“If Someone turns to Look at You, You are Not Well Dressed”
Be it first stage interviews in your final undergrad year or starting your graduate programme, don’t let your clothes become a talking point
Article by Rupert Watkins
I admit, it’s slightly crudely paraphrased but the quote – attributed to the great Beau Brummell – certainly holds true at this time of year for new graduates everywhere. When you take those first major steps on the career ladder, the more prestigious the organization, the more you do not want to find you have given off/created the wrong impression before you’ve even opened your mouth. Not everyone is into clothes and style – there’s plenty of other things to get into – and too many guides on how to dress for interview success seem to assume far more money can be spent on clothing than the average new grad’s going to have. Given those trying for the creative and start up arenas face even more fluid dress conventions, where to start?
With the scale of graduate hiring and the CV prestige attached to them, many final year undergrads and fresh grads will be dealing with one of London’s blue chip firms – be that consultancy, law or finance. In many ways this is the easiest field to cover as these more conservative professions do effectively have a uniform. But there are still many points that continue to irritate interviewers and hiring managers.
Keep it simple stupid. Work out whether navy or grey suits your natural complexion better and stick to that choice. Many suits have become a much lighter shade of blue over the past few years – this is fine but don’t go too light a colour. Remember you’re gunning for a serious profession here. Leave colourful linings out – you can get those when you’ve established yourself in your career. The critical thing is to make sure you have a little extra cash to get your suit altered to properly fit you. As an interviewing undergrad or indebted new grad, you’re not in the market for bespoke and made to measure garments but ensuring that sleeve length and trouser length is correct is critical. If you fall between two sizes and you’ve gone for the larger, you may need the shoulders or waist of the jacket pulled in an inch to give a sharper, slicker silhouette. It’s worth taking the time to do so – you’ll feel more confident and at ease.
It’s no surprise most big shirt makers have “white shirt bars” in their shops – it’s the go-to corporate choice, though blue remains equally acceptable and smart. A semi cutaway collar is deemed more formal as are double cuffs. Making a first impression at an interview or on your first round of grad programme rotations means a sober tie. Avoid your university or college stripes, the people interviewing you will know where you were educated and your new team manager is (bluntly) unlikely to care – it’s about how quickly you are adapting and learning. Even if you’ve had friendship bracelets since your gap year in the Far East, take them off, at least until you’ve got your feet under the desk.
Those dandies amongst you may be dismayed, but to start with it’s about dressing correctly and unobtrusively. If people are staring at you, unfortunately it will be because you are committing a blunder. Leave the more colourful fripperies, such as pocket squares, out for those all-important interviews and first days on the job. Add them in later as you settle into your role and you know your line management are happy with your initial performance – you can then begin to express yourself. As with all interviews and new jobs, time spent in due diligence is rarely wasted. You would not go into an interview without preparation – at the very least if you are unsure of where the offices are get there with time to spare or do a dummy commute. Grab a coffee at the nearest Starbucks and check how people are dressed a few days prior to your interview. Very few firms have set rules, though a couple such as Linklaters and McKinnsey’s are known to have more formal dress guidelines than most.
Those more creative spirits amongst you are faced with an even trickier conundrum. A suit is a reasonably simple garment to know how to put on, but those in a fully dressed down environment need to really do their research. Unless you have been categorically told it is a board shorts and t-shirt environment including for potential employees, you need to veer on the formal side to start off with. This may mean a jacket a tie – certainly for the interview. It is better to be laughingly told to loosen up once you’ve shaken on a job offer than get that rejection email. Again consider doing a dummy commute (never wasted anyway given the dramas of public transport), grab a coffee opposite the office and get a feel as to sartorial vibe of the building. On your first week in the job, consider playing it safe with smart casual shirt and chinos until you work out how the office dresses and how your new boss expects you to present yourself.
Given you’re either still at uni or barely graduated, you need to be savvy on where you splash the cash. Above all you will need one good interview outfit. Think about using the winter and summer sales – it’s not cheating – and you may find good men’s brands will offer basic alterations within the sale price. Given even two national newspapers have run articles whilst I’ve been writing this piece on young candidates being passed over for not dressing correctly do not – regardless of the fact it looks stylish – pair brown shoes with a suit. Stick to black rigidly. And I know it’s basic – but if you’re heading to your interview and you’ve just got back from a post-uni second gap year, get a trim. The aim of dressing well is to get to that interview table or through that first week without subconsciously giving your hiring managers a reason to disapprove of you. Look them in the eye and back your skills and what you can bring to the company – and don’t let poor dress sense get in the way of that. Good luck.