Job Search and Interviews: Dressing for Events

Dressing for Events - Networking

I generally try to avoid jumping on the bandwagon, but having been a fan of The Great Gatsby long before Jay-Z and Baz Luramann decided to bring their version to the big screen, I feel comfortable confessing that Gatsby was my inspiration for the topic of this post. While there are several provocative themes in Fitzgerald’s opus, I choose to focus on that of reinvention and appearance—something of vital importance to job seekers.

Whether networking at a Memorial Day Barbecue (yes—you network everywhere), attending a career fair, or at an interview, dressing appropriately is paramount. Just as the iconic Gatsby would never have gotten close to his love without dressing in a way to show he was worthy of her, today’s employers are conscious of how their employees reflect on them, and are careful to hire people who dress as though they deserve the job. As you stand in front of your mirror doing your last-minute check, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:

 On A Job Interview—More is More:

Regardless of the organization—nonprofit, government, finance, or anything in between, more is more. A suit is not only suggested, it is your safety. This is because you never want to give the appearance of under-dressing, and potentially implying a lack of respect for the company or individual you are meeting. If the position you are interviewing for is in the financial sector, be aware that suits are the uniform—absolutely mandatory. For an interview in a government office or with an NGO, there is the possibility that your interviewer will wear more relaxed, business casual clothing, but you should still wear a full suit. Your interviewer may be more formally dressed than you are, but they will appreciate you respecting their time enough to look your best—and you never want to be in the position of being more dressed-down than your interviewer.

Note: The above rule is excellent to go by with one potential exception—the tech sector. If you happen to be interviewing for a start-up in Silicon Valley, find someone in your network to get inside information on the tone of that particular organization. Suitable attire in start-ups run the gamut, from business formal to beach-wear.

Informational Interview—Over Coffee vs. In the Office

When meeting someone for an informational interview outside the office for coffee or lunch, the atmosphere tends to be more relaxed. Permitting more casual clothing. By no means should you wear sweats and the t-shirt you generally reserve for laundry day. Think of a nice dress, skirt or slacks, and an optional blazer. In short—business-casual.

Should your informational interview occur in the office, you could go for business-casual. However, given the more formal setting, it is also acceptable to wear a complete suit.

When Networking—Weekday Happy Hour vs. Weekend Brunch

As the diligent, opportunity conscious job-hunter, you attend networking events at least once a week. There you connect with individuals who share your interests and who know of jobs in your target field, are looking to hire, or are searching just as you are. No matter which type of person you encounter at a happy hour, inappropriate attire can harm your prospects of connecting with this person in the future should you desire to do so. In this case, the middle-road is required: I believe that dressing in a full three-piece suit can hurt in this situation because, unless you can say in conversation that you are coming from an interview or another previous engagement where the suit was appropriate, it can come off as trying too hard if you’re dressed so formally for what is supposed to be a relaxed (if professional) atmosphere. Nor should you appear in jeans and a hoodie. Many of the other attendees will be coming from work. Your clothing should make them at ease enough for conversation; do not be so relaxed in appearance that they are distracted by how out-of-place your clothing is.

Weekend brunch is an awesome setting in which to network and meet people—seriously, who doesn’t like brunch? Its relaxed enough that everyone present can chat and eat with the knowledge that when they leave, the day will still be ahead of them and they still have a day before they need to worry about work. If the brunch is for young professionals, generally casual dress is fine (break out the jeans!). However, if the event is a multi-generational sponsored by an organization, it is safer to dress based on the tone of the invitation—were you “invited to join___for a brunch in honor of …..” or were you asked to “stop in and chat over a great meal at our favorite little spot…”

Keep in mind your goals for the event, the image you’re trying to project and your audience. And, when seriously lost, do not be afraid to ask the organizer about the dress code.

By Xevion B., Wall Street Services Reporter