Your interpretation of power dressing for an important interview may backfire if you depend solely on your basic instincts. Overdoing it or taking it back to the stone age may end up exposing more than you bargained for – your lack of dressing etiquette for starters.
For international students, knowing what to wear for MBA interviews and regular job interviews after graduation doesn’t always come naturally. What is acceptable in India (or whichever country you’ve spent your life in) may raise eyebrows in foreign land.
And you thought your dazzling intelligence was sufficient to knock the socks off the interview panel. Well, you got the ‘socks’ bit right. For, in a situation where first impressions count more than you think, the way you present yourself, including the way you dress, play a crucial role in whether or not you leave a mark on recruiters.
So, like it or not, pay close attention to how you suit yourself up for those all-important interviews whether its part of the admissions interview process or closer to graduation time when you are out to woo prospective recruiters.
Rule No 1: You don’t want to be remembered for the clothes you wear. If that sounds ironic, it’s not. While your attire should be apt, neat, well-fitting and in style, it should not stand out or make a statement.
Remember, dressing appropriately is not only a comment on yourself; it’s a comment on how you regard the person/s seated across the table. It’s a subtle way of saying that you respect them as well as the reason that brought you there. The only time you would need to take your attire to the next level at a recruitment interview is when looking for work in an industry with high client contact, where there is an element of glamour involved, or in a sector like banking and finance.
If all this talk about dressing and attire has got you worried, don’t be. Basic professional attire does not need to be ‘fashionable’; neither does it change with the whims of fashion.It should stay relevant for a good five years, making your investment well worth the while.
Let’s get down to specifics… what works, what doesn’t, and why looking spiffy at a job interview says more than you ever imagined.
A sober two-piece suit is your best and, perhaps, only option. Anything else will look causal. When it comes to colour, grey or charcoal grey are most popular. Black is too grim and way too formal. Women have more choices with suit colour than men do and can carry off a slate blue or light grey suit, which would not be appropriate for men. As for material, wool, wool blends and even synthetics are fine when suiting up. And, yes, a solid or very subtle weave is what you want.
Complimenting your suit with a light-coloured blouse is an interview staple. A cotton shirt or good quality knit is also a good choice. But strapless tops and spaghetti straps are a definite no-no. And definitely no cleavage.
Although pant suits are usually preferred, a well-matched and well-tailored skirt can look very smart. If you’re going with pants, make sure they are creased and well-tailored, not figure-hugging or flowing. If you prefer to wear a skirt, make sure it covers your thighs when seated. Also, a skirt that ends at the knee when you’re standing looks chic and professional. Longer skirts are all right too, as long as they are not billowing or so tight that you can’t do stairs!
Here’s a tip: When deciding on hem length, sit facing a mirror because that’s what your interviewer will see. The answer will help you decide on your hemline. Rule out high slits; they are inappropriate in this setting. A small centre slit at the back of a knee-length skirt is all right as is a slit up to the knee on a longer skirt, to make it easier to walk.
Some industries, like technology, are dubbed as ‘casual’ industries’ for their cool work environments. In this case, you could take it down a notch but remember, cool does not mean unkempt! Don slacks with a smart and dressy blouse, or a tailored skirt and blouse worn with a light sweater. The trick is to always think in terms of ‘three pieces’. And slightly overdressed is always better than under-dressed.
Wearing the wrong shoes could trip up your chances, so you want to pay close attention to this: Closed-toe pumps – always. As for material, go with leather or micro-fibre. High heels are your preferred choice just as stilettos or clunky platforms are not. Make sure you can walk comfortably in your new heels. Hobbling or wincing as you walk towards the interview panel doesn’t exactly make a good impression!
When it comes to jewellery and other accessories, play the conservative card. A simple wristwatch is desirable as is something elegant around your neck, if your top calls for it. Ditto for cosmetics. Keep your make-up subtle and nails clean and well-groomed.
And, finally, should you carry a purse or a briefcase? If your choice is a purse, keep it small and simple, especially if you are also going to carry a briefcase. You could substitute a purse for a small briefcase or business-like tote bag. Leather is the best choice for briefcases; micro-fibre or fine wovens are also acceptable.
Always wear a two-piece suit in a conservative colour, preferably solid grey or navy blue. Black is way too formal. Also, a subtle weave pattern is acceptable. Never wear a jacket; that is not a suit. As for material, wool is best.
If you’ve never given your tie much thought, now is a good time to start. A quality silk tie to go with your suit is a must. A tie of standard width, average length, not too short, nor skinny, is appropriate. You can’t go wrong with authoritative colours such as red, blue or grey, and go with a solid colour. No university logos or other prints!
A tie like that will best show off a shirt that is either white or light blue. Your shirt should always be long-sleeved, preferably made of cotton and one that sports a simple, straight collar, not button-down.
Your shoes should be leather lace-ups; never wear loafers to a job interview. Also, choose sober colours like black or dark brown, which should also coordinate with the colour of your suit. Also, plain toe, split toe and cap toe are all right. You probably don’t know this but your choice in footwear says a lot about you as a person and interviewers always take notice.
Before you slip your foot into that carefully chosen shoe, make sure it’s sheathed in socks that are dark and matching, and that do not allow any skin to be visible even when you sit down. A belt is mandatory – but keep it simple and subtle. No suspenders or braces!
As far as accessories go, wear a simple watch. A wedding ring is the only other accessory that is acceptable under these circumstances. So, no cufflinks, earrings or face rings. Carry a chic leather folder (if a briefcase is too old-school for you), use a dash of cologne and remember to sport neatly combed hair – no gel!
It takes but seconds to form a first impression and what you wear plays a lead role in how your MBA / job interview is going to play out.
Image source: Basic Instinct – Carolco Pictures StudioCanal