What to Wear to a Clergy Job Interview When You Are Not Yet Ordained

Oooooh it is your last semester of seminary! The graduation gown has been rented! The denominational exams have been passed! And the long-awaited job interview is finally on the calendar. Nice work, proto-Reverend.

But wait. The job you want is a clergy job … so normally you would wear a clergy collar to the interview? Except you don’t have a clergy collar because you won’t get ordained until June.

Fear not. I am here to help.

For most any job interview but definitely for a clergy job, and especially if you are interviewing in a large, well-heeled suburban parish (where a lot of us start out because that’s who can afford to hire assistant pastors, natch), it is a great big pain in the neck to decide what to wear because you are expected to look both

1) stylish; and
2) extremely conservative.

How conservative are we talking? Pretend that you will be wearing your outfit to a campaign fundraiser for your husband, who is a Republican running for local office. That is how the search committee will expect you to look.

Is this fair? Of course not. Church job interviews are not some kind of secret decontamination zone, shielded from the putrescent stench of sexism that pervades everything else in this broken world. The thing is, to start fixing the system from the inside, first you have to get the job.

The trick, then, is to find an outfit that fits these crappy parameters but still makes you feel awesome. Your approach will of course be shaped by many factors, not least your age, gender presentation and personal style, but here’s the tried-and-true formula that works for me:

What to Wear to a Clergy Job Interview When You Are Not Yet Ordained

collage clergy job interview outfit

shop the look: dress | blazer | shoes | pantyhose (ugh) | earrings

Comfy stretchy sheath dress. I love sheath dresses generally. One piece and bam! you’re dressed! And no need to fuss around with a blouse that will inevitably come untucked from your slacks or pencil skirt. Besides, if you are trying to assemble an interview outfit at the Goodwill twelve hours before your interview, choosing a dress means you only have to dig through one rack of clothes instead of two.

The perfect dress for a job interview is comfortable to sit in and gently skims your body shape — fit-and-flare dresses, although they are cute as can be, are not interview attire. Get whatever color you want, but stick with a solid color or a very subtle print. Length should be within an inch of your kneecap, and neckline should be high enough that there’s no cleavage exposure when you bend forward. Use a mirror to check.

The good news here is that, if there is no thrift store handy, you can buy yourself a cheap dress and still look pretty good. If you’re on a serious budget, get yourself to Target. If you can afford to spend $50, the world is your dress-oyster. LOFT makes tons of interview-appropriate dresses and always seems to be having a sale; try this mixed-media sheath or plum sheath WITH POCKETS, or these polka dots if that’s your style, or this gorgeous coral cutout-neck dress. If the LOFT dress you really want isn’t on sale right now, wait twenty minutes and then look again.

Blazer. To look good with a sheath dress, a blazer should have a hem that hits you between navel and mid-hip. Keep the color and cut simple and the fit perfect. If you can’t button it or it feels tight across the back when you cross your arms, it is too small. If you can button it and comfortably fit your laptop inside it with you, it is too big. If the sleeves cover any part of your thumbs when your arms are at your sides, they are too long — zip over to a tailor and get them shortened.

A wool blazer is a great investment if you can afford it, but my favorite interview blazer came from a thrift store by way of Body by Victoria and it fits me pretty well so it looks fine. If you prefer to shop for blazers at a store best known for selling something other than lingerie, hit up Express, LOFT, J. Crew Factory, Nordstrom, or a mid-range department store of your choosing.

Pantyhose. Ugh, I know. But remember your imaginary Republican husband. His constituents will be shocked if you are bare-legged at the fundraiser. They are the worst.

Fortunately for you, Kate Middleton has brought pantyhose back into style! To look as good in them as she does, don’t buy them in a plastic egg at the drugstore, and match them to your skin tone as closely as possible. If you’re between sizes, size up so that you can breathe. For darker skin tones, Nubian Skin (available at Nordstrom) draws good reviews. For lighter skin tones, I like Nordstrom Rack’s in-house Shimera brand, which is fairly durable and will only set you back $6.

Uncomfortable shoes. Unless you will have to spend several hours walking and standing (e.g., your interview includes leading worship or teaching sample lessons), now is the time to dust off a pair of shoes that are achy but stunning.

“Stunning” in a professional context is best achieved by pointed toes, slender heels, and minimal frippery. I love wearing loud shoes in the pulpit, especially red patent (for Pentecost!) or snakeskin (for … the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit?), but save those for when you already have the job. Stick with shoes in one color and pick a heel height you can walk in. Here are some good choices from Cole Haan (lower heel and higher heel), Clarks (lower heel and higher heel), and Jessica Simpson (slender heel, block heel and wedge). More expensive shoes, as a rule, are going to be more tolerable for your feet. Too bad your student loans don’t know that.

If you can’t walk in heels or refuse to wear them on principle, what you need are a pair of stylish professional flats, which — I hate to be the one to break this to you — will probably also be uncomfortable. Here are a few options to try from BP at Nordstrom, Rockport, Sam Edelman, and Nine West.

What if you have health concerns that force you to prioritize comfort over style? No worries. First, make sure the comfy shoes you plan to wear are in sparkling shape — clean, freshly polished, not worn down at the heel. Second, do consider checking out the offerings from brands that specialize in shoes for difficult feet. Vionic (Orthaheel) makes some darn cute dress shoes, and is an especially popular brand for people with plantar fasciitis. Some of my favorites among their many styles are the Sterling ankle boot, the Upton ankle boot, and the Minna ballet flat. They’re pricey for sure, but if other shoes cause you blinding pain, the investment is worth it.

Simple, elegant hair, nails, and makeup. While my preferred daily hairstyle is the Wet Hair Ponytail, for job interviews I always break out the blow dryer. Your hair doesn’t have to be fancy, but if you wear it long, it should look at least a little bit like you tried.

I keep my fingernails very short, so I never polish them, but I do always make sure they are clean with no ragged edges. If you are the manicure type, your nail polish should be boring in color and free of chips.

If you wear makeup, keep it natural and go easy on the eyeliner. If you don’t wear makeup, at least get in the habit of applying a daily moisturizer with SPF (here’s the one I like, usually cheapest at Target). That’s not an interview tip, just a life tip, brought to you by our rapidly depleting ozone layer.

Understated jewelry. Again, think of your campaign-fundraiser alter ego. Some jewelry she would wear includes:

Some jewelry she would probably leave in the car includes:

  • Dangly or hoop earrings
  • Novelty stud earrings, e.g. those shaped like bees
  • Those thumbnail-sized sparkly stud earrings popularized by Kate Spade
  • Piercings of anything other than the earlobes
  • Silver jewelry that is not freshly polished
  • Gigantic cross necklace
  • Blinged-out plastic statement necklace
  • Long boho tassel necklace
  • Pearl earrings plus pearl necklace plus pearl bracelet (not even the wife of a Republican congressman wants to look THAT much like the wife of a Republican congressman)
  • Plastic digital watch or smart watch
  • Pile of bangle bracelets that jingle continuously
  • Silicone bracelet from charity bike ride
  • Leather wristband from college boyfriend
  • Friendship bracelet from summer camp chaplain gig
  • Enormous fake cocktail ring

Speaking of which, here are a few other items of clothing to save for a different day:

  • Clothing that doesn’t fit you quite right
  • Clothing that is even a teeny little bit damaged or stained
  • Clothing that you can’t comfortably sit down in
  • Shoes that you can’t comfortably walk in
  • Dress or skirt you have to tug to keep it in place
  • Baggy polyester suit purchased at T.J. Maxx in 2008
  • Bra whose function is purely symbolic
  • Underwear whose outline is visible from the next county
  • Pantyhose with runs or snags (carry a backup pair in your purse if you’re worried)
  • Opaque tights (MAYBE I will give you a pass if you wear them with ankle boots)
  • Bare legs (sorry, yo)
  • Loafers
  • Mary Janes
  • Open-toed shoes

What do you think? Am I way off or did I hit it right on the head? And what are your favorite tips for church-gig interview attire?

4 thoughts on “What to Wear to a Clergy Job Interview When You Are Not Yet Ordained

  1. This is delightful! I would add only that I wear two other kinds of shoes to interviews and to work, and think they fit within these bounds of conservatism and modesty: a black Oxford (matches my sheer black pantyhose), or a black ankle-boot with a slight platform. I wear these because I refuse to own daytime shoes which are not comfortable, and I take the T and bus around (i.e. have to walk a bit). Found them both on clearance (Zara and Steve Madden) and would highly recommend these styles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I highly approve of both of these. Wearing walkable shoes to an interview is a major improvement on what I did when I interviewed for my current job: bike there with an entire spare outfit (blazer, dress, heels) stuffed into a backpack, change hurriedly in a coffee shop down the block, and finally trundle in with my giant bag, looking like I planned to stay for a week.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. hi Catherine, thanks for this wonderful blog. I found it through the Episcopal Cafe link and read a bunch of your blogs so far. Really great. Especially the one to men today. But in other comment-land, would you recommend this similar outfit for someone doing their Postulancy Interview with the Commission on Ministry? (say in 2 weeks, perhaps in a fairly traditional southern virginia diocese) dress rather than trousers?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m really glad you found your way to the blog.

    I absolutely think this is an appropriate outfit formula for a postulancy interview in a more traditional diocese or area of the country. It will show the Commission on Ministry that you take them, and the ordination process, seriously. (I didn’t dress up this much for mine, but I was ordained in the Diocese of Oregon, which skews VERY casual, in a Birkenstocks-with-vestments way. I have trouble imagining that combo in southern Virginia.)

    My postulancy interviews involved approximately a billion hours of standing, so do make sure you wear comfortable shoes.

    Blessings and good luck on the interviews! I will be praying hard for you about two weeks from now.


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