You Need Help: Employment Edition

Welcome to a very special Employment Edition of You Need Help!

This has traditionally been done by way of individual Formspring accounts, Autostraddle’s Tumblr and a Formspring Friday column, which has all been very fun and insightful. But, because Formspring has a character limit and we’re wildly optimistic w/r/t our time-management skills, we thought we’d go one further and let you use our ASS private messaging to share advice-related feelings, too.

For more info on sending in questions, see the bottom of this post. Let’s get down to bossing people around on the internet! Today we help you dress for your first interview and give you tips on how to get and keep a job.


too fancy, sir. too fancy.

I have an interview at a finance company next week and I don’t know what to wear. Should I buy/wear a suit? This is my first serious interview and I don’t have much money to spend…

Congratulations! I think the popular opinion is that you should dress in the way that matches the business environment, which for a finance company most likely means a suit (skirt or trousers with a matching jacket) and a tailored shirt or blouse. It’s possible that the company has a ‘business casual’ dress code instead of a corporate one, but if you’re unsure then err on the side of formal.

The good news is that if you’re young and at the beginning of your career then no (reasonable) employer will expect you to be decked out in designer threads. If you can’t afford to spend big bucks, hit up your local outlet malls, thrift stores or friends’ closets. You should be able to find something that’s appropriate and affordable.

So that’s what I assume a recruitment pro would tell you. My personal, not-so-popular idea of interview attire involves black jeans, a button-up shirt and leather street shoes. I refuse to wear suits to the office and so I like to manage my future employer’s expectations up-front. However, dressing casually isn’t without risk – if you want to give yourself the best chance, suit it up.



Q: Interview advice? I have my first one next week and I’m freaking out.

There are hundreds of career blogs/articles online that all give fairly consistent interview advice, so definitely read a few of those. Here are some tips that I’ve found particularly helpful:

1. Know the company you’re interviewing for. I’ve only been unsuccessful in two interviews, and on both of those occasions I drew a total blank when the interviewer asked me to tell them what I knew about the business. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Memorize a few key facts about the company and its core services/products.

2. Prepare for “tell me about a time when…” questions. Interviewers love love love asking people to describe scenarios in which they’ve handled their business like a pro. As such, you can never have too many anecdotes prepared as evidence of how boss you are. Look at the key skills that the job requires and then have real life examples ready to whip out on cue.

3. Be nice to the receptionist or whomever greets you. If they don’t like you then you probably won’t get the job.

4. If possible, bring a portfolio. Portfolios aren’t just for creative types. If evidence of your abilities can be printed out and stuck in a folder, do it. The interviewer may have zero interest in seeing your Employee of the Month certificates or innovative pie charts, but there’s no harm in asking.

5. Don’t doubt your abilities. From reading your resume, the interviewer already suspects that you’re a talented snowflake who has what it takes to do the job – otherwise they wouldn’t waste their time meeting with you. All you have to do is go in there and confirm their suspicions.


I just started my first job, any tips for making a good impression?

Don’t go to work if you have the flu. Calling in sick isn’t ideal, but making your co-workers sick is a whole lot worse. They’ll never forget.

Don’t gossip.

Don’t make out with your boss.

Go get ‘em tiger!


Do you think everything will be fine if I quit the secure office job I’ve had for the last 8 years and try something new? I want to start a cake business but I’m sort of terrified it won’t work out.

But what if it does work out? Instead of sitting in an office all day you could be in the kitchen making cakes and they could be the best cakes that anyone has ever tasted. That would be awesome, right?

Everything is going to be fine. You want to know how many careers changes I’ve had? Dozens. I couldn’t tell you the exact number. I’ve worked in music shops, at pet magazines, on tours and on puppet shows. I’ve been a copywriter, an editor, a band manager, a popcorn popper and even a poultry stuffer. I fisted dead turkeys to make a living.

You can fit a lot of careers into a lifetime, or even a quarter of a lifetime. Giving up job security to follow a dream can be terrifying but it can also be the best decision a person can make. If your cake business doesn’t work out, the good news is that you can go back to working an office job. Or you can try again.



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Crystal has written 320 articles for us.


  1. dear cake person: go make cakes! watch the movie Stranger than Fiction if you need some inspiration. who doesn’t want to be like maggie gyllenhaal??

    • i don’t know that i want to be maggie gyllenhaal but i for sure want to do dirty dirty things to her.

    • also if your cake business gets going, can we get an update and know the shop :D And all the autostraddlers will buy cakes and goodies from you :)

      • This comment made me go awwww! :D

        I will buy a cake (provided you live in my state)! Here’s one waving at you!

  2. Well, this is weirdly perfect timing, because I have a job interview tomorrow and I really want to ace it. No matter how many times I interview for a job, I can’t help getting super neurotic about it in the lead up to the actual interview, so it’s nice to go over some tips. Thanks!

  3. For businessy jobs: always always always wear a suit. And don’t borrow it. If it doesn’t look like it fits, that will reflect poorly on you.

    Go thrifting or look through discount stores, find something black or grey or navy blue, and for the love of cupcakes get it tailored.

  4. Crystal is right, there are tons of articles on this kind of stuff on the internet.

    1) Finance company sounds like business attire to me, so you should wear a suit if you can. I have found affordable suits at department stores in their sale racks. You will want neutral colors like grey, dark blue, black even. And to add color, add it with a nice blouse or button-up if you’re more comfortable in a collared shirt. Important advice, wear what you feel comfortable in. You don’t want to fidget. So if you don’t feel comfortable in a skirt, don’t wear a skirt that will make you keep pulling down.

    2) Interview advice: The best piece of advice I ever got was to prepare a 30 second spiel about yourself. This spiel should answer why they should hire you and not like, “I grew up in x town and have 5 cats” unless that is relevant to the job and or interviewer (if it’s a cat job and the company likes to hire local people). You can include your passion for the field here. This spiel will come in handy if you are in a situation where the interviewer sucks and doesn’t ask you any relevant questions where they can make notes for review later. I’ve had this happen a lot where the interviewer spends a lot of time telling you about the job, but doesn’t really ask about your skills. So, you take the initiative and say something like, “Well, let me tell you a little about myself …” And then tell them whatever is relevant. And keep it at 30 seconds or so because if it’s longer than a minute, most people will zone out. :(

    Practice in front of a mirror or record yourself so that you sound natural, but you have basic ideas you want to express.

    Good luck! Getting an interview is already a huge step!

  5. I have an interview in two hours, this is very timely.

    #1: Absolutely wear a suit for the finance job interview.

  6. An interview is also a chance to get more info about the job / boss / company. If you’re interviewing with the hiring manager you can ask them how they’d describe the people who’ve been most successful working for them / at that company.

  7. #1 you should wear a suit, but if you really really can’t afford one, you should wear a white business shirt, a black or pinstripe pencil skirt*, and leather shoes.

    *i know the skirt thing sucks but the fascists in the corporate world apparently consider them more formal for women than pants.

  8. p.s. Autostraddle did you implant a chip in my brain. Found out today the job I had lined up has fallen through, meaning that I will be on the interview roundabout once again…

  9. dear cake person:
    don’t do it. i know a 50-something professional chef and caterer and whenever anybody asks her about it she says DO NOT DO IT. it is one of the highest-stress careers out there, and it’s very very difficult to make much money doing it. it consumes a lot of your time and you’re on your feet for all of it. if you do decide to do this, make sure to take care of your body! the woman i know can’t really walk without pain thanks to a knee injury: she felt she couldn’t take time off to have the surgery she needed, and then it was too late for it to be possible so she has some just brutalized cartilege. so yeah. if it’s really your dream then just remember to try to take care of yourself!

  10. For the person with a new job, the advice I would give is:

    Make sure you know the difference between what’s completely okay to do, and what’s only okay under certain supervisors. Don’t assume something is okay just because you see a coworker getting away with it.

    • I mean the person at their first job, duh!

      Another thing is that in general I’d toe the line as much as possible and try your best to make a good first impression when you’re still fresh there.

  11. Have questions for your interviewer(s) that show you know the company. Your interviewer will probably ask you if you have questions for them, and this is a good time to shine. It’s an opportunity to 1. find out more about the kind of person you’ll be working for 2. find common ground with them 3. highlight another one of your skills when you respond to their response.

    Also, make sure you answer questions in a way that outline your skills and point to specific examples – people will remember small stories you tell better than facts. For instance, if you are applying to be a cake baker and they ask how you respond to stress in the workplace, tell a story about that one time you had a really tight deadline, three clients who had different visions of one cake, and how you managed to save the day through strategic use of hard work, organization, and fondant. Keep it short, but make it memorable.

    Finally, have a theme song. If you’re anything like me and you get nervous before interviews, you need everything you can to feel like The Most Awesome Candidate Ever. Listen to it at home and while in transit to the interview. Sing along if you are alone while getting ready. I know it sounds like something crazy and from Glee (redundant?), but singing (even if you have a terrible voice like I do) will force you to take deeper, more even breaths, which should help with the nervousness.

    Oh, and wear a suit. No exceptions.

    Remember: The more convinced you are that you are right for the job, the more convinced they will be.

    Good luck, everyone!

  12. Okay, so it seems like it’s physically impossible for me to get an interview to last longer than 20 minutes. I give full complete answers, I ask good questions, and then it seems like it’s been forever and it’s only been twenty minutes.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever had an interview that lasted longer than 20 minutes, and yet people still hire me (it’s keeping the job that’s been a problem…). I don’t think a short interview is necessarily a bad sign.

      • At some point, it got burned into my head that if it’s under 30 minutes then you won’t get the job, 30-60 minutes is good and an hour long interview is a good indicator that they like (and will hire) you. I don’t know where I got that idea from but it drives me nuts.

        • If it makes you feel better I have never once in my life have an interview that lasted an hour, for anything.

        • The only interviews I’ve ever had that have lasted more than 30 minutes involved some sort of skills test.

  13. Wish me luck, I have an interview tomorrow morning!

    And its for a job at an organic garden on the roof of a supermarket in London, which, brilliantly, means I won’t be in with a chance if I wear a suit. Boots and breeches all the way.

  14. I need to find a job, quite badly in fact. I’m in college though so I need a part time situation, but every time I get one of these jobs its 8 hours a week and zero job security. What are the best jobs for college kids?

    • Hands down, the best college kid job is to tutor on campus. I worked in the writing lab all through college and I got a .50 cent raise every semester, and I could do my homework when no one came to be tutored. And the people were wonderful.

        • I work at my college’s library and it is also the best job ever because I am allowed to browse the internet so I am getting paid slightly more than minimum wage to reblog pictures of Rachel Maddow on tumblr.

    • Too lazy to log in right now.
      If neither of those options work out for you, I recommend talking to professors of whom you were fond/whom you impressed and asking if they know of any positions for you. I did that my sophomore year and the professor gave me a part-time student job working for her. If you further impress them, you may even wind up with a job after you graduate because someone leaves the office just as you start looking for a job! #cool story sis

      • It logged me in! I’ve heard of this happening but never observed it personally. Autostraddle you are a genius. <3

      • I go to community college right now so there aren’t any teacher helping jobs, I asked lol When I have the funds and start going to a University I’ll look into that too, thanks.

    • I worked as a lifeguard and swimming instructor throughout college, which was most excellent. I got a decent wage for the time/community, 15 hours a week and excellent coworkers (although this will obviously depend on the pool one works at). Also because my pool was a municipal pool and I was employed by the city government, I had job security up the wazoo.

      The only downsides were a) smelling like chlorine all the time and all the hair/skin damage that entails and b) I had to join the union (which was a side effect of the whole city employee thing).

      My second job in college was as a writing tutor, which Colleen has covered! See if your school has a writing center – that’s where I worked.

  15. Cake Business. Do it. My mum worked in finance for 25 years and had amazing job security and a really good pension. But she was miserable. She started a cupcake business a couple of years ago. It’s taken a while to get things off the ground and although she’s not making fortunes, shes earning enough to get by and shes happy. And to be honest, i think the choice between a nice salary and job satisfaction is pretty simple…

  16. In my (admittedly limited) experience, if you’ve been offered an interview, it means your resume shows you have the essential skills to perform the job, and the employer wants to meet you and see if you would fit in with the company and be someone they could spend 40+ hours a week with. So my advice would be to try and relax and be friendly and polite, and you’ve won half the battle.

  17. Dear Interview Worrier,

    Go on Lifehacker and search for ‘interview’. They have a literal fuck tonne of tips for interviews, pretty much all of them great. There’s some really good info there.

    Dear Outfit Concerned,

    It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Definitely wear a suit. Grey or white might be better than black, since most will wear black and it helps to stand out in as many ways as possible.

    I have no tips for the others since I am currently on an unofficial internship and don’t get paid*.

    *Shout out to my parents who are unwittingly keeping me in Jack Daniel’s.

  18. To the cake business person: If your office job allows it, which I really hope it does, perhaps try starting slow by baking for small events on the weekends. You can also try farmer’s markets, or Yelp events (Yelpers love local businesses). I have a friend who is currently baking for small events outside of her day job as a physical therapist. And one my favorite mini cupcake caterers started out with weekend farmer’s markets. That way you still have your steady income, and once your cake business starts taking off, you can start switching. You can also try to see if you can change your status at your day job to part-time. All the best!

  19. At my last job, I showed up for the interview in my good suit (applying to be a teacher). My interviewer was wearing cargo shorts and a polar fleece vest and took three phone calls during the interview. I have never felt so overdressed in my life, but you know what? I got the job.

    For my current job (also teaching), the interview was on Skype. I wore a suit jacket and pajama pants and prayed I wouldn’t ever have to stand up.

    Moral of the story is: Wear a suit. Research the company. Act like you are confident and capable (even if you feel nervous and inept) because you are confident and capable.

    • Yeah, overdressing is always better than underdressing. They’d much rather have “too serious” than “not serious enough.”

  20. Another thing I’d recommend to the person with a new job is to make friends with your coworkers, even if you don’t think you’ll be in the job for very long. It makes your work time infinitely more enjoyable.

    • Not sure if this is too late, but dress up for it even though it’s not face to face. It’ll help you perform/feel better and avoid being too (unconsciously) casual. If the business/company has a website try to see if it has photos of the people who will be interviewing you which also helps you visualize it all bit better. Have your resume out (obvs) and highlight or write/type out some major talking points (i.e. why you’re awesome + answers to questions you’re sure they’ll ask). Good luck!

  21. I hate phone interviews, because I can’t hear the speaker if there’s any background noise on their end.


    Have paper and pencil handy to take notes if you’re acsked to sned anything/do anything.

    Find a quite place to do the interview.

    Have hard copy of your c.v. /resume and anything you’ve sent them ahead of time.

    Totally scope their Web site, if you can. Try to look at the About pages, and other job openings.

    Try to come up with a real not terribly complex question to ask when/ if they ask you if you have any questions. Write It Down.

    Don’t ask about LGBT policies until you’re offered a job.

    And good luck.

    • Thanks!

      Am totally reading their website as we speak. Luckily they address the LGBT thing right there so that’s a relief, sort of.

      It’s weird to me when they ask if I have any questions. I never know what to say to that. I guess I could ask what the office environment is like? Or have them detail a normal day for my position?

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