Style File: four tips for professional dressing

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It’s that time of year again, when bright, aspiring college students gear up to take on interviews for summer jobs and internships. This exciting, albeit scary, time conjures up feelings of anxiety about what to wear for the big day. I’ve brought together some important points to weigh when making your pertinent sartorial decision.

  1. Overdressing is always better than underdressing, as a general rule.

This goes without saying, but you should always make considerations about the line of work you are interviewing for. Is it a capital fund? A government department? A community outreach organization? You must make some assumptions about the degree of professionalism at the place of business in question. So do some research! What are your colleagues wearing? Is the office a sea of suits and briefcases? Or is it a more casual, laid-back environment, where most people sport business casual attire? No two workplaces are the same.

You should also think about the location of your interview and the general vibe of the surroundings. The hustle and bustle of a coffee shop is very different from the quiet confines of an office conference room.

(Also, climate! We live in Minnesota for crying out loud. Make sure that you’re warm on your commute. Seasons mean nothing here, seriously.)

  1. You want to be memorable

I really stand by this one. Earlier this year I was scrambling to decide what to wear for an interview. Frantic, seeing as I had devoted little to no closet space for professional attire, I decided to go with a brown tweed jacket and a bulky pair of pink and white earrings. So off I went, folder in hand, listening to Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day,” for good measure.

It went well, and I was eventually called back for a second round interview with another recruiter. As I walked into the room she glanced at the paper in front of her and said to me, “Oh! You’re the one with the earrings! My colleagues noted how much they liked them.”

I cannot stress enough how important it is to let yourself naturally stand out in these situations. Not only do you feel more confident, but it reveals this self-confidence to prospective employers. At the end of the day, it shows you are an individual who brings a fresh attitude and creative mindset to the business.

The easiest things to implement are jewelry and general accessories like silk scarves. Once I wore a pink crossbody basket bag to an interview. The goal is to showcase your individual style and bring some life into the workplace while still maintaining a degree of professionalism.

The LA Times reported last month that American workplaces are increasingly going casual. Goldman Sachs recently augmented its policy towards a “firm-wide flexible dress-code.” Though the corporate world tends to refrain from overtly colorful work ensembles, now more than ever is the time to incorporate respectful elements of personal style into professional attire. After all, employers are hiring someone they will have to interact with on a daily basis. They want these interactions to be enjoyable. Dexterity and intellect are important qualities for candidates, but so is the ability to challenge perspectives and bring a positive presence to the team at large. Clothing is one of those immediately-recognizable aspects of identity and self-perception. It emits visual signals to those we interact with every day.

It is my personal hope that as a professional community we are moving toward greater tolerance of showing personal style at work. If anything, it would reflect a wider progression, in which we learn to value the stories of each and every member within our professional circles.

  1. Don’t wear what you think you should wear.

This goes along with the point above. I think Vogue editor Anna Wintour said it best. In a new video series for Vogue, when asked about how to dress for an interview, Wintour replies, “It’s so interesting to me how people dress when they come in for interviews. Sometimes you feel they’re wearing clothes that they just bought that morning, or maybe the night before, and not something that in any way suits their personality and who they are. I think what everyone should remember, whether they’re interviewing at Vogue or indeed anywhere, that we’re not hiring your wardrobe. Your wardrobe is not going to be doing the job for you — it’s who you are.”

  1. You are as much on display as the skills on your resume.

Just as you would present a resume to your future employer — one that is crisp, clean, thoroughly proofread and revised, you should likewise present yourself in a similar fashion. Be crisp! Be clean! I hope these are obvious suggestions?

One last thing: authenticity is key. So be authentic! Your final decision should in some way be an ‘upgraded’ version of what you normally wear — something of a “best self outfit.” Wear what you would wear, and your authenticity will shine through.