On Friday, Sept. 24, students woke up earlier than usual, suited up in some variation of black or navy professional attire, and headed to Lerner with résumés in hand. The occasion? Columbia’s annual Fall Career Fair.
While the Roone Arledge Auditorium was mostly a sea of black pant suits, there were some interesting standouts, both good and bad. A few miniskirts sashayed dauntingly past the booths, as did glittery embellishments, rumpled shirts, and a lot of uncombed hair. Not all was bleak though—one student differentiated herself from the crowd in an appropriate black trouser, black heel, and pale green oxford shirt ensemble. She complemented her outfit with pearl earrings, a matching necklace, and a black purse large enough to hold her belongings without swallowing her whole. Successfully looking appropriate and still showing personality is no simple feat, and it is one that students don’t cease to face now that the Fall Career Fair is over, as interview season for jobs and internships is now in full swing.
Dressing for success without just throwing on a suit and oxford combination can be quite the task. As one Center for Career Education advisor said, one must consider length, necklines, color, heel size, accessories, and grooming in order to be professional. No single loose thread will pass the inspection of a recruiter, so it should not pass the interviewee’s eye either. Both men and women should opt for a black or navy tailored suit combined with a subtly colored or white oxford or blouse for women. Shoes should be formal—they should be worn with dark socks for men and have a low heel for women. Accessories should be kept to a minimum, hair should be clean and combed, and breath should be worthy of an ad campaign for Wintergreen gum. With such restrictions, it is no wonder that most students treat dressing up like wearing a uniform, but it is possible to look the part while not getting lost in itchy cotton and buttons.
Although throwing away suits, button-downs, and ties is not advisable just yet, some fun can still be had. The secret lies in subtleties bold enough to stand out but not so ostentatious as to appear unprofessional. Accessories are a great way to do so for both men and women—just keep in mind that one piece is enough to make a point. For women, this can be a unique statement necklace, a patterned silk scarf, or an intricate ring. Men can play around with cuff links, a pocket-handkerchief, or patterned ties.
Mix it up and have fun. Students should avoid wearing the same suit and shirt combination to every single interview, information session, and recruiter event. If the person wearing the outfit is bored with his or her own look, everyone else will yawn too. Having a few outfits and rotating them is essential. This is especially important if you are attending multiple events at which the same companies will be present. Chances are that students will bump into company representatives they have already met. While they should most definitely approach these recruiters and build connections, they should not do so wearing the same outfit they wore last time.
Keep in mind that today’s business climate is changing. More and more companies are implementing casual Fridays and relaxing their standards of dress. Industries such as finance are still highly conservative, but others laud wearing jeans and sandals everyday. It is important to know the norms of the industry. However, even when applying for a job at Google, err on the side of caution. It looks far better to come in a business suit for such an interview than to show up in jeans only to find that the Google representative decided to dress up.
Investing in one good suit now will go a long way toward a career no matter the stage of the process you are in. A good suit can be found just about anywhere today and even on sale, but in case one just isn’t in the budget, CCE has a closet from which students can borrow at no cost.
So the next time “professional attire” is the dress code, students should not panic or groan. They need only to pull out their go-to suit, chose a unique piece to add to the mix, and grab their résumés. First impressions go a long way, and students must simply remember that they can still show personality while wearing something a little classier than their Butler best.