattering for daily wear.

    1. Jenny*

      I agree with this advice!

      When I graduated from college I made a lot of assumptions of what I’d be expected to wear and I used graduation money to buy some very uncomfortable work suits and blazers. When I started working, I saw how everyone dressed and I was able to slowly build an affordable work wardrobe. See what folks are wearing once you start. You might be surprised at how little you have to spend. For example, at my office, a lot of the women wear those pixie pants from Old Navy – I have a number of solid colored ones (black, khaki, navy, dark green) and I pair them with sweaters and a larger necklace. Very inexpensive and honestly the pants are more comfortable than jeans because they have a little bit of stretch to them.

      Online outlets like Banana Republic Factory, J Crew Factory and Gap Outlet are perfect for cheaper pieces you can wear (for men and women). Ann Taylor even does a monthly wardrobe rental . . .

      1. When it rains...*

        I love pixie pants from Old Navy! I like all of your mentions Jenny. I would just add LOFT to the list..,

  4. Mike C.*

    12-14 STAR type questions is way, way too much. What could an employer be getting out of the 10th question that they didn’t already learn by question 3 or 4?

      1. Artemesia*

        Agreed. And the most graceful way to deal would be to build on a previous answer. After 4 or so different examples, circle back and reference the earlier situation which showed how you dealt with conflict and enhance it to talk how you dealt with blown deadlines (or whatever). That way you don’t have to build a new narrative 12 times.

      2. OP #5*

        thank you! I really felt under the gun by the time we got to the end of this interview. I started out well, but by the last 2 or 3 questions, I was out of ideas & energy!

    1. The RO-Cat*

      Well, I do CBI (Competence-Based Interviews) as part of Assessement Centers. We have 3-4 questions per competence; depending on the number of competences the client wants assessed we might go up to 15 – 20 questions (though 20 is really the upper limit; usually there are 12 – 14). Each question probes for a very specific behavior / attitude; the subject is welcome to recycle a situation as long as they discuss different aspects / behaviors. Less than 10 questions would be… unusual in this line of work.

      On the other hand, this is more than a simple interview, so…

      1. Irene Adler*

        I’d love to pick your brain sometime regarding the thought behind these behavioral questions.
        Is there really a whole lot of difference between:
        “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult person”
        “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a disagreement with someone”
        So why ask both questions?
        And what does “Tell me about a time when you had to make a quick decision” garner in terms of understanding a candidate?
        I could go on but I’ll stop here.

        1. The RO-Cat*

          We can talk about it on Friday’s open thread. I’m no expert, not by a long shot, but I’ll tell you what I know and how I do things, if you’d like.

        2. DDJ*

          As someone who occasionally conducts interviews:
          A “difficult person” usually means someone with whom you don’t really get along overall. So the question is about dealing with different personalities.
          A “disagreement with someone” is just a problem-solution-outcome situation. I have disagreements with coworkers who are perfectly pleasant.

          And you can have disagreements that aren’t really fights, they’re just…disagreements. Being able to differentiate between the two is important. One has to do with conflict, the other is much more to do with organizational behaviour. Someone who bottlenecks work and is generally unreachable when you need them may be a “difficult coworker.” Or someone who refuses to do anything outside of their immediate scope of work (the “that’s not my job” types). A disagreement could be as simple as “I thought that format A made the most sense, my boss thought format B made the most sense, so we worked through the pros and cons of each, and ultimately we decided that format B really made more sense.”

          We ask the “quick decision” question too, but more phrased as “tell me about a time when you had to make a decision without having all the details or information.” For me, that question helps me to figure out if someone is comfortable with a bit of ambiguity, or if they need 100% clear, full details and instructions 100% of the time. There are people like that, and they can be great in certain roles, but sometimes, you need a person who can also use their best judgement.

    2. babblemouth*

      I’m not sure I could come up with 12 questions like these, at least not any that would be differentiated enough… It’d be interesting to hear what kind of situational questions have come up in interviews – maybe something for the Friday open thread?

      1. Kiwi*

        There was a thread like that a few weeks ago. Someone asking what kind of behavioral questions they could expect to come across.

          1. Cercis*

            Do you have a link? I hope to have an interview soon-ish and want to start preparing. I feel like interviews are my weak point – at least in this profession. In the legal profession they were more like a conversation and I excelled at those. But this profession is very much behavioral questions and there’s a lot of quiet while they write down exactly what you say. It’s hard to not keep talking and do the “nervous talking” thing, but you also can’t get into a good flow because you have to stop and wait for them to finish writing.

    3. Irene Adler*

      Totally agree.
      In fact, I faced an interview that was nothing but behavioral questions. Had to be 18-20 of them. Because I could not supply an answer for the last few that involved my professional life , I failed the interview. I managed to get feedback from them: I’m not serious about my discipline. It was suggested that I take a more professional approach of my job search.
      But no questions were ever asked about my skill set. Sheesh!

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        Weird… sounds like you dodged a bullet there. Nothing like taking things to the extreme.

      2. OP #5*

        I felt the same way. Fortunately, I will be meeting with the hiring manager to get some feedback on the interview, but I’m anticipating that this will be some of the feedback–that I wasn’t prepared enough.

  5. Mom MD*

    If Jane surprises you with coffee, you don’t need to pay. If she announces she’s going for a coffee run, absolutely pay for yourself or opt out.

    1. Q*

      I agree. When I offer to buy coffee for my teammates, I assume I’m paying. But if I just say “I’m running down to the coffee shop” and you say “please pick me up a whatever” then I expect you to pay for it.

      1. LBK*

        On the latter, if you chime in when someone mentions they’re getting a coffee and ask someone to grab you something then I agree you should definitely pay. However, I had a coworker who would specifically go around and ask everyone if they wanted something from Starbucks. That was a little more ambiguous to me as to whether I was obligated to pay – I did usually at least try to make a show of giving her money and then she’d turn it down (mostly because the salespeople give us SB gift cards as thank yous a lot so she was rarely actually paying with her own money).

    2. LBK*

      Agreed. If you buy something for someone that they didn’t ask for especially without warning, you’re not entitled to reimbursement.

    3. Eye of Sauron*

      Also there’s nothing awkward to default to thinking that you will be paying. A quick “What do I owe you?” Will get you the answer you’re looking for… the response will either be “Nothing” or “$2.50”. If someone shows up at your desk with a surprise cup, then it’s ok to assume that it’s their treat, but you can still ask the ‘what do I owe you’ question if you want.

      1. teclatrans*

        Yes, this is how I handle it, most especially when I am not sure what the other person expects.

    4. margaret*

      Agreed. If Jane does surprise you with coffee, just be sure to express your thanks sincerely! And I know you’re trying to save money, but if you’re looking to somehow return the gesture generally, perhaps you could pick up a coffee cake or bake a batch of cookies (or similar) once in a while for the office to share.

      You didn’t mention this at all, but another small inexpensive gesture specifically for Jane (and/or your boss) would be to buy them a reusable coffee cup if they don’t use one. Bonus of reducing waste!

  6. KR*

    Hi #3! One thing that really helped me feel more comfortable in my business clothes was getting things that really fit me well. I spent some time searching for the PERFECT pairs of slacks, the right heels for work (1.5-2 in wedges – they look just like comfy flats with heels), and a couple go-to shirt/cardigan/blazer combos. I am almost there. When I was in misshapen business casual clothes that were a mash up of my high school concert band uniform, casual attire, and whatever I found on clearance I felt out of place and awkward whenever I was dressed up for work. Now, though I much prefer working in jeans and sandals, when I have to dress up for company events and travel I feel more at ease and stylish. I also have clothes that I KNOW fit me and look professional, so it makes me less panicked when I need to dress up.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is so true, and I totally forgot that I now take this for granted. Having AWESOME clothes that fit well and felt comfortable helped transform my feelings about more formal attire. It can sometimes take time to accumulate that wardrobe, but there are cost-effective ways to do it if you spread the process out over time.

    2. OP #3*

      Fit is definitely an issue I’m struggling with. Ultimately I’m just going to need to actually go to real stores instead of thrift shops to find clothes that look professional. Thank you!

      1. Anonymous Ampersand*

        You might well find that when you’ve cracked it you can go back. I’ve bought some of my fave work dresses in charity shops (in the UK).

      2. Sutemi*

        If you try on clothes from a variety of retailers and find what fits, you might be able to go back to thrift or consignment. Keep track of what brands/styles/sizes fit best and then search for them online (Ebay, Threadup) and in thrift stores.

        1. Positive Reframer*

          Yes, if you enjoy the thrift store hunt find what items in what labels work for you and what sizes. Also pay attention to the fabric and what a Maurice/H&M level thing feels like and what a Nordstrom level item feels like. That way you can identify higher quality pieces that are worth trying on.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Back when I had a business casual office I did well out of a spot called Repeat Petites. You may still find some good thrift store options.

      4. SoSo*

        I’ve dealt with that same issue, OP. I’ve always felt awkward and frumpy in business clothes, but the best thing I did was 1) look for outfit inspirations online with things/items I liked to give me some direction on what to look for, and 2) didn’t purchase anything unless I felt comfortable in it and liked the way that it looked on my body (I also realized I had to start shopping in the petite section because everything looked frumpy, which had never been a Thing for me before). It’s made a huge difference. I’ll also say that it’s great to scour clearance/sale items at higher end stores (department stores, ann taylor/the loft, banana republic, LL Bean, etc etc) so you can still get good quality items that don’t destroy your budget.

      5. Elemeno P.*

        I had a lot of issues with fit until I found the right dresses. Everyone thinks I’m dressed up but I’m actually just wearing a giant shirt out of the house. Almost my entire wardrobe is sleeveless dresses: pair with a cardigan for work, take off cardigan for play (and also sometimes at work because I live in Florida). If your gender presentation and work duties align with dresses, I highly recommend them!

        1. CanuckCat*

          Dresses were my go-to when I first started working (and was coming from a graduate program where classes started mid-afternoon so getting up before 9 am was painful). I especially love Old Navy’s t-shirt dresses – thick enough knit that they don’t show anything but if you wear them with a cardigan and dressier shoes, no one can tell the difference.

          I would also suggest investing in some accessories that look expensive (they don’t have to be expensive, just look like it) because they can really add some ‘oomph’ to an otherwise basic outfit. I have a heavy rose gold tank watch that I wear to work every day and even when I’m wearing a blouse and jeans, it still dresses up the outfit.

      6. CM*

        I think you can actually find perfectly professional pieces in thrift shops (at least in places near where wealthy people live…) and you might try consignment stores too. I’d suggest looking at blogs — I remember Already Pretty and You Look Fab being good, although these suggestions may be out of date — but you’ll find lots of good advice about putting together a work wardrobe. Google “capsule wardrobe” if you haven’t heard of that.

      7. J.*

        Honestly, my world changed when I started getting my clothes tailored. Not everything, obviously, I’m not made of money, but particularly for dresses and slacks it’s absolutely worth it. I’ve found that when I like something that’s almost-but-not-quite right, it’s worth the $12 to get the bust taken in or the length hemmed. (The easier the issue, the cheaper it is to correct. And I have learned from experience that I’m just not going to be able to hem a pair of pants myself and still have them look professional when I’m done.) This is especially true if you manage to get good finds in thrift or secondhand stores. That $8 for a pair of pants plus $12 to tailor it to my body looks and feels better than a $20 pair of pants off the rack in a department store.

      8. Solidus Pilcrow*

        There are advantages to shopping in a retail store. If you find something you like, you can get multiples, often in different colors. You like a jacket in black? You can also get it in gray and navy. Find a good fitting pair of slacks? Get 3 of them.

        Depending on your fitting challenges, suit separates can be wonderful. My jacket size is 2-3 sizes bigger than my pant size (apple shape with no hips/butt). Going to a store with all the size options means I can get a matching jacket and slacks easily. I wouldn’t be able to do that in a thrift/secondhand store or at least not easily.

      9. BlueWolf*

        My best advice if you are shopping at stores with lots of stock is once you find a good pair of pants or a blouse that you like, by multiples in your size (in different colors) if possible. Especially when I find good pants that fit, I try to buy at least 2-3 pairs. My go-to has always been The Limited for work clothes because they tend to have the same piece in different colors. I literally have 5 of the same blouse in different colors/patterns and several pairs of pants from them. If you have neutral colored pants, you can easily mix and match with any color blouses. Unfortunately, I think they are online-only now, but you can always return something if it doesn’t fit. I also loved them because they offer pants in different lengths, too.

        1. BettyD*

          Agree. When you find the clothes that fit (and whatever’s comfortable within your budget) stockpile! I own three pairs of the same black Lee chino trousers, and about 6-7 pairs total in a variety of colors, because finding pants that fit my body is a huge hassle. Good fit matters and makes a huge difference in my level of wardrobe comfort.

      10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP, you may want to find a good tailor. Even retail clothes can be tough to fit properly (and may require tailoring), but you can often get thrift pieces and get moderate tailoring and still pay less than if you’d shopped retail off the rack. It’s amazing how very small changes can completely transform the fit (e.g., if I get most pieces taken up by 1” in the shoulders, it transforms the fit).

      11. Marillenbaum*

        Also, if you do pick up things at a thrift store (which is GREAT and useful), use the money you’ve saved buying secondhand to get some of those things tailored; it does a lot to improve the quality of fit, because while sizing is standardized, bodies certainly aren’t.

      12. General Ginger*

        OP, seconding or thirding the tailoring suggestion. It was a game-changer for me with trousers. My hips are wide, so any pants that fit there will gap at the waist, and have lots of extra fabric through the leg. I have everything taken in now, and it’s proved to be surprisingly affordable (especially if I’m thrifting the trousers in the first place).

  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, I found that checking out style guides and getting ideas of how business casual could work took some of the pressure/anxiety/awkward feelings out of dress codes. I think part of the uncomfortability with more formal dress codes is that it can feel like you’re playing “dress up” as an adult. Part of getting over that is practicing, but it can help to see how you could pair different things to shift toward the business casual look. It’s not as big of a step as it seems—going from jeans to slacks, or t-shirts to blouses/tops, is actually a pretty small step.

    1. Mad Baggins*

      This. As a less experienced office worker it made me feel like “playing dress up” in uncomfortable clothing I never wore, and was sure everyone could tell that I was just a kid playing in adult clothes. Now that I wear biz cas every day, I have a selection of clothes I like that fit me and work with the dress code, I’m used to seeing myself in them, and I know that I belong at my office in the adult working world.

      Of course I prefer PJs but still! I think it’s part of growing up.

        1. SKA*


          Especially since my mom was the one who took me shopping for my first business-casual wardrobe. It took years before I discovered that I could be comfortable while dressing up a little, but just had to find my own style. (Turns out: it’s not skirts and wide-legged pants and flowy blouses; but it IS button-ups, slim-cut pants, and oxfords!)

          I still get the “little kid who got into mom’s stuff” feeling whenever I try on mascara, though. But I can easily go without that my entire life with no professional downsides, at least!

        2. Former Admin Turned Project Manager*

          My first office job as an adult was at my mom’s company (she was a department director, I was the receptionist), so I had to fight really hard not to end up looking like a mini-version of her! We showed up on one day looking like twins (black and white houndstooth plaid skirt, white blouse, red blazer) completely serendipitously. I looked to women in the office who were closer to my age and had jobs in the layer between me and my mom to get a good feel for my most appropriate work-style.

          1. MotherRunner*

            Did one of you go home to change, or did you wear the matching outfits all day? If this happened to me with a coworker i wasn’t related to, i would wear the outfit and it would be a funny thing to laugh about. But i can see how the calculus would change if you’re dressed like your mom, and possibly still trying to establish yourself as a professional in your own right.

    2. SarahKay*

      It might also be worth seeing if you can get permission to come in and meet some of your colleagues-to-be before you start the job. That way you’ll be able to see what they consider business casual, since in my experience that phrase can cover a multitude of sins (or rather, of dress-codes). You may even find that some of your existing wardrobe will fit in with what is worn there.

      1. Dancing Pangolins*

        I agree with the suggestions here and above. I also found that wearing a nice blazer over a simple t-shirt and black jeans (no cuts, scrapes, or embroidery) with a pair of nice shoes works wonders. Shoes and blazers have the unique ability to polish ones look in ways that other garments can’t. Plus she’s always ready for happy hour after :-)

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Or scour their website for any photos of people on the job (as opposed to posed headshots, which are probably going to be more formal than daily wear).

    3. Tardigrade*

      And there are plenty of blogs and Pinterest boards dedicated to business attire. Obviously that will mean different things at different places, but these people are good at pairing clothes and accessories (of course some of them seem to have slightly unrealistic dress codes, so be aware). I like The Work Edit and Corporette, the latter runs more conservative.

  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, offer to return the favor with respect to the coworker from time to time. For your boss, let him keep covering coffees, and just remember to pay it forward when you’re in a similar position.

    1. Em Too*

      Agreed, and I don’t think the repayment has to be coffee. Making or buying a box of cookies or flapjacks is cheaper than coffee, and 2 or 3 times a year is enough to be considered the generous office-feeder.

      1. nonymous*

        came here to say this too! As I get older (and acquire pets) I personally have been avoiding the homemade treat route, just because of potential contamination and allergens, but small candies would be an inexpensive option. OP#1 could try looking for imported sweets (World Market has good selection) or just bring in what she gets gifted by others to stay on budget.

        Also, it was unclear what the office dynamics are. It could be that coworker sees herself more of a lead or is being groomed for leadership?? wouldn’t want to make it look like a competition. Since OP#1 is new, now is the time to pull another staff member aside and just ask quietly.

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        Where does one buy a “box of flapjacks?” I am in the U.S. and I’ve only ever heard the term flapjacks used to refer to pancakes….I’m picturing a box of pancakes….now I want pancakes….

          1. Em Too*

            Get oats, mix with melted butter and several forms of sugar/dried fruit, ‘allow to cool’ while eating most of the mixture hot out the pan.

  9. Close Bracket*

    OP2: companies have different timelines for new graduates then they do for experienced workers. They want experienced workers to be available right away or close to right away. They understand that new graduate will be available in May, August, or December, because that is when people graduate. If you have to take board exams, they know that, and they are willing to accommodate it. My first job out of graduate school, I interviewed early in the year, maybe March, and I wasn’t graduating until August. I can’t remember when the job offer came, but it was not that long after the interview. Employers know about this stuff. They understand.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Often but not always. It depends on the job and the field (there are definitely employers who are looking to hire more quickly) so it’s worth clarifying up-front.

    2. CM*

      Also, in my experience, I found that jobs that recruit grad students expect you to interview in the spring and start sometime during the summer. I would not push back interviews to June — I think that would signal that you’re not that interested, and they would be likely to hire someone else. For jobs that aren’t specifically recruiting you as a grad student, you could start looking and interviewing later.

    3. Scion*

      It’s very much a field thing. My first job out of college, which started in July, I interviewed/accepted the job in November – 8 month in advance! My field is engineering. There were certainly people who waited until the spring, but they had a much harder time looking, as most companies were already done hiring at that point.

      1. CMart*

        Very similar in the accounting field. Interviews in the early fall for jobs beginning in June–or sometimes not even until the following September! There are sometimes interviews in the spring, but not many, and those are then often for positions that don’t begin until the next year.

        This is, of course, for the entry-level new-grad targeted positions.

    4. LBK*

      Mmmm, yes and no. Sometimes you need someone sooner and it’s not worth waiting that long, especially for an entry-level role where you’re probably not starved for qualified candidates.

    5. OP2*

      Thank you for the advice to all! It’s a complicated situation (partially due to my own management of the situation). I’m graduating from a Physician Assistant program mid June, and traveling out the next weekend. I had a phone screen with the potential supervising physician and gave him my timeline. It’s not that I don’t want to work earlier- it’s simply that I can’t guarantee that I would be able to take the boards and get licensed before August. They tried to set up a site visit in mid April, so I countered with the dates of my trip but made a comment about being flexible. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything back since then.

      1. Sigrid*

        And if PA licensing is anything like MD licensing, it can take forever and a day to get your California license specifically. That absolutely has to be factored in.

      2. L.Squared*

        I’m also in an allied health profession (not a PA, but similar). We often interview our new grads anywhere from January-April expecting them to start June (on a provisional license) or August (on a full license after boards). If we waited until June to interview someone, all of the new grads would likely have found jobs elsewhere. So for us, pushing back the interview that far would likely exclude you from our process. If it’s a place that frequently hires new grads to the field (especially in fields that required board certification), they likely understand the timeline and reason for delayed start, so you can always ask what their typical process is.

  10. Dan*


    I work in a field where it is the norm to interview non local candidates and have the company pick up the tab.

    It is highly unusual for the interviewee to front the hotel and airfare costs and submit for reimbursement. It’s much more common for the company to just take care of everything.

    OP, I’d suggest moving to that. Other than getting a few frequent flyer miles, there’s no advantage to the candidate taking care of the logistics. And with such an imbalance in the dynamic, you’d be doing your candidates a favor by removing an unnecessary stressor.

    1. LouiseM*

      Agreed. The students may feel like they’re putting you out by asking you to book their travel–present it as the default option and they’ll be grateful.

    2. nnn*

      Agreed. Added to that, entry-level candidates (especially if they’re students or new grads) might have very low credit limits that make it a struggle to even book a flight and hotel.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Yes, and even “Our Corporate Rate at Hotels X and Y” can be a shock if all you can normally afford is a Youth Hostel or Premier Inn/Ibis Budget/Motel One.

        I have related the tale on here before about having a credit card rejected at check-in because the receptionist wanted to block a guarantee of EUR 1000 for the room, which I didn’t have (and at no point beforehand had it been mentioned). It was another level of stress, which at the time I didn’t really need.

        1. Dan*

          Ha. The one company that had me book my own tickets ended up paying $1600 rt for a 500 mile flight. Even worse, I was overseas at the time they called me for an interview, and I was required to use their preferred travel agent… Who was only available by phone M-F 9a-5p east coast time. That was super inconvenient to say the least. Why they couldn’t just take care of it like every other company was beyond me. I even emailed them back, saying I was overseas and this was a hassle and could they please take care of it. They were like, nope.

          That reminds me, my first credit card in college only had a $600 limit. As a grad student, I had the credit line to handle these travel expenses, but as an undergrad? No way. $1600 in my bank account? Ha!

          Even now in my professional life, it’s taking me awhile to be comfortable with the fact my employer will pay for expensive non stop flights that I would pass on in exchange for saving a bunch on a connection. I was really stressing that $1600 plane ticket and wondering if I should just drive. Company ended up reimbursing me for that without batting an eye.

          1. Lindsay J*

            Yes. I like that my company books everything for me exactly so I don’t have to make that calculation.

            If they want to book me for a non-stop, they can do that. If they want to book me with a connection, they can do that. I don’t have to book the non-stop and then stress that I really should have booked the connecting flight even though the connecting flight would have meant spending 4 hours sitting in the Atlanta airport – too long to easily entertain myself, too short to bother leaving the airport and doing anything else.

            Plus, I still get the miles.

            And I have my corporate card, so in case something does happen (get to the rental car counter to find out they can’t find my booking) I can use that to fix the situation, then call my boss to let him know.

            And they take our preferences into account at least (so I can specify that I prefer flying out of HOU vs IAH, or that I hate red-eyes, or whatever, and they will take that into account if at all possible.

      2. BuffaLove*

        Yeah, I only have a sample size of one, but I would have struggled to come up with up-front cash for the hotel and (last-minute/pricey) flight when I interviewed out-of-town as a new grad. I’m very glad that they didn’t even present that as an option.

      3. nonymous*

        This reminds me of a group trip that my department paid for while I was in grad school. The hotel had been pre-paid by the admin, but they needed a credit card for incidentals. In the group of 5 graduate students, I was the only one with a credit card! I had to ask the front desk to explain to them what the company’s hold policy would be for those using debit cards, and then it turned out that some people didn’t have enough to cover the hold.

    3. GM*

      Absolutely agree. My first thought when I read #4 was that – why doesn’t the company just make the bookings for them? That would solve the problem at the root cause.

      1. rudster*

        Well, they might book you something leaving at 5 am with 2 stops and landing at the regional airport two towns over (though the latter is not always a bad thing) just to save a few dollars. If I’m traveling for work, even if someone else ultimately footing the bill, I like to retain some input into the process.

        1. Blank*

          Happily, we’ve got a corporate travel agent who will pretty much book what you tell them. Send along a screenshot of the preferred flights, done and booked. I struggled a bit at first because I’d thought they’d do the research for me, but they’re very good at taking direction.

          1. WellRed*

            Our corporate travel does the research and sends me options. Otherwise, if I have to do it and send her a screenshot, why am I using her?

            1. Blank*

              I’ve grumbled the same to my boss, believe me. Usually the options they send along are wildly inappropriate! I travel enough that it’s quicker to just ask for what I want, rather than having a long email conversation via our admin that nudges them in the right direction. (Especially with hotels in foreign capitals, they have a habit of offering places across town from the meeting site, even if they’re given an exact location to target.)

              Still, I’d rather do it this way than to fuss with corporate credit cards or bear the expense myself. I ask for what I want, I get a confirmation, everyone’s happy. :)

        2. Dan*

          Well, if they do that, it says a lot about the company.

          I’ve traveled enough on interviews where that isn’t a real concern.

        3. Eye of Sauron*

          Although if they do that, you’d know that you probably don’t want to work for them. Nobody wants to deal with Guacamole Bob (not the poster, but the miserly penny pinching accountant)

    4. Engineer Girl*

      I’m going to agree too. Book the trip for them instead of reimbursing it. As previously stated, many students don’t have the money. It also could cause adverse impact on certain groups. If you value diversity in hiring then pay for the trip up front.

    5. Orfeo*

      I think that would address one aspect of the problem, and would be better overall, but the same dynamic would resurface in different ways. Candidates are reluctant to make totally reasonable demands, including claiming reimbursement that they have been promised, while their applications are being considered because they don’t want to be seen as demanding.

      I know that if I was in that position, and the company booked travel for me, I would be thinking very carefully about how I interacted with the person booking the travel. I’m not sure I would feel comfortable asking them to make changes, in the same way I would if I had already been hired. Travel can interact in complex ways with lots of personal circumstances, including disability, and candidates could worry that what they reveal about themselves in the process of booking travel could bleed into the interview process in unpredictable ways.

      If possible, I would try to separate the travel reimbursement or booking process as much as possible from the interview process. If the company is large enough that the person making the travel arrangements or handling reimbursement is not otherwise involved in the hiring decisions, make that clear to candidates if at all possible.

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        One other thing you may want to consider doing if applicants don’t take you up on your offer to book for them, when you meet the applicant during their visit, you could say something like “…and I’m the one you’ll send your receipts to for reimbursement.” This reiterates that you want the receipts and makes it sound expected that they’ll have receipts to submit to you.

    6. The Outsider*

      One thing I’m not sure is being made clear – when the firm is offering to do the booking, they mean they will be PAYING for it all. Booking to me means making the reservations. If I’m a poor student on a budget how do I know you will look for the cheapest rates? I think you need to make it absolutely clear that booking includes paying as well. Not everyone is familiar with this protocol.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I agree. Saying you’ll “book” my travel would make me think “oh no, I won’t have any influence over where I stay *and* they expect me to pay for it?” In your world, it may be universally understood that “book” means “pay for,” but these students are not in your world yet.

    7. Judy (since 2010)*

      I’d also say that in my experience, when a company picks up the tab for interview travel, most of the bills are handled by the company. Especially the interviews at college graduation. They would ask which airport I wanted to fly out of, if I had a drivers license for the rental car, and then send me my itinerary. They chose the airlines, flight time, rental agency, and hotel with everything direct billed or billed to a company card.

      When I was graduating from college, I hadn’t booked a flight for myself yet. I had only flown on family vacations. My credit card had a low limit.

    8. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I agree that it’s easier for the company to make the hotel booking directly, as well as certain ground transportation, but I disagree that it’s easier for them to book the flight. Especially when you’re talking about young professionals or college students, who might have unusual or inflexible schedules, I think it makes way more sense for the candidate to book themselves and get reimbursed. I’m about to fly out for an interview this weekend, and it took FOREVER for me to find a flight that worked for my schedule and wasn’t outrageously expensive. Maybe this is just me, but I know I’d be reluctant to explain to the company that “I need a flight that leaves after 9pm on Friday because it takes me three hours to get to Airport A, or after 6am Saturday, or I guess I could fly out of Airport B but it would have to be after 9:30 pm Friday, and I need to return on the earliest flight possible after 7pm Monday, or I guess Tuesday if there’s nothing on Monday”… I’d rather just find the flight myself and save us both the headache of me trying to explain my schedule.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        Oh! And don’t do what my current employer did: They originally told me they wouldn’t be able to reimburse my interview travel, so as a broke young professional I put myself on the cheapest, worst flight path I could find. I didn’t want to pay for two nights in a hotel so I decided to drive through the night after my interview to get to the airport for a 4 am flight, and spend only a few hours in the city I was considering moving to. Then after everything was booked, they told me they “changed their minds” and could cover the travel after all. I ended up taking the job despite the red flags, and now that I’m internal I learned that they always cover interview travel as a matter of policy; they just told me they wouldn’t so I’d book cheaply. I’m still so mad that they did that instead of simply providing a cost limit or budgetary guidelines!

      2. michelenyc*

        Every time I have had interviews (about 8 times) that required travel the recruiter always asked me what flights would work best for my schedule. They understand that you do have a life and things you need to get done. Unless your asking for something outrageous they are not going to think twice. When I was interviewed for my job that brought me back to NYC the recruiter told me if I wanted I could stay the weekend if I wanted I would just have to pay for a hotel. Of course I stayed with friends. The really nice part is they called me late on Friday afternoon to offer me the position. They wanted me to able to celebrate over the weekend.

      3. Dan*

        You shouldn’t have to be worrying about flight prices when the company is paying.

        I think you could easily list departure times for two airports – most people would understand that you might live closer to one than the other, or like me, security at one is a much bigger pain than the other.

    9. CM*

      I think OP#4 could switch the default and say the company will book and pay for the travel, but if the candidate would prefer, they can book the travel themselves and get reimbursed after submitting receipts.

      I did this myself as a college student — I felt uncomfortable and didn’t submit all my receipts because it seemed like so much money to me and it felt weird to be negotiating salary and at the same time demanding money for expenses. Now, of course, I understand that companies see this as a normal business expense. So I appreciate that this OP is trying to make candidates feel more comfortable about it.

    10. Rick*

      If it’s not practical for the company to process all travel as a default option, I suggest at least reframing how you talk about reimbursements.

      It sounds like submitting for reimbursement is suggested and encouraged, but I’d phrase it more as an expectation. “The next step in our hiring process is for you to submit interview travel expenses for reimbursement. This includes airfare, hotel, taxi trips, and meals.”

      I’d also give the candidates a reasonable price range before they book travel. You may have an idea about what’s reasonable, but they probably have no idea and may feel guilty about having the company pay that much. Doubly so since they’re not used to your expensive city.

      1. Dan*

        It’s hard to give price ranges for flights. They cost what they cost, particularly if you have to fly on specific dates.

        Sure, there’s that expensive non-stop vs cheap connection, but having the company take care of everything saves an inexperienced candidate the headache of navigating that.

        1. Eye of Sauron*

          Agreed, I think at most the company could give would be guidelines on types of flights… Nonstop or 1 stop, coach class, 14 day advance (if applicable), etc.

          It’s best though if the coordinator asks what the preferred airport of departure is and then chooses some options to send to the candidate and ask if any would work, if not to please find a flight that would work and send back with pertinent traveler information.

          This would help by hopefully finding a flight that would work for the candidate, but if not then the candidate would have an idea on what types of flights to book.

    11. Kittymommy*

      I work in government and we MUCH prefer paying for ourselves. If I send to many reimbursements to my finance department I get emails! There’s a lot of reasons why, but primarily because 1. Can get gov’t rates on hotel stays and car rentals and 2. Taxes. We’re tax exempt but that’s not applicable to reimbursements.
      Somerh I’ll ng to think about if one girls for government or a 501.c 3.

    12. Jim*

      I’m in software development where (as far as I’ve seen) the norm is to have interview travel paid for. I’ve been brought onsite for two interviews in my career so far, and the only things I’ve paid for and been reimbursed have been meals, parking, an airport shuttle, and once for a rental car. Flights and hotels have always been handled by the company with my input (no earlier/later than, etc).

    13. OP4 is I!*

      Hi! Just to clarify something – we do offer to front all of the costs – hotel and airfare and even car service, for exactly the reasons that people mention here. Sorry it wasn’t clearer that this is already something we do. The difficulty is that candidates are hesitating to take us up on it – booking their own travel and then not submitting receipts until after the search is over.

      I am definitely going to take Allison’s suggestion of presenting this option as the default. Hopefully future candidates will feel railroaded into the nice travel on our dime and not think too hard about it. :)

      Sadly, we do not have a dedicated travel agent any more, so for candidates, there will be the awkwardness of booking with someone who has been involved with their phone screen. On that one, I think Allison’s suggestion to say “here’s a form to fill out” could alleviate some of that nervousness.

      1. nonymous*

        There is also an option of asking for the receipts while they are still at the on-site interview as just a paperwork thing. You can at least get the flight, rental car final receipts, any round trip shuttle bookings on the home end, and the estimate the hotel provides at check in. And then in the thank-you/safe travels email, remind them to provide any final receipts from the hotel, checked baggage and if there is lyft/uber with an estimate of reimbursement processing time. The fact that you’re not batting an eye after seeing the bulk of expenses will probably motivate them to quickly submit receipts for that last ~$75. I mean, since there is ample evidence that candidates are especially compliant during interviews, why not use it to get the documentation in order? That power differential can be used for good :-)

        I personally never felt shy about asking for these things, but then again I’m from a fairly middle class upbringing and expense reports were part of life for the adults around me. My guess is that in addition to any power differentials, candidates from different backgrounds may lack the framework to understand the reality of business travel – for example, it’s common for med school candidates to pay their own way.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Yup, when I interviewed at a remote location, the HR director had a check for me at the end of the interview. That seemed to work pretty well.

    14. jo*

      Booking things for them would be nice, but I think the real issue is that the OP’s company isn’t being clear enough about their reimbursement policy. If only ONE candidate in THREE YEARS has asked for reimbursement, then I don’t think it’s only the candidates’ hangups getting in the way. They aren’t clear on the fact that they’re fully expected to request reimbursement.

      So the OP should use firmer language like, “If you’re booking your own travel and accommodations, please send us the receipts for reimbursement as soon as possible.” Don’t use phrases like “you can” or “you have the option to” or “you are welcome to.” TELL them (politely) to do it.

      Also, instead of just asking for receipts, come up with an expense reimbursement form that they fill out so it’s clear this is a built-in process for your company.

      OP, it’s amazing and awesome that your company has the budget to offer this! Make sure it gets used. You’re going to attract the best talent by doing so.

      1. OP4 is I!*

        Dear jo – to clarify again, every single candidate these last three years has asked for reimbursement. The one person in three years was the one who took us up on the offer to buy their plane ticket and their hotel room for them up front.

        Our candidates always send me their receipts and get paid – just never until they get either an offer or a rejection. Until they know whether they are getting the job, nothing seems to pry a receipt out of them. Not in-person requests after the interview or gentle email nudges. My on-the-ground read is that they think doing this will seem pushy or demanding or that they think we will like them better if they seem low-maintenance and independent.

        We recruit for more senior positions too, and it’s never a problem with our experienced hires who’ve been in the industry a while. Half of them just let us make their travel arrangements for them, and the rest take the chance to spend a weekend here and break out their receipts for me right after.

  11. KR*

    Hi #4 – I agree with Dan up above. I’m a younger millennial working for a very large company. I will say that when I first started in my current job, I had never traveled for business before. I could not believe that the company would cover my meals, hotel expenses, room service, airport parking fee, car rentals for long drives, ect. Not only would they cover it, but they encouraged me to make sure I was well-fed and travelling well. It really took my husband by surprise too. He works for the government and is the same age. For people just out of college who haven’t had a job that involves travel, there’s a good chance that the idea that a company will just pay for your travel costs is INSANE.

    1. nnn*

      Seconded. My first job after graduation had an initial training at our head office in a different city, and I had no idea that the employer covering business travel was even a thing until someone from head office called me to book my travel.

      All this time I’d been panicking about how I was going to manage to reserve a flight and a week’s hotel on my student credit card limit of $400, and suddenly they’re making reservations for me and sending me a cheque for a per diem to cover my meals, and (once they realized I was a total n00b who didn’t know anything about how business travel worked) even specifically instructing me to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel and get a receipt so I could get reimbursed later.

    2. Mad Baggins*

      Also you bring up items that as a college grad, I wouldn’t have known could/should be reimbursed. Hotel and flight sure, but meals? If I get room service instead of the buffet breakfast is it covered? All of it or up to a limit? What about fees and parking and gas….? Laying these things out will show that your company is very conscientious and transparent.

    3. Kate*

      In my experience submitting travel expenses is just a chore hated by all ages and levels. I loathed doing it when I was a PhD student and always put it off as long as possible. In my job now I have to get the consultants to submit expenses in a timely fashion and ts like pulling teeth. I don’t know why it’s so hard, but it is.

      1. Bea*

        Scratch expense reports and pencil in “paperwork” in general. My life is 25% tracking people down for a signature on a report or confirmation that yes you do want to use your PTO, etc.

      2. jo*

        It is — but speaking as the person who used to deliver people’s expense reimbursement checks to their desks, most people feel it’s worth the trouble! Everyone loves getting reimbursed, and if OP’s applicants aren’t going for it, something is up besides plain inconvenience.

        1. Kate*

          Well, OP doesn’t exactly say that they’re not getting reimbursed, only that they’re submitting the expenses later than OP would like. I think a good portion of that can be explained by normal admin-related procrastination, so making them fill out the form at the interview and getting the receipts then might help.

    4. Academic Addie*

      Agree. OP4, I’m a college professor, and among finishing undergrads (going to jobs or graduate programs) and finishing Master’s students (going to jobs or PhD), probably the number one non-class-related question in my inbox from Feb-April is “Who pays for what?!!!” on interviews. It really freaks students out. They’re afraid to look too eager to get their reimbursements, lest it make them look poor. They’re afraid booking with your travel person will make them seem high maintenance. They’re worried about spending too much or too little. Those are all real things from emails I got this month. I agree with Allison about pushing more towards your travel people being the default; it’s less headache for everyone involved.

      1. OP4 is I!*

        I suspected as much. I’m really glad for all of the suggestions here about small ways we can calm their nerves. We totally get that new grads are not going to have business etiquette down pat before they’ve ever worked a professional job. It’s much more about whether they can learn and work well with our team. If you think of the job interview like having dinner with someone you’re interested in, the question we’re thinking about is whether we want to have dinner every day with this person, not about whether they used the correct fork for the fish course.

        1. Academic Addie*

          Exactly, and that’s what I always tell them. It’s not like spending your personal money on a date, businesses (and schools) have budgets for this sort of thing, and they are aware that this is an operating cost of the business they run.

    5. CTT*

      Yup! And even when I was a summer associate and being taken out to lunch a ton, when I went on an orientation trip I was so sure I would have to pay for my lunch at the airport, because why on earth would the firm pay for my Chipotle? I think for a lot of millenials (or me + friends I have discussed this with) there’s such a concern about fulfilling the entitled stereotype that getting things reimbursed, especially if you’re new to the concept, seems demanding.

      1. OP4 is I!*

        Gah. I loathe that stereotype. What I actually find is that our millennial hires tend to be so highly credentialed, so serious, so intense that they read older than they are. It is easy to assume that because the person in front of you triple-majored in three STEM fields, started their own company in high school, spent a year in Palau building windmills, has 8000 Instagram followers, and volunteers five nights a week caring for orphaned alpaca — that they also know how corporate norms work too.

        I think it’s actually more a case of millennials having their noses so close to the grindstone that they start out unbalanced. I am GenX (generational-stereotype-wise, that’s the obnoxious slacker one with the irony problems) and had been doing wage work for six years by the time I graduated college. I was way less prepared academically, but I had picked up a lot of the little, subtle things that people don’t explicitly tell you about how the work world works.

    6. Marillenbaum*

      It was such a surprise for my first job, too! I worked for my alma mater (admissions office), and since it’s a decently-sized university, we were all issued staff credit cards that came with a mandatory training session: it covered acceptable purchases, travel regulations (meal allowance, tipping, etc.), and how to submit your receipts to Accounts Payable. Ultimately, a lot of my situations ended up being a little more complicated because I did very little domestic travel (international admissions), and it definitely took a while to realize that my expense reports were just going to be pricier–I don’t have to try to stay under $200 a night for a hotel in London. I also shamelessly stayed on our department admin’s good side by bringing her back fancy chocolates from the annual Europe trip alongside my pile of (numbered, labelled) receipts.

  12. One legged stray cat*

    I agree. I worked at a place that was more business than casual, but you get used to it pretty fast. There are added perks about dressing well too. Many interns or new workers make the mistake of trying to dress a bit too casual or youthful. If you dress a bit older than you are and more like how your manager dresses (Trust me. It will feel awkward for a bit), you will many times be taken much more seriously and skip past the youth stereotyping that many workers have to go through. It is amazing how much people judge others on dress (not that it is a good thing). I was the youngest in the office with a bit of a baby face, but because I showed up in tailored wide legged slacks and a fitted blouse with a blazer, people around me treated me much more like an established worker. I didn’t have to deal with people demanding I get them coffee or expecting me to do paper sorting all day. It is stupid and somewhat unfairly but it works.

    1. Rookie Manager*

      I always advice my apprentice to dress smart so je’staken seriously. He fets a better reception from clients when wearing trousers and a tie vs jeans and tshirt.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I know je’staken is probably a weird autocorrect, but I rather like it as a word – to explain someone is wrong about something, but with a little bit of a French twist.

        “Are you Jane?”
        “No, I’m Lucinda.”
        “Oh, my apologies. Je’staken.” :-)

    2. Betsy*

      I agree too. I’ve commented about this on here before, but as a sufferer of moderate-severe babyface, dressing up is pretty much the only thing that has made students take me seriously.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      My boss wears a rotating set of similar pantsuits in solid, somewhat bright colors with wide shoulders. I feel like she went shopping at some point in 1992 and hasn’t bothered to since. (Or has been too busy to). I look around at what other women in the office are wearing for a clue on what to wear — but not her.

      My office is business casual, but no one wears blazers or jackets except some people who need to have meetings with important outside vendors/clients. I generally wear dress slacks and a blouse, usually with a cardigan as I am always cold. (On rare occasions it’s not cold, I can take it off). The men wear khakis or similar, with button-down shirts. (Polos on Fridays only.) As for shoes, I wear flats or boots in the winter and dressy, sometimes heeled sandals in the summer. (I used to wear heels more often but my ankles just don’t appreciate it, and there are plenty of flat options. Don’t kill yourself with heels if you don’t need to!)

    4. CanuckCat*

      I will never forget the day my grandboss at my first job complimented me for dressing up on a Wednesday. I was wearing black jeans, a long-sleeved striped t-shirt, a black blazer and tall boots. I didn’t think I was particularly dressed up but given a lot of my 30 and 40something co-workers wore jeans, hoodies and t-shirts to work on a regular basis, I guess she thought I was making an effort?

      1. JustaTech*

        I once wore a very similar outfit (except that I was wearing slip-on Vans with purple flowers) and my VP asked if I was interviewing.
        “In this? Are you kidding?” It’s amazing how much a blazer will counteract the rest of your outfit.

  13. Quoth the Raven*

    OP3: I’m one of those people who has never managed to get comfortable and not feel awkward when dressing up — to the point that the dress code can be deal breaker for me (because if I’m going to spend 8+ hours at work, I’m not going to do it in clothes I want to tear off or that feel like I’m wearing a costume). It’s just not me, you know, and that is what makes things awkward.

    I work freelance so most of the time I don’t have to worry about my clothes, but when I have to dress up, I try to find clothes that are still me and that are comfortable (physically and psychologically)– I think this is the trick, to be honest. I hate high heels, flats, skirts and dresses for example, so I don’t wear them. But I’m more than fine with dress up boots and pants, so I look for those. And I pick colours and fabrics that I like and work for me.

    I think it may be helpful to check how people dress in the place you’re going to be working at. From what you see, try to find what you like and think you’ll be comfortable with. That will give you a better idea of what your day to day dress clothes should be like.

    1. OP #3*

      I think that’s going to be the biggest issue for me, finding clothes that don’t make me feel like I’m playing dress up as an Adult and actually feel like I’m a real adult. Thank you for your advice!

      1. Abby*

        OP3, fwiw, I’m 34 and it’s only recently (like, definitely after turning 30) that my friends and I have stopped referring to it as “adult drag” – dressing in the clothes of a class of human (responsible adult!) that one does not otherwise belong to.

      2. Observer*

        It will be easier to do that if you shift your overall attitude though. You ARE an adult – and a “real” one at that. If you keep reminding yourself of this, then the idea of wearing “adult” clothes won’t throw you off as much.

        Of course, you still need to make sure the stuff fits right and is comfortable.

      3. BuffaLove*

        You have to find stuff that’s comfy and also has a bit of your own personal style – it’s annoying and will take time, but it’s really, really worth it! Once you find some brands that you like, you might have good luck finding more stuff at thrift/consignment shops.

        My office is super casual, but on days that I need to go dressier, I’ll do a stretchy ponte pant with booties, a printed top, and a comfy cardigan – something polished but still me. I’m someone who spent literally all of college in jeans, a hoodie, and sneakers (and would happily wear nothing but athleisure wear now), but I’ve gotten used to wearing nicer clothes and actually sort of enjoy it!

      4. just dropping in*

        It was a game-changing moment for me when I realized that a big part of the reason I always felt like I was playing dress-up in work clothes was because the shapes and styles were nothing like the clothes I wear in the rest of my life.

        My preferred uniform is still skinny jeans, soft hoodies/knits, and big geometric cuts. Meanwhile as a new grad, my idea of work clothes was blazers, stiff buttoned shirts, and “trouser cut” pants. None of it looked great on me (which was why nothing in the rest of my wardrobe had defined shoulders) and I didn’t know how to style or wear those shapes.

        Once I realized I could wear slim-cut work pants, drapey blouses and minimalist tops, and chunky cardigans instead, it became easier and more comfortable to dress for work because I was working with a familiar skinny-bottoms-volume-on-top silhouette. I also get a lot more use out of these clothes because they fit in with the rest of my wardrobe.

      5. Someone else*

        I also feel like I’m playing dress up whenever I have to wear business-ey clothes for work (which for me isn’t frequent. I’m probably 10-15 years further into my career than you and I still feel that way to this day because “work clothes” very much clash with my personal style. Heck, even “nice” clothes when I was a kid felt ridiculous and uncomfortable to me. But I also didn’t ever dress down for occasions because as bad as I felt in the appropriate clothes, I’d feel worse if I knew I were underdressed, even though those underdressed clothes are generally much more comfortable to me.
        At some point I spoke to a costume designer friend and asked, is there anything I could be wearing that’d fit “nice” or “business” (casual) and not make me feel ridiculous wearing it? Because my problem was not only that I felt ridiculous wearing it, but I felt like it looked like I felt ridiculous wearing it. This is what the costume designer friend told me:
        I did look a little ridiculous, not because I’d chosen anything poorly suited to my figure or just bad clothes, but because it was obvious that I felt out of place in the clothes. So basically, I looked bad because I looked like I felt like I looked bad. She also said I didn’t know how to walk in the clothes, not just shoes, clothes. Everything about how I moved looked like I should be wearing something else. This wasn’t a confidence projection thing. I made the clothes look bad, essentially by wearing them wrong.
        This may sound doom and gloom to you, and I don’t mean to make it seem that way, because I know it was my worst fears about the occasions when I dressed up, all confirmed.
        But what she also told me was that in order for me to know how to not look or feel ridiculous in those clothes, I needed to wear them more often. She predicted that even though I still might not like the clothes, the best way to learn how to wear them is by wearing them. She told me I should wear those clothes periodically at random just in my life to get used to it.
        I’ve since moved on to a job where I am almost never client-facing and don’t need to dress up. Since I don’t have to, I never took the advice far enough to actually get comfortable, but I do think there’s merit to the approach.

      6. Quoth the Raven*

        No problem =)

        For what it’s worth, you are an adult — clothes don’t make you one. I personally feel in costume with many dress clothes because they are not me, not because I’m not an adult, but because they’re not something I would wear on my own (I’m grunge all the way; a suit is very far removed from what I’d pick!) so that, I think, stresses the need for you to choose something that is you.

        I think what happens a lot is that we kind of imagine formal clothes as a single thing (pencil skirts, high heels, blazers, ties, etc) when there are a lot more options to choose from. I’m sure you’ll find it! Best of luck.

      7. SarahTheEntwife*

        My workplace definitely leans toward the casual side, but in the past few years I’ve discovered the joy of comfy dresses for having people act like you’re all fancy and dressed up when in fact you didn’t even have to make sure your shirt matched your pants in the morning. There are a remarkable number of knit dress types that let you get away with wearing what is basically a tailored comfy nightgown ;-)

    2. just dropping in*

      Yes! It was a game changing moment when I realized that a big part of the reason I always felt like I was playing dress up in work clothes is that the shapes and styles were nothing like the things I wore in the rest of my life. My preferred uniform is still skinny jeans, soft hoodies/knits, and big geometric cuts. Meanwhile as a new grad, my idea of work clothes was blazers, stiff buttoned shirts and “trouser cut” pants. None of it looked particularly good on me (which is why there were no defined shoulders in the rest of my wardrobe) and I didn’t know how to style or wear those shapes. Once I realized I could wear slim-cut work pants, drapey blouses and minimalist tops, chunky cardigans, etc, it was both a lot easier and a lot more comfortable to dress for work.

    3. Susan the BA*

      I’ve worn business casual (in a range of more/less casual) for over 10 years now and I, while I have settled into a style that I find physically comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, I still feel like I’m not completely myself in anything but a t-shirt and jeans and no shoes. It just eventually became part of the work routine, like I also would prefer to somehow be able to lie under the covers with my cat and do my job but that’s not what they pay me for so I dutifully grab something out of my closet and stick it on my body before I leave the house.

      Commenters above have made great suggestions about how to get a more comfortable and personalized wardrobe, which you should totally follow, but don’t sweat it if you never find the one perfect blazer that makes you want to wear blazers instead of hoodies at every opportunity from now on. :)

  14. Rookie Manager*

    OP #3 I would recommend visiting a department store that has a free personal shopper service. They are experts at finding clothes that fit your requirements, budget and style. I did this before starting my current job as I wanted to make sure I looked smart enough to be a manager without missing the casual mark. There was no minimum spend and I even took a couple of things back once I got them home and realised I’d got a little carried away. The personal shopper was really receptive to my feedback so, for example, when I said a neckline was strangling me she avoid high necks or ehen she saw how well a style suited my figure she found more options in that style.

    1. Kate in Scotland*

      I’ve found this very useful. Once I knew which brands fit me reliably, I could buy online.
      Also they could advise on alterations if nothing is going to fit without alteration. When I was younger I’d always need the waist of trousers taken in and it was much easier to plan for when I knew how to hold the back seam to assess how they would look when altered.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      Yes, Nordstrom has this. It’s free and when you book an appointment, you tell them your style, what you’re looking for, sizes, etc. and they’ll have a dressing room ready for you when you arrive, which will have a selection of clothing to try. The minimum appointment length is 30 minutes, but you can take as long as needed. Here’s the link: https://shop.nordstrom.com/c/nordstrom-stylist-faq?campaign=-_-&jid=J009052&cid=-_-&cm_sp=merch-_-corp_1625_J009052-_-freelayout_corp_-_-_details

      I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s on my to-do list. I always thought they’d be too expensive for me, but after browsing the website I see they have a wide range of prices.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I love Nordstroms. We’re super casual here, not even business casual, just casual: Jeans, hoodies, PF Flyers type casual.

        However not all (many?) clients are comforted by meeting with a CEO who is wearing a Metallica concert shirt, therefore I do have some (way too much actually) business/business casual clothing.

        I did the Nordstrom’s thing and even though I buy there from time to time, I can get a lot of the styles I want/like/need elsewhere. I love Target work clothes section and there is a thrift store chain here that I have gotten some really good (i.e. tags still on, designer…) stuff from over the years. Hence the “way too much” comment above. :)

        It can’t be helped though. DKNY, Nine West, Gucci, London Fog, Eddie Bauer, etc., etc., etc. in more or less perfect condition, and in my size for less than $5.00? Yes, please.

        1. lior*

          RUKiddingMe, I think that would depend on whether the CEO’s Metallica concert shirt was pre-Black Album or post-Black Album. Pre-, I think it’s fine. Post-, I don’t know…

          I think Iron Maiden might be safer, as long as it isn’t with Blaze Bayley.

          (OT, I know, sorry.)

    3. Malory Archer*

      Seconding this! I did one of these sessions when I was a senior in college (for interview suits) and it was a tremendous help. Shopping can be so overwhelming, especially when you don’t know what to look for, and it took a lot of the hassle out.

      Also, tailoring is your friend! Get pants and skirts hemmed, waists taken in, or any other minor alterations that will improve the fit of your clothes. Some nice stores offer tailoring options, but you can also find a dry cleaner that does the same services.

    4. Elmyra Duff*

      Clothes Mentor does this! They saved my life when I needed to upgrade from OldJob’s hoodie+tshirt+jeans dress code to NewJob’s business casual.

    5. Legal Beagle*

      I did this at Macy’s, and it was so helpful! It definitely doesn’t have to mean spending a ton of money. My personal shopper even helped me find stuff on the sale/clearance racks so I could maximize my budget.

  15. Erika22*

    #3 I have a coworker who always looks great and is usually dressed either business casual or pulled-together casual (not just jeans and a tshirt). It took me AGES to realize that she didn’t just go out and buy a business casual wardrobe – she buys key pieces from stores like Banana Republic and JCrew, so 99% of the time each new piece already goes with most of her wardrobe since it’s all from the same store, and it’s all super versatile, so it can go from loosely formal to business casual to casual based on the combination of items. You know how style magazines and blogs are always like “refresh your wardrobe for the new season”? It’s kind of like that, but where she’ll buy like one or two nice new items a season that has interesting details but is mostly a classic item. I’m only just getting the hang of finding pieces that feel like me while still being mostly timeless and fitting well. And it’s not necessarily cheap, but I’m doing it with a foundation of my older, cheaper business casual clothes, so I’m just slowly swapping out the pieces. My go-to for fun but work-appropriate clothes lately has been LOFT – they usually have good sales, have petite and tall and plus AND maternity.

    tl;dr – find a brand you like that does business casual and invest in key pieces that you actually like! it may take time but will be worth it!

    1. Engineer Girl*

      It’s called a capsule wardrobe and it’s totally worth it.
      You get a lot more variety when everything goes with everything else.
      Update a few pieces every season (usually accessories) that reflect the trends/colors for that year.

      1. yup*

        Pinterest is AMAZING for this! I just recently discovered how much of a difference accessories can make so I buy them on clearance. Search Pinterest for an item similar to what you already have and get some inspiration on how to put a full outfit together. I had no idea how much a necklace or belt can elevate an outfit.

    2. Someone*

      That’s how I’ve been dealing with my everyday wardrobe for YEARS. Only I don’t make a point of buying from the same stores (though mostly buying from a few preferred is rather natural) but rather settled on a specific style, color tone, set of allowed patterns etc. that is rather independent from fashion trends.
      E.g. my rules are: simple and elegant, feminine, deep colors, solid colors or large patterns (smaller patterns allowed if abstract). Jeans have to be dark, and my shoes are black only.

      I add new pieces of clothing on the basis that they fit my style – if the current fashion doesn’t allow that, well, tough luck. Though I love getting things from second hand shops; they sometimes carry really great stuff.

      I consider it a really great way of maintaining a wardrobe. Quite cheap, too once you’ve got the base amount of clothes. Only adding pieces that fit well into my wardrobe/style and make ME* look good rather reduces the amount of clothing I buy per season.

      Also, it allows for significant changes by changing just small bits – e.g. I have a very nice everyday shirt/short dress (thigh-length) that I usually wear with jeans. Family event calls for more formal/chic attire? Swap the jeans for pantyhose, done. And get compliments on my outfit.

      *Looking great in an outfit is not quite the same as wearing great outfits. There are some fantastic clothes with which I end up in the role of a mannequin – the piece of clothing looks good, but my own features vanish behind it.
      I try to buy clothing that actually draws attention to the good points of my features.

    3. Project Manager*

      This is more or less what I do. I have black and grey for my neutrals (meaning I have dress pants, skirts, shoes/boots, and cardigans in black and grey; I also have a lot of black shells that can go with assorted cover-ups in accent colors) and two major accent color ranges I tend to stick to. The two accent colors unfortunately don’t go well together, but otherwise, it’s very easy to assemble an outfit, and I add one or two additional pieces occasionally. (Now that I know which brands fit me, ThredUp is a big help with this.)

      As for feeling awkward, that will probably pass with time. If you had told me fifteen years ago, when I lived in T-shirts and loose jeans, that I’d spend every winter counting the days until it was warm enough to go back to closely tailored skirts and dresses every day, I’d have laughed at you. And yet, here we are. (It helps that for my shape, finding pants that fit has gotten harder and harder, while skirts and dresses are easy and very flattering. But I also have come to really enjoy wearing them.)

      1. Turquoisecow*

        I’m the same re:skirts and dresses. I’m short and…round, shall we say, and I have the hardest time finding pants that fit, ebemnin stores that supposedly cater to women my size. Once I can throw on a dress quickly, or a skirt and blouse, I feel feminine and more put together. Also, I hate socks but also hate cold feet, so I’m looking forward to just throwing on a pair of sandals!

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I’m short and…round, shall we say, and I have the hardest time finding pants that fit, ebemnin stores that supposedly cater to women my size.

            Yeah, I’ve learned that even plus-size stores don’t all cater to the same plus-size person. Like, Lane Bryant assumes that if you’re plus-size, you must be tall and have large hips. Torrid works so much better for my short, apple-shaped bod.

            1. turquoisecow*

              I was SO thrilled when I went to Lane Bryant recently and found that their “short” pants actually were the right length on me. I went and ordered a second pair online. But yeah, I’m 5’4, which is the average height of a woman. I don’t understand why even “petite” pants can be too long. Sigh.

    4. Annie Moose*

      90% of my wardrobe is Banana Republic! (I shop at the Factory Store and hit them up during sales, and you can get really good stuff for so much cheaper) Their styles just really appeal to me, and they fit me pretty well too.

      Of course everybody is going to have a different “this store is EXACTLY ME” store, but if you can hunt around and find a store that fits your body type and style, it’s really helpful. Especially for someone like me who doesn’t like shopping–I can be confident that if I need new clothes, I can walk into this one store and almost certainly find something that works for me, without needing to dig through mountains of stuff I hate.

      (and yeah, this is going to be increasingly difficult the farther your body type is from what stores consider “acceptable”. But in that case, it might be even more useful to hunt down specific brands that work for you, because it’s harder to find stuff!)

    5. RUKiddingMe*

      “Classic” pieces are the key I think. I can remember being very young (back in the dark ages) and my great-grandmother getting dressed for church wearing a coat she’d bought in like 1924. She could still wear it 50 years later because 1) she took care of it and 2) classic pieces never go out of style.

      My business/business casual is a lot of black and ark grey slacks, several blazers (black, grey, blue, red, etc.), and a lot of “work shirt” type blouses in various colors. Even though my day to day is super casual, I can pull together a business outfit pretty quickly. Grey slacks, purple/red/blue/green (I love jewel tones) blouse, grey or black flats, and a blazer. Top it all off with a chunky bracelet or long chain necklace and a pair of studs and voilà…I’m a grown up business person.

      I never felt like I was dressing up and playing adult though, even (also the dark ages) when I first came of age/graduated from college the first time and started working for others. I have always attributed that to the fashion advice from my great-grandmother.

  16. Mr. Cholmondley-Warner*

    If someone told me I had to wear a suit I would probably cry. My definition of formal is “shirt with buttons.” The last time I wore a tie was in 1996 (it was part of the school uniform), and I hope I never have to wear one again.

  17. Andy*

    #5 I’ve found myself doing the same thing. So I’d just say things like “I guess I could also use X again here” and then give a few more details I may have left out previously that are relevant to the current question. Felt a little awkward doing it, but it’s worked a few times so far in my career so I guess it’s okay to do.

  18. Ruth (UK)*

    3: a few months ago I went from a job with no dress code (a call centre style set up) to a job that requires approx business casual. I felt pretty weird about it at first as it’s the first time I’ve had to dress a certain way other then wearing a specific uniform (I worked a fast food job with a uniform before, and pretty much all UK schools have a uniform).

    Anyway I decided to treat it like a uniform. At first, I bought the same button up shirt in several versions (one in black, one in dark blue etc). 2 pairs of black trousers. The same fairly smart cardigan twice (in black and grey) and went with it. I’ve since added a few more things (a different cardigan, and another shirt).

    I can’t tell if the op is a man or a woman but I think it’s sometimes easier for men to wear basically the same clothes all the time without it being obvious or a Thing. Because smart men’s clothes tend to vary less (or less obviously) anyway. By the way, I buy my shirts and trousers in the men’s section (but the cardigans were marketed at women). I think what I do maybe wouldnt be as easy if I wanted to look more visually feminine but I could be wrong.

    1. Laura H*

      That’s a really good idea. I’ve kinda subconsciously done the same thing with mine- while my clothes can be paired any which way and still look good, I have my preferred skirt with each of my tops that I wear.

    2. Nea*

      This is now I do separates too, with one adjustment – I have a limited palette, so that everything goes with everything. (In my case, black, grey, pale blue). I can throw in a contrast color now and then or another neutral like khaki, and remain fully confident that I can dress in the dark from my “same shirt in all my colors” and “same chinos in all my colors” and not embarrass myself.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Bingo. Most everything (business type clothes) I have in terms of slacks/skirts are black/dark grey. I have a ton of blouses in different colors and several standard color type blazers. I also own more cardigans than anyone has a right to own, but that’s another story…and possibly an Issue that I will continue to ignore as I keep buying them. :)

    3. Q*

      I once worked with a guy who wore the same shirt for a month straight! None of us noticed until he told us and we all thought it was pretty funny.

      (I don’t know if he had multiples or just kept that one really clean but he didn’t smell bad at all.)

  19. SusanIvanova*

    My current company does interviews in pairs; usually the same people pair up, but we’ve added a lot of new people so there’s been some mixing. So you’ve got Jon and Robb who usually ask about Worst Llama Incident, but now Jon is in the first pair, asks his usual question, and then Robb comes in later with a new co-worker who lets him lead and so he starts into the Llama Incident question too.

    I’d only been through the interview process myself a few months earlier; when they were complaining about having to come up with new questions on the fly and wondering why the interviewees didn’t always tell them they were duplicating, I said that when that had happened to me I just assumed they wanted a different perspective on it. Nope! Just chaos on the interviewer side.

  20. Em Too*

    #5, absolutely recycle. For 7 or 8 questions I’d expect 3 or 4 different situations. And remember there’s often a set question list so it’s fine to realise you’ve half-answered one already and just build on your previous answer.

  21. Cordoba*

    OP#2: It’s possible that using a preexisting trip to force your interview timeline forward will help you.

    A few years ago a friend who lived out of town had applied for a job at my employer, and by coincidence was also coming to visit me soon after – screening calls had been done but on-site interviews were’t even scheduled yet.

    He mentioned to the hiring manager that he was “going to be in town anyway” and asked if they wanted to do the interview then rather than wait and pay travel expenses etc. The hiring manager said sure, and my friend did so well that they didn’t even bother to interview the other candidates they had been talking with and just hired him the next day.

    There were 5 or 6 other candidates who had passed the screening interviews but never got a real shot at the job,= because he took advantage of being in town go get so much of a head start on them that they were effectively eliminated as competition.

    1. OP2*

      It’s the opposite issue unfortunately. I would be slowing their timeline a bit. They emailed me to schedule a site visit in mid April, and I countered by mentioning my trip in June. However, they know that I wouldn’t be able to start until August due to licensing.

  22. Laura H*

    Op3: My business casual wardrobe is usually on the loose and semi-flowy side. And I like tops that are on the slicker side as opposed to cotton/ more frictiony materials.

    Shoes though… those are a little tougher…I seriously wish sneakers were more accepted in the workplace. Oh well.

    1. CTT*

      This goes with my first thought reading the letter – after you figure out the baseline appropriateness at your office, shop around and find a genre of clothing you’re comfortable in! Like Laura H and looser clothes in a certain fabric. I worked in a place much more on the business side of things and I haaaaaaated wearing pants. I didn’t get it at first because I lived in jeans while in undergrad and my mind was like “These dressy work pants should be the same”. But then I realized that having to keep a dress shirt in stressed me out, and I hated getting them hemmed, and I always felt super-uncomfortable in them. So I switched to dresses and never looked back. It may take a few months, but you’ll get there!

      1. LtBroccoli*

        I had the same experience! Business casual pants aren’t all that comfy to me, plus they need to be hemmed and it’s hard for me to find a pair that fit properly for some reason. Eventually I realized that dresses were actually comfier and easier to deal with. So I got a bunch of casual dresses, flowy and knee length or longer (I like Travelsmith). Sundresses with a sweater over the top are a staple. I also wear long tunics and leggings, but acceptability of that outfit really depends on your office.

        1. CTT*

          High-five fellow dress lover! Also, I love that there’s very little matching involved beyond “grey cardigan or black cardigan?”

          1. AnitaJ*

            Dress fanatic here–I’m so with you. Literally I throw on a dress and a sweater and some shoes and I’m ready to rock. And as long as you buy the right dress, it’s SO COMFY. Like working in a nightshirt! I can’t deal with pants cutting into my midsection or clinging to my thighs and ballooning out over my calves. Dresses are no-brainers. Add some jewelry and people think you look super put together all the time. (Myoo ha ha, I’ve fooled them all)

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I have a pair of Crocs dress shoes. They’re wedges. They’re LEATHER. They’re comfy. It’s amazing. Sadly, they’re no longer available.

  23. Susan Calvin*

    Hey OP#3, don’t stress yourself out over this. I did, and it was super unnecessary, even though I have negligible amounts of fashion sense at the best of times. What I’ve realized is, for the most part you might not even have to change that substantially – just get a little classier. Admittedly we vacillate a lot depending on whether we’ll have customer contact or not, but on a day to day I still wear jeans (only now the nice solid black/navy/gray ones instead of stone wash), I still wear t-shirts (only now better fitted ones with no, or only subtle prints). I’ve swapped hoodies for cardigans and the occasional blazer, and my ratty converse for ballet flats (or just clean, plain sneakers). No skirts, heels, or whatnot.

    Some more points:
    – fit is pretty much king – especially if you can’t get out of real slacks/shirts/suits, buy on the large side and find a tailor/seamstress to get stuff altered. Having clothes that really, truly, fit you will make you feel the *opposite* of awkward, promise.
    – seconding everyone above about finding a brand that works for you and sticking with it for basics. Can’t recommend any American ones, but I get a lot of mileage out of my S.Oliver loyalty card, if that’s a thing where you are.
    – accessorizing can be daunting, but if you can figure out a few pieces that work for you, it’s an instant outfit upgrade (I’ve started wearing a watch again, for example).
    – you’ve probably heard that one before, but get a ‘uniform’ – some basic outfit configuration and a limited color palette that work for you. Simplifies shopping, and you can basically get dressed within 5 minutes and in the dark every morning, because everything goes together anyways.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      I think accessories are super important to giving one a “finished” look. I mean sure always remember to not over do it…but a nice bracelet or necklace/pendant along with earrings (I usually do studs or small hoop) and it is a very polished, put together look.

      Oh and just a note about rings: Wedding/engagement and maybe a birthstone or class ring on the other hand. Hands just chock full of rings, while I like the look personally and in my every day actually wear several on each hand most of the time, looks…IDK, maybe “immature” (?) or something to others. Like maybe you don’t know how to make a decision so you just wear everything/i>? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  24. starfire13*

    OP#3: it’s been 4 years of me having graduated and working in a professional setting, and I STILL feel like a fraud in my clothes. On my own, I wear jeans, t-shirts and skater shoes: pretty much exactly what I wore in high school (some of the clothes ARE ones I wore in high school!) At work, I feel awkward, like nothing fits and that I’m a 5 year old playing dress-up in mommy’s clothes. It doesn’t help that a lot of professional clothes don’t seem to fit me quite right off the rack, and I’ve had to get a few items tailored. (Sales people often think I’m a good decade younger than I am, and always go, “Awwww! Dressing up for an important school presentation??”) I’m not even THAT short/small!

    Someone tell me when it gets better?? Haha

    1. MamaGanoush*

      You may need to find a different rack to buy your clothes off of — if you can stand shopping for clothes, take some weekend afternoons and go to a bunch of different stores and try similar clothes at all of them — don’t plan on buying, just try them on and compare. Take notes on your phone, take pictures of things that look and feel good to you. Come back another day with a friend and try on the things you liked, getting their opinion.

      Eventually you will figure out what you like, what looks good, what feels comfortable, and what works for your office, and then you can just keep getting that same stuff. It does get better!

      1. starfire13*

        I hate clothes shopping so much because nothing ever seems to fit and I hate dealing with the sales people. However in the past 4 years, I’ve tried different stores, different shopping centres, even different cities. I have yet to find anything professional that makes me feel comfortable. I usually don’t end up buying anything because it’s so bad.

        I’ll keep trying, but at this rate, I’ll be 40 before I feel like a proper adult! Haha

    2. MamaGanoush*

      Also, I just would not shop at any place where the sales staff talks down to you. Seriously. My teenage son buys clothes for presentations and such from Penneys — and that is not his usual style (he’s punk/throwback New Romantics) — because back in middle school a sales clerk there treated him like an adult, helped him choose dress pants, button down shirts, ties, and dress socks, and gave him good advice about fit.

    3. Also Petite*

      As for when it gets better, i.e., when you stop getting mistaken for student…

      I had that same, annoying experience until probably my late 20s. Around the same time it stops being annoying, though, is the same time it stops happening!

  25. Yetanotherjennifer*

    OP 3, it’s ok to not be entirely comfortable in your work clothes. I find professional clothes help set my mood and remind me to be professional and productive. If I dress too comfortably then I tend to act more casually than I feel is appropriate in a workplace.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Yes, this is how I feel, too. I’ve noticed that on the days when we do jeans, which isn’t very often at all, I find I’m less productive and it’s harder for me to get into work mode. For whatever reason, I tend to get a lot more done when I’m dressed for my job.

      1. Q*

        I’m the opposite. If I’m comfortable in my sneakers, jeans, and Tshirt I can get a lot of work done. But if my feet are cold or sweaty from the dress shoes then I get distracted by that. The itchy dress shirt and slacks that don’t fit quite right and won’t relax no matter how times I’ve washed them also take my focus away from work. When I’m comfortable I can go for hours without moving from my keyboard. When I’m dressed up, I’m fidgeting every few minutes and often get up hoping a change in position will help.

        1. TootsNYC*

          well, itchy and ill-fitting are one thing; “less relaxed because the clothes are more formal” is another.

  26. Media Monkey*

    OP3 – have a look at Anuschka Rees blog. it is great in terms of working out how many different items you need and planning out a capsule wardrobe where everything works together, and is still within your style. sure i can’t link to it but it is the first google result. she has a book but most of the useful info is on her blog for free.

  27. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    OP#3, the commentariat is right!
    I wear my slightly more formal than usual business casual clothes all the time, not just at work! They’re simply the most comfy and well fitting clothes I have!

    If you’re the skirt-wearing type, I’ve found that some (too-large) tights with a skirt in a fun color and a white dress shirt/blouse goes with absolutely anything. Put on a blazer for more formality and wary between heels, flats and dressy sneakers depending on occasion.

    I honestly can’t remember when I wore pants last time.

  28. Ruth*

    For #4, I’d make the default that the company will organize the travel, and then offer the candidates a per diem for the time they are there.

    That way everything is up front and you can set the expectations appropriately.

    1. Bea*

      They’re not employees. You can’t just write a person a check without paperwork to back it up a per diem would be very lax decision making accounting wise.

  29. Kiwi*

    #4, I’m with everyone else saying to just organise it yourselves. That’s what we do. You could say to the applicants “If you have any preferences for flights, please let us know. Doing this will not disadvantage you in any way.”

  30. Penfold*

    OP3 you may find that as part of your introductory training your new employer might explain specifically what they mean by business casual. When I started my current job I was pleasantly surprised to find part of the first day general orientation was a slide presentation about the employee handbook, including the dress code – complete with pictures. I think some saw it as overkill but business casual can mean drastically different things to different people and it’s helpful to just be told/shown.

  31. Peanut Butter Snob*

    OP #3 – looking for appropriate to your workplace business casual clothing is very daunting. Definitely set up a color scheme to your outfits (black and grey for me), find accessories that work in a color you like, and then find a place to really be yourself (socks). As a female, I started wearing the funkiest styled socks I can, and I’ve seen men do the same. You can also find funky pieces of jewelry to accent your personality and to add color. I’ve had luck finding shoes in a Mary Jane style by a few different manufacturers and those work with pants and skirts/dresses.

  32. Boo Bradley*

    #3 – even if you find your office skews more khakis than suits, it’s good to mix up your look now and then and wear dress pants and a nice shirt/top in case you find yourself interviewing in the middle of the day down the road! That way, your coworkers are used to seeing you “dressed up” now and then and you won’t raise any suspicion.

  33. MamaGanoush*

    I hear ya! When I retire I will live in jeans, yoga pants, and boho 70s-style crazy print skirts, and either flip-flops or hiking boots. Or barefoot. In the meantime, if you are/identify female, I suggest getting some wrap dresses (or dresses that don’t wrap but look like they do). I get a new one or two each year so I have a nice collection. Buy them in comfy fabrics with an overall print. They look good on a lot of different body types, from skinny to chunky, short to tall. My weight and, ahem, lumpiness can vary but you can never tell when I’m wearing one of these dresses. I wear them with a nice cardigan, black (or brown or navy) tights or stockings, and boots or *very* comfortable pumps or slides (Dansko and Clarks are what I like, a bit pricey but they last forever and your feet will thank you). Dresses like this are ridiculously comfortable and look business-like but not too dressy. Just make sure they are not too low-cut. I work at a university in a business casual office — my colleagues wear anything from khakis and polos to very put-together but feminine suits.
    It took me awhile to figure out what looked good on me, was comfortable (I refuse to wear uncomfortable clothes), and fit with my workplace. As others have suggested, shopping with a savvy and *honest* friend will help.

    1. Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins*

      Are you me? I also live in wrap dresses and my Danskos. I am a bit lumpy, and my go to is to just wear a base layer of clothing (typically a thin tank top and a pair of compression/bike shorts). It smooths me a little, and protects from chaffing. it also saves me from any embarrassing flashes when i inevitably trip on nothing.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I like wrap dresses, but they always show WAY more chest/cleavage than I want.

      I’m a little short for my girth, plus I think I’m shorter than a lot of people in my shoulder/armpit height (from shoulder to breast point)–every shirt or dress I buy would fit better if I could take two inches off at the shoulder.

      I’m intrigued by the eShakti reference above, because in their custom sizes, that shoulder height is one of the things they measure.

  34. Bookworm*

    #3: I think there’s some flexibility and leeway here (as well as being able to ascertain what fits you or not). Depending on your field, geographic location, etc. “business casual” can differ. I worked at a major law firm with a branch in a very liberal city so it wasn’t unusual to see a partner in shorts and a Hawaiian shirts, whereas another smaller law, independent firm in the same city a few blocks away equated “business casual” with men not wearing a tie and nothing else (as in, we could NEVER wear jeans ever ever and only did so if the boss was out of town).

    When I interviewed with a temp agency in Washington DC on a 80+ summery and humid day the interviewer of the temp agency said I had to wear a jacket (I was already doused in sweat!) and a major nonprofit research group in the same area said they had a similar dress code: men, for example, were only allowed to not wear their suit jackets when the AC broke. No other exceptions.

    I only mention all these details because I came to realize that dress code was a clue for me as to whether I’d like a place or not. I was very unhappy at the small law firm and while the dress code in itself was not my source of unhappiness, it reflected the rather stodgy nature of the firm as a whole. So this may not be relevant for you (since stuff like field can make a difference) but it can be a helpful measure for me.

    1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

      The first university I worked at (a small private school) was “business casual” but it was basically like your small law firm – men could get away not wearing a tie and jacket, women could wear slacks and button downs or skirts. But NEVER sneakers, jeans, sandals (even dressy ones), khakis, anything else on the more casual side. Basically the school was saying, we’d make you all wear suits 24/7 if we could. It was very stuffy and they were obsessed with their image, if you can imagine. They did make us all wear business formal for special events, like donor meetings.

      Then I came to my current university, which is a big state school, and there are high level administrators who show up to meetings in flippies and free campus event t-shirts. We do love us some free t-shirts around here.

  35. Guy Incognito*

    OP 3, I feel you. What honestly helps me is that i always have an article of clothing that I’m comfortable in, even if it’s under my regular clothes. For instance, I love superheroes, so I have a ton of Superhero shirts that I put under my dress shirt. none clean/won’t go with the white shirt? I have a pair of socks with stuff on it I like. try to layer like that. It’s more helpful thank you think. For Infinity War, i’ve been wearing Marvel shirts all week under my dress shirts.

    1. General Ginger*

      That’s a great idea. I usually do fun socks, too, but I hadn’t thought of doing fun shirts as undershirts.

  36. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    For OP #1, I think it’s clear that your boss is comfortable with paying for your coffee. I’d caution, though, that just because a boss makes a suggestion for coffee doesn’t mean that they’ll automatically pay. My current boss is known to suddenly round up the entire office to go on a frozen yogurt run, but everyone has to pay for their own. He’s sometimes decided to hold staff meetings at the frozen yogurt shop, and we still had to pay for our own! I think this is one of those things that will vary from office to office and is part of the culture you’ll have to pick up.

    One suggestion I have for figuring out who is paying for a coffee is to say “Thanks, how much do I owe you?” If it’s a gift they’ll be glad to reassure you it’s their treat; if it’s not, you’ve removed the awkwardness around them asking you for money.

  37. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    Hi OP #3 – I don’t like wearing “nicer” clothes myself, in any situation (I’m currently trying to find the most casual outfit I can get away with for my sister’s wedding…and I’m the maid of honor). Button downs, slacks, and blazers are really uncomfortable to me and just feel WRONG. I also hate having segregated wardrobes and want my clothes to work for anything, if they can.

    So what I’ve done is stick to a limited color palette (black, gray, navy mostly), and go with the uniform approach – I mostly wear slim fitted pants, a solid tee or tank in a fluid fabric, and a cardigan. I started paying attention to fabric and cut as well – fabrics can make a huge difference in how “professional” something is. A Hanes beefy tee and a cotton/modal tee might be cut the same, but the cotton/modal tee will be more fluid and elegant. This way, most of my clothing is very comfortable, and most of the pieces work well together, so I can just throw on something in the morning and it doesn’t feel too “businessy” or unlike my personality. I would also check out “dress sneakers” – sneakers with detailing like oxfords and loafers, in nicer fabrics and leather, which make an outfit look a little dressier but you still get all the comfort of wearing a sneaker.

    If nothing else – invest in some dressy sneakers. Shoes can instantly change your outfit!

    1. Easter*

      I second the comment on fabric. An all-cotton tee shirt with a certain neckline can look like athletic wear, while a supima cotton tee shirt with a slightly different neckline can look much more dressy. I’ve found I can get away with wearing clothes that feel like pajamas but look business casual by focusing on fabric and fit.

  38. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

    For #3- Something I found helpful as a start was to go through my wardrobe and really figure why I didn’t wear certain clothes (years of clearance/thrift shop shopping gave me some purchases I compromised on a bit). For instance, tons of women’s tops don’t cover bra straps well and require an appropriate layer. Or even something simple- like I don’t have tights in a certain color, but if I did, a skirt I wear in the summer could work in other seasons.
    Shopping with a game plan is helpful (though much much less fun)- for instance- need grey dress pants, a neutral cardigan, and brown shoes to fill in the holes.
    In college, a lot of my “dressy” shoes I only wore for a few hours going out on weekends. Those were killing my feet by the time I made it from my car up the stairs to the office. Getting something that was comfortable and versatile was key, particularly since flats don’t tend to fit my feet.

  39. Aerinaceous*

    In the first answer, it says “If it does turn out that she’d prefer reimbursement and you don’t really want to buy yourself coffee, you can p opt out of future coffee runs.” Is that ‘p’ supposed to be there?

  40. Bea*

    Re: Travel Reimbursement

    These are newly graduated college students. They don’t know about how reimbursement works, that air, shuttle to and from hotel, uber to and from the interview and meals are expenses that they can get reimbursed let alone how to appropriately approach you for the request.

    I would at very least make up a “how to” for them so that they understand what receipts you’re after and how to forward them.

    I’ve been doing accounting for 15 years, it’s all just routine but even my co-workers need some assistance on this because they’re not used to expense reports or fear they’ve done something wrong and will be an inconvenience to me or worse that I’ll get mad.

    1. Bea*

      Ngl I filled out mileage and other expense reports for people before if they sit with me and verbally go over the report to sign it.

      It’s daunting and you’re asking a company for money that you don’t ever work for. I have dealt with purchasing agents in companies that don’t even know how to get in touch with their accounting.

  41. TheCupcakeCounter*

    I have worked in several places with a variety of dress codes. As several people have mentioned before, fit is the #1 thing that will make or break how you look and feel. I would recommend going to a department store or higher end store with people who can help you find the right clothes for your body type. Stay pretty basic for a while – a couple of pairs of slacks in black, gray, khaki and a few tops that mix and match. If you are female, a shell and cardigan is comfortable and easy to dress up or down. For guys, polo shirts and button downs are super easy. As for shoes, heels are not required for business dress. A nice pair of loafers will work for either gender.
    Not sure what your budget is but I really would recommend making sure your slacks and shoes are good quality and will hold up over time. If you go with a classic style that fits well they can last forever. My favorite pair of black slacks are nearly 12 years old and still look and fit great. I spent quite a bit on them but I have definitely gotten my moneys worth. I don’t think tops matter as much in terms of cost/quality (blazers would be the exception to that) as that is where you can play a little bit with trends. I (female) absolutely never wear a button down shirt – they just don’t fit well as I cannot get them to button around the bust and make me uncomfortable because the shoulders are super tight (former swimmer) unless I get them in a size so large they look sloppy.
    Business casual is not a you must wear slacks and a button down. If pants aren’t your thing because of proportions dresses or skirts are great. Button downs don’t fit well then wear a v-neck sweater or a shell/cardigan combo. Hate blazers? Don’t worry! They are only required for interviews. Ask for a copy of the dress code and take that with you shopping.
    Take some time to build your wardrobe as well – don’t go buy a ton of stuff right away. Get enough for 1-2 weeks (3 pairs of pants, and 4-5 tops that you can mix and match with the pants, 1 good pair of shoes that work with all) and then build from there as you a) find stuff that fits you well and you are comfortable in b) become familiar what is and isn’t the norm for your workplace c) build up some savings.
    If you are female my favorite store is New York and Company – they have a good mix of classic and trendy, great coupons and BOGO deals, and a variety of fits for different body types (petite, tall, and plus sizes). Their pull-on pants are great – super comfy but still have the structure of a dressier pant.

  42. Anonymeece*

    OP #4:

    There also may be some nervousness about what is allowed and what is not on the parts of new grads who haven’t had to do this before? Maybe consider saying that the company is happy to reimburse for expenses, and if they’re unsure what is covered, they can reference X document. And just attach a document saying, “Hey, no alcohol/food over $1000/llama parties” etc. That may also ease some uncertainty and coax more people into taking advantage of the offer.

    1. Morning Glory*

      Yes, I think general guidelines would be a big help for incidentals, even if the company does switch to default booking travel themselves. It doesn’t even need to be a formal document,
      it could just be a casual sentence in the email like meals under $25, or a daily cap, or whatever.

  43. Detective Amy Santiago*


    The best piece of wardrobe advice I can give you is that when you find something that you really like, buy multiples.

    1. Annie Moose*

      Especially if there’s a specific item of clothing where it’s hard for you to find stuff that looks good/fits properly. I have one pair each of black and gray dress pants in a particular cut that Banana Republic doesn’t sell anymore, and I have SO MANY REGRETS about not buying two or three pairs of them when I had the chance!

  44. Not Today Satan*

    #3, there’s a ton of wiggle room in business casual dress codes. If you are a woman, I would focus on 1) wearing skirts that are knee length or longer if you wear skirts 2) not wearing anything remotely inspired by lingerie (e.g. lacy), 3) overall not being too “sexy” (wearing clothes that are too tight or overall giving the impression you’re trying to look hot) and 3) not wearing jeans. It’s easy to be true to your style in business casual environments.

  45. GraphicPrincess*

    A nice way to pay it back without buying a bunch of $6 custom lattes is with something that goes with coffee. A dozen donuts or bagels could be $10-15, and always well received in an office as a fun treat. Since Jane brings in coffee, you can bring the accompanying (much cheaper) treat.

  46. theletter*

    Hey OP1, don’t feel awkward about taking the coffee. Part of the reason that people work in non-profit is that they care about the mission, and at a certain point, your higher-up employees (who are probably making a comfortable salary, especially if they are in fundraising) will want to treat people involved as a charitable gesture of their dedication to the mission.

    Case in point, I’ve been involved in a church choir for many years, and about a year ago I started earning enough money to live more comfortably. Buying choir folders and sheet protectors for the choir, I decided, was an expense I was happy to shoulder. It makes rehearsals run smoother, and I had the time and it was in my budget. It was not in the budget of the church, and for many of the choir members it would be too inconvenient to have to get their own folders. I made the purchase as a charitable gesture to the church.

    I think the surprise coffee from your coworker may function the same way. She does her part to keep morale up, and all she wants in return may be your gratitude and good will.

    1. a name*

      I work non-profits too. A lot of higher upset don’t get paid well…but they can afford to work at a nonprofit because their spouse gets paid well.

      My husband makes over 3x what I do. I would not work in the nonprofit sector without that assurance.

  47. Diluted_Tortoiseshell*

    OP#5 Good luck in your interviews!

    Alison I would love a post on informational interview dos and don’ts for both the interviewer and the interviewee. Someone I was hiring gave a very extreme “tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult coworker” answer and told us a story about a coworker who said something extremely racist and inappropriate to them. It distracted us from his response and more just shocked us with the story.

    I also have one manager I work with who uses the “tell me a time when” to really to try and get dirt on the other company/managers or prove the candidate is narcissist/combative etc. He asks really specific questions like “Tell me a time you thought your boss was wrong. What did you disagree on and why? What did you do about it?” When the candidates give what I see as fine answers “Boss wanted to go a different way on the project. I did some extra research on his and my approach and talked to him privately one more time to try and convince him to try X instead of Y. He said no so I supported him and did X to the best of my ability.” This manager digs more. What exactly did you disagree on? Why did you think you knew better than your boss? etc.

    1. a name*

      This could backfire depending on why the boss was wrong. My work has a risk management/ safety compliance aspect that my bosses are not trained in. My bosses tell me to do things wrong all the time and it’s my job to tell them no.

    2. OP #5*

      Thanks. That was actually one of the questions, another was about working with other departments that your department is in conflict with, another was about a time when you had to make someone on your team do something they didn’t want to do or would be resistant to–just a lot of “times when” that involved conflict!

  48. Ann O'Nemity*

    OP #3’s letter brings back so many memories of my first job in a business casual office. It took me awhile to really feel comfortable in those clothes. A few things helped – reading online blogs like Corporette that have workplace fashion advice, shopping at a bunch of different retail stores until I found clothes that fit really well *and* looked good, and a lot of trial and error. Exploring the concept of “capsule wardrobe” helped so much. And it took time to get used to dressing differently than I did when I was in school.

    Oh, one more thing: black ponte pants.

  49. mrs_helm*

    OP4: Per Diem
    As many suggested, make it the default for the company to book & pay for flight, hotel, and rental car. Then tell them they’ll be reimbursed per diem and don’t require receipts to be submitted at all. It eliminates the wait and any awkwardness over spending choices.

    1. SpaceNovice*

      +1 to avoiding receipts per diem. Maybe add in a spending limit per number of meals but make it generous enough that people won’t need to fret.

    2. Bea*

      You can’t give per diem to people who aren’t employees. You need to treat this has a reimbursement or you’re looking at a big issue when you’re audited.

      Never ever write a person a check without their SSN and receipts.

  50. Mockingjay*

    #5: The last two places I’ve worked conducted interviews of mostly behavioral questions. The hiring managers didn’t do much to ascertain whether I had specific, required skills in office software and relational databases. There are pleasant people in both places that cannot perform basic computer tasks.

    I understand the benefit of behavioral questions; interviewers can tell a lot more about how a candidate actually works day to day, as opposed to a brief interview when someone is on their best behavior. But these questions should be balanced with skills assessments (practical or verbal exercise, proof of technical certifications, etc.) to provide a complete picture.

    1. OP #5*

      Thanks–in my case, there is really less about skills assessment, as I’m looking for more of a managerial type of position that involves more soft skills–being able to work well with others, negotiate conflicting demands/expectations, etc. but there were so many of these questions, and so many of them focused on negotiating conflict!

  51. Heat's Kitchen*

    #1: My boss always buys coffee for my 1:1s and I know it usually is out of her pocket. I figure it’s her choice and have told her I don’t expect it. As someone else mentioned above, I plan on keeing this in mind for when I’m in a managerial position.

    As for the coworker, surprising with coffee you don’t need to pay for. I think if she asks ahead of time you should offer to pay or decline to be polite. And if you can’t afford to buy coffee for the office, but want to return the favor, could you do something like bake cookies at home and bring them in for everyone? I do that from time to time

  52. pop*

    Also, #3, there are lots of clothing options out there that fit a business casual dress code and look professional, but feel ridiculously cozy. I’m currently wearing a sleek knee-length dress from the Gap that’s made of a thick t-shirt material and feels like wearing my favorite nightgown. I’ve also seen props for Betabrand’s work sweatpants (or work yoga pants?) which have a very polished and professional cut, but don’t feel like typical constrictive work pants. Just offering in case it’s the literal feel of the clothing that makes you uncomfortable!

    1. Former Admin Turned Project Manager*

      I have four pairs of Betabrand’s Dress Yoga Pants- straight leg, boot leg, wide leg- and I love them. No waistband cutting into my midsection, no irritating seaming on my legs…my only complaint is the lack of proper pockets, but I think they are working on a design option to addresses that.

      1. Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins*

        So they are worth the hype? I see ads for Betabrand all the time, but I’ve never been able to pull the trigger.

  53. Oxford Coma*

    LW #5 I mentally map out behavioral questions like a “choose your own adventure” book. This works for both actual real-life examples and theoretical situations.

    So, Fergus did Thing A. Talking with him showed me that his motivation for that was Factor B, which led me to Response C. If his motivation had instead been Factor X, my reaction would have been Response Y, because of Reason Z.

    Giving an alternate theoretical example is good for several reasons. First, it shows your awareness and adaptability while still meeting the “this actually happened” requirement. Second, if your real example is not a slam-dunk of what the interviewer appears to be looking for, you can tailor the theoretical version to hit those points harder. Third, it lets you reuse real-life examples in less-obvious ways by customizing the theoretical example differently each time.

    1. OP #5*

      That’s a great idea–I hadn’t thought of looking at it this way! Choose your own adventure, indeed!

  54. SpaceNovice*

    OP4: Alison’s advice and the comments above are all right about changing up the language. Stress that you offer this service to all candidates, knowing that footing a sudden expense like this can put undue hardship on someone’s finances. Add that you want the candidates to not have to worry about this stress so that they can focus solely on putting their best foot forward in the interview. Say that you, as a company, believe in treating people right–and that this is treating people right. That they should say whatever works for them as WHATEVER WORKS FOR THEM to put their best foot forward (avoiding flights that are super early/late and so forth, etc).

    Also, it should definitely be the default option (I like the idea of them finding flights that work and having you book them if the candidates are still nervous about giving up control).

    Lastly: thank you for doing this for candidates. It’s a good practice.

  55. drpuma*

    OP3, having a “uniform” makes your life easier and most importantly does *not* have to mean boring! I believe there is some professional advantage to being easily recognizable as well. Figure out the interpretation of “business casual” that is most comfortable for you and stick to that. I remember when I was transitioning into the professional world I was bummed to think that “looking professional” meant I would have fewer opportunities to express myself through my clothes, but that doesn’t have to be the case. In all but the most “business formal” environments, folks can wear colorful blouses, ties, scarves, or socks. I have a bunch of black-and-white patterned dresses that are professional but still interesting, and look just as great with blazer as with a cardigan. Because I’m always wearing different patterns, people don’t realize that I’m wearing the same kinds of pieces every day. It makes shopping for work outfits easier for me as well, because I can identify at a glance whether an item is consistent with my “uniform.”

    1. FrontRangeOy*

      Yes! When I needed to revamp my wardrobe awhile back, I picked 3 colors that always look good on me (plus neutrals) and decided I wouldn’t buy anything unless the colors were part of my personal palette. Sounds limiting, actually means I’m wearing a lot more patterned pieces and styles I wouldn’t have previously considered. Also, I adore vintage costume jewelry and scarves which make outfits look different even when they really aren’t.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      I LOVE all of this and I do the same thing. Tried to experiment with color after being told 9 million times that I should. Well, I don’t like it. So now everything is neutral and it all mixes and matches so well and has really cut down the amount of time I spend staring into my closet wondering what I’ll wear. I have also found which styles of pants and dresses work and I just buy the same silhouette in different neutral colors.

  56. SanDiegoSmith82*

    For OP#2- I just went through this relocation thing last year. I started my job search in late March with a July move date- I did it mostly to start putting out feelers, but sometimes my field has a slow process- I was very honest in letting them know that I’d be in town on May X- May X- and available for interviews, and that my move date was early/mid July- as long as you are open, and the employer likes and respects you enough to wait, being honest about start date and availability is the key.

    I am know in my new city, with a great job, and it was all because I started early, found a company that was willing to wait a couple months- and had a slow hiring process. Best of wishes!

  57. Lauren Hopkins*

    #3 Make sure the business casual clothes you’re dressing up in are still comfortable to you and fit your personal style preferences (within reason). It may be useful to consult with a stylist (or use a service like Stitch Fix or Trunk Club) to get some inspiration and have someone else do the work of finding you something great to wear.

  58. neeko*

    #3 Look into Uniqlo. They have some great business casual staples that are comfier than they look.

  59. Echo*

    LW #3, I was you! I spent a couple years HATING office wear because I assumed it meant synthetic slacks and blouses. When I realized that a well-fitted cotton tee in a solid color or simple pattern, a cardigan, and colored denim or corduroy skirt with comfortable flats and a statement necklace or infinity scarf is also business casual, I now wear business casual most weekends too. There are a lot of comfier blazers out there as well. I’m wearing a jersey blazer today! It looks like a blazer and feels like a hoodie.

    A bunch of people have already suggested Pinterest which I will second. You can search for a phrase like “comfortable business casual” or “comfortable office wear” and then if you see specific pieces you like coming up, search for that, e.g. “corduroy blazer” or “purple jeans work outfit”. And a couple of blog recs: Putting Me Together and (the sadly now-defunct) What Would A Nerd Wear.

    Of course, this all assumes you are female and/or have a more feminine gender presentation. If you are looking for menswear, I can definitely recommend shopping Bonobos sales. Their stuff is pricey before markdowns but is high quality, well-fitted, and threads the needle between work and fun. My SO works in an office that is on the more formal side of business casual; he pretty much exclusively wears Bonobos and it’s easy to mix and match their pieces.

  60. diana*

    #1 – In your shoes, if you could afford it, maybe you could bring in something inexpensive to share around with everyone. Coffee can get really expensive, but occasionally bringing in something like donuts can be an inexpensive way to “share the love” in the office. I like to do that once or twice a year just to maintain good relationships with people I wouldn’t normally have occasion to single out but who do favors and things for me from time to time.

  61. Kammy6707*

    # 1 – I worked at a non-profit right out of college. The pay was very low, and of course no bonuses or perks. My boss (who was pretty established and who’s husband made good money) used to take me to lunch frequently and pay for me, which made me feel uncomfortable. She’d also stop when we were out for things like ice cream, cupcakes, etc., often buying these treats for me as well. I spoke to her once about it and she said that would take me to lunch/buy treats as a way of showing her appreciation for my work….implying that she knew my salary was low and she couldn’t ask for raises/bonuses for me through the organization. So this was her way of thanking me instead. She clearly didn’t have any issues with paying for the occasional lunch, so I just enjoyed it from then on out. Perhaps your boss/coworker are doing this for a similar reason?

  62. RUKiddingMe*

    OP#4: “Candidate, we don’t want you to worry that submitting your expenses will reflect badly on you or play any part in whether you are given an offer. The offer is sincere, and we budgeted for it. Please submit them ASAP so that we can get you reimbursed.”

  63. FrontRangeOy*

    OP #3, you probably didn’t expect so many comments on your dilemma :-)

    I’m in quite different circumstances than you but over the past year or 18 months, I’ve gotten opportunities to do things that are really exciting, but carry with them expectations of a different way of presenting myself than what I was previously used to. In my case, I already had one nice business appropriate skirt in a neutral color. I got a couple tops to wear with it and neutral appropriate heels. I wore those outfits every time I needed to interact and they felt comfortable, mainly because the skirt was one that I’d already had for years. Then I spent months observing what the other women wore to our meetings and events. I mentally filed away styles and colors I liked, made note of things that were amazing but probably wouldn’t look good on my body type, and so on. After awhile, I started buying new pieces that reflected the culture and that also suited my tastes, budget, and body (refusing to buy pants until you find that one style/cut that fits like it was made for your body is WORTH IT).

    If you’re really starting from scratch and don’t have anything at all that’s business casual, talking with the sales people in a higher end department store can be really useful too. Think Macy’s, Dillard’s, Nordstroms; they can help you with fit, coordinating colors, figuring out which kinds of pieces you need to look at for business casual, and accessories.

    1. TootsNYC*

      A friend of mine sat down w/ a “shopper”/consultant at Macy’s to talk through clothing, because he’s very slight, and it takes him a long time to find grownup clothes (suits, etc.) that fit him.

      It didn’t cost him ANYTHING extra. And he says he ended up saving money, bcs the guy knew about upcoming sales to wait for, and also saved him tons of time bcs the guy knew about the brands, etc., that would work.

      He highly recommended it.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Oh–and pants:

      I think for people who are a little hard to fit, it would probably we worth their while to find a seamstress-tailor to have pants made exactly for them, and then get several pairs from the same pattern.

      1. TootsNYC*

        and there are people who will make custom button-down shirts; not cheap, but maybe a reasonable splurge for people who need them.

  64. TootsNYC*

    4. Candidates seem scared to submit travel expenses

    I’ve got decades of work experience, and I’m STILL “scared” to submit expenses.

    It’s a holdover from being a kid and not being authorized to spend other people’s money, and having parents who were trying to be frugal, etc.

    Especially since our OP is dealing with college students, and otherwise less-experienced employees, she might do them a big service by coaching them a little, and by framing it as, “we are expecting you to submit expenses of about $X for hotels and $Y for meals. One thing–when you spend close to that amount, you help me preserve that budget line for future applicants, so don’t think you’re helping me by trying to cheap out. And, it’s really helpful if you submit the expenses promptly; that way I can keep my bookkeeping up-to-date—here’s the form and an envelope to hold the receipts as you go; you might consider filling it out before bed each night, so you don’t get behind.”

    1. Annie Moose*

      Ooh, giving a target amount is a great idea! Even though I’ve been working for several years, I’ve never done business travel and don’t have a great idea what the “expected” amount is to spend on hotels, taxis, etc. was. This would be even more the case for college students.

  65. Cochrane*

    #4: Time and again, I’ve noticed that our entry-level candidates never request travel reimbursement until after they get a yes/no about the job

    Chances are that some of them think it’s some kind of test, an extension of the interview. With that in mind, you’re going to think twice about what if anything you’re going to request reimbursement for and what it says about you.

    That said, I’m surprised a company would pay expenses for non-senior role candidates. After all, isn’t the point of “entry level” the fact that you can find fresh grads pretty much anywhere without having to bring them in?

    1. David*

      I thought “entry-level” was supposed to mean it’s a job suitable for someone without prior experience in the field, e.g. a new graduate or someone transitioning from a different career. Some of these jobs might still need specialized skills that would limit the candidate pool to the point where the company needs to look outside their local area. Or a company might find that the improved quality of employees they get by considering remote candidates is worth the cost of paying for interview travel. Or, some companies allow (maybe even encourage) remote work, but they still want to bring people on-site to their headquarters for interviews.

  66. Easter*

    LW #3 – it seems like just about everyone has chimed in on this one and I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but I did want to add just a couple of things. First, don’t worry about having tons of clothes. I know when I first started working, I felt like I needed dozens of outfits and that I constantly needed to be wearing something new and different to the office. This was totally not true. At this point, I have a pretty small wardrobe but I can mix and match those pieces (and add accessories) to have about 15 unique outfits to wear. I mean, think about it – we all wear our favorite stuff over and over anyway, right? Second, all of those outfits include clothes that I like and feel comfortable in. This means that the outfits are all pretty similar in style (I have yet to find a cardigan I don’t like!) but again, I’m not worried about repeating. PLUS I think someone is way more noticeable if they are wearing something they aren’t comfortable in and therefore constantly tugging, etc. Once I got over feeling like I needed tons of clothes, or that I had to try many different styles, getting ready for work became way less stressful. ALSO, and maybe a bit hyper-organized, I actually made a spreadsheet of all of my outfits. I put them in an order I felt comfortable with and now I just cycle through that spreadsheet. All of the outfits are ones that I love and feel good in so I never balk in the morning. That may sound like overkill but it really helped me sort out my clothes (if I find myself dreading wearing a particular outfit, I take it off the list) AND it’s so nice to have one less decision to make in the morning.

  67. RB*

    LW #3: I’m rather late to this post but I wanted to say that you could probably take your regular clothes and just wear a black or dark-colored blazer over them. Unless your regular clothes are t-shirts, jeans, and athletic shoes. Even a nice cardigan can dress up an outfit. And adding slightly nicer shoes can make a big difference. I’d try that before buying all new clothes.

Comments are closed.