I've been struggling with this question myself over the past few days. Not because I have a job interview coming up, but because I've been reading Who What Wear: Celebrity and Runway Style for Real Life by Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power, a fantastic book and definite must-read, but there were a couple things I took issue with, including the authors' recommendations for the types of bags one should carry to a job interview.
While I thought their clothing suggestions were spot-on, Kerr and Power advised toting an oversized clutch to a corporate job interview and carrying a small chain-link handbag to a creative job interview (pp. 113-115). Chic, no doubt. But just how practical are these suggestions? What, pray tell, can you fit in a clutch or teensy handbag? Not much more than lipstick, keys and a wallet.
But these are not the tools you will need for a successful interview. As reader Janel so wisely points out, a well-prepared interviewee should bring additional copies of her resume, business cards, a pad of paper for taking the occasional, well-timed note, and, depending on the job, a portfolio of your recent work.
Therefore, I think it's best to carry a tote or satchel that's large enough to easily accommodate the aforementioned items. Look for something structured and square with one large, easy-to-open central pocket that allows you to quickly and effortlessly access your items. Avoid overpacking—you do not want to appear encumbered by your bag or disorganized. There should be no signs of overstuffing or bulging, obtuse, extraneous, or otherwise miscellaneous paraphernalia in said bag. A bag that can stand on its own would be a good bet as you can set it on the floor beside you and forget about it.
You might also consider packing something strategic to make yourself look good, for example, a copy of the Wall Street Journal if you're applying for a financial job; a copy of Vogue if you're applying for a fashion/retail job; a copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma if you're applying for a job as a foodwriter, and so on. If your interviewer happens to catch a glimpse of one of these items in your bag, it can only help your cause. Be creative and calculating!
In terms of carrying a briefcase, perhaps some of my readers can chime in here, but I'd say a briefcase is not necessary for most entry level positions; however, plenty of women carry them and they are almost a requirement for certain professions. Think lawyers and bankers. I see a lot of women in sharp suits on the train to and from NYC with leather briefcases in tow in conservative solids hues like black or dark brown. They'll crack these open the second they find a seat and work until they reach their stop.
Now let's get to the fun part and take a look at some examples:
CREATIVE JOB INTERVIEW: You want to show your sense of style without being ostentatious. Something like this Jessica Simpson Rumor Woven Satchel has personality, and its ample 12" x 3" x 14" dimensions make it the perfect size to hold everything you need.
CORPORATE JOB INTERVIEW: You want to project a professional image that will help you land a job, not compliments. This Ak Anne Klein Classico Large Leather Tote says "I can be trusted and I will be an asset to your company." P.S. If you pick a more conservative bag, you can definitely have some more fun with your jewelry or shoes, and vice versa.
CREATIVE OR CORPORATE JOB INTERVIEW: This bag seems to straddle both the corporate and creative worlds. The shape is all business, but the print is unforgettable and bold. While you don't want your handbag to be the center of attention, if it becomes a conservation starter, more power to you.