Let’s face it: first impressions matter. 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:
- Invest in a Power Suit: Don’t try to pass-off the miss-matched black slacks and Gap blazer that have been collecting dust in your closet as appropriate interview attire. Don’t borrow a suit from your parents or roommate or best friend. Undoubtedly, piecing together or borrowing a suit will result in looking sloppy or ill-fitted, and recruiters WILL notice. Instead, 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. Black, navy, or grey are strong, professional colors that look great on interview day.
- Extra: If you every find yourself in Southeast Asia, I highly recommend you consider getting a couple of custom-made suits. Many of the shops offer top quality materials, the pricing is 25% – 33% what you would pay for a similar suit in the US or Europe, and you can’t beat the look and feel of clothes that have been designed to your exact body measurements!
- 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. Plan ahead: dry cleaning typically takes a few days! Also, style your hair professionally.
- For women, I recommend half-up or tied-back so it doesn’t fall into your face during the interview.
- For men, I recommend using gel or hairspray to style it professionally and get it out of your face. And always make sure your shoes are shined.
- Modesty is key: Your appearance should not deter or distract from what you say during the interview. If your interviewer gets distracted by your bright turquoise socks under your tailored highwaters or they’re overwhelmed by too much perfume, they may have trouble concentrating on your brilliant divestiture framework.
- For women, I recommend skirts to the knee, crewneck or turtleneck necklines (or buttoned-up to the top of your sternum), and simple jewelry (e.g., no chunky statement necklaces or flashy earrings). Also, avoid heels higher than 4-inches (mostly for your own comfort!).
- For men, I recommend getting your suits tailored to a modern style and leaving your monogrammed cufflinks at home. For shirts, look into getting custom fitted, calming pastel designs like those offered by Proper Cloth. Finally, leave your eccentric ties at home.
- Event attire matters: On-campus, most firms will host an information sessions, coffee chats, happy hours, and / or case workshops. As during the interview, you should demonstrate professionalism in your appearance. When in doubt, always over-dress. It is much easier to remove a suit jacket than it is to scramble back to your apartment to change! Flip flops, frayed anything, and hats are not acceptable unless the event is truly active and outdoors (think baseball game). However, it’s important that you don’t show-up in a suit to an event billed as “smart casual”. If “business casual” is something you would feel comfortable wearing to a religious service or brunch with grandma, “smart casual” is what you would wear to a trendy restaurant.
- For women, I suggest a shift dress, a skirt, or tailored pants and blouse. Flat shoes (or nice sandals if it’s listed as “smart casual”) are acceptable.
- For men, “business casual” means slacks and a button-up shirt. For “smart casual”, you can go with a well-fitted, dark, single-color, non-frayed pair of jeans and dress shoes.
- Accessorize like a pro: Instead of bringing your dinged-up purse or ragged backpack to an interview or recruiting event, make a small investment in a professional purse, computer bag, or briefcase. Also, 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” or “I just got back from Vegas with my MBA friends” to “I’m ready for the boardroom”.
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