First impressions are everything. In fact, we form an opinion about a stranger within the first few seconds of meeting. Recruits, therefore, must manage their appearance when networking and interviewing with consulting firms. Drawing upon my experiences as a consulting recruiter, here are five rules that I recommend for impressing your interviewer through a mature, professional appearance:
- Ditch the 90’s suit: One of the most common interview dress code mistakes we see is students showing up in their parents’ favorite old suit. Clown-sized pant legs and oversized jackets make it hard to take an applicant seriously. Invest in a smart, fitted suit. You’ll be able to use it for other interviews, and you’ll need it for the job as well.
- No wrinkles, please: This should go without saying, but ensure your interview attire is clean and wrinkle-free. Rumpled ties and crumpled skirts don’t fly with consulting clients, and therefore have no place in the interview. Moreover, don’t show up in the suit you’ve already sweated through and stained three times in a flurry of recruiting events. For ladies, I recommend styling your hair cleanly half-up or tied-back to keep from having to deal with it during the interview. For men, also make sure your hair is clean, styled, and out of your face. Basic hygiene should be a no-brainer, but too many students try to get away with cutting corners. It does not go unnoticed!
- Modesty is key: For ladies and men alike, it’s important to remember that your appearance should not deter or distract from what you say during the interview. If your interviewer feels uncomfortable because they can see too much cleavage or your biceps bursting through your suit jacket, they may have trouble concentrating on the brilliant profitability framework or resume overview you’re giving. For ladies, I recommend skirts to the knee, modestly cut blouses, and simple jewelry (e.g., no chunky statement necklaces or large hoop earrings). Make sure you can walk in your heels; five inch stilettos are not necessary. For men, I recommend getting your suits tailored correctly and leaving your monogrammed cufflinks at home.
- Dress to impress: When in doubt, always over-dress. It is much easier to remove a suit jacket and tie than it is to scramble back to your dorm room to change because you were the only student in shorts. As a recruit, you should demonstrate professionalism in your appearance. This applies to both the interview and more informal recruiting events, such as information sessions or happy hours. Sandals, cargo shorts, and baseball hats are never acceptable. However, if you’re invited to an event and the dress code is given as “business casual” or “smart casual”, don’t show up in a suit and tie. For ladies, think of “business casual” as something you would feel comfortable wearing to a religious service or a nice brunch with grandma (e.g., a shift dress, a skirt and blouse, tailored pants and a button-up, etc.). Flat shoes are acceptable for “business casual” events, but I recommend wearing modest heels for the interview itself. For men, “business casual” means slacks and a button-up shirt. Always make sure your shoes are shined.
- Accessorize like a pro: Again, don’t be one of the many students who tries to cut corners when deciding what to wear to an interview. Instead of bringing your ragged backpack, make a small investment in a professional purse, computer bag, or briefcase, and purchase a leather pad folio. This will show that you know how to act like a professional. Remember, the goal is to look the part of a consultant. For less than $100, you can change the tone from “I am a senior in college” to “I’m ready for the boardroom”.
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