You’ve created your resumes and written cover letters so convincing that you kind of want to hire yourself, so now what? While most people know which skills to highlight on their resumes, how to network like a boss and have mastered the art of calling employers over and over, the most crucial step tends to be overlooked. That’s right, what to wear.
Unless you love fashion, chances are you typically throw on the first clean thing and run out the door to go to class. You’re not going to bother with breakfast, let alone trying to look cute. What is this, the Oscars?
1. Knowledge is Power
Of course, short of staking out inside the office and spying on everyone, there’s no real way to know what the appropriate dress code for a specific business is. “You have to ask”, said Liz Ryan in a recent Forbes article. She suggests asking as soon as the company requests an interview, with a question such as “Can you please advise me on the appropriate dress for an interview with your firm?” Or, just take some notes from other employees.
Asking doesn’t make you look stupid or inexperienced; remember that the company already knows how much work experience you’ve had thanks to your resume. It’s better to ask now than to show up on your first day looking horribly out of place–I once showed up to an interview in leggings and a casual shirt, only to find that everybody was dressed in business casual clothes. Big mistake. Needless to say, I didn’t get the internship.
Ah, remember the kindergarten teacher that blabbed endlessly about respecting others? Looks like that was more complicated than you thought. “Show up attired in something that indicates a deep and sincere respect for the people and the organization you’re trying to connect with,” said business protocol expert Dennis Cornell in another Forbes article. Think about it. What you wear speaks volumes about who you are; the girl forever wearing pajamas in your late afternoon English seminar seems lazy. Clothes are key when it comes to what people think of you, and what they think you think about the job.
Save your tight mini-dress (or on the other end, saggy pants) or loud neon yellow shirt for the weekend. Any clothes with offensive symbols or slogans should be shoved to the back of your closet. And don’t forget to, you know, shower regularly and brush your hair. You may be an intern, but keep in mind that you should dress for the job you want–this is your dress rehearsal for the real deal.
3. The Basics: Ladies
Steer clear of any outfits that scream “crazy night out” or “quality time with the treadmill.” Instead, go for something fashionable but comfy that screams responsible and confident said Career Girl Daily, suggesting a black polka dot blouse with flared pants. For a dash of color, try a perky scarf. Don’t be afraid of colors, but don’t go overboard either–you’re not auditioning to become the next Bozo the Clown. As for makeup, stick to pink or red lips paired with neutral eyeshadows that won’t overpower your face. Your favorite smoky eye should be weekends only.
Remember, you don’t have to dress like the stereotypically dowdy secretary you’d find on an episode of Mad Men. Your internship outfits can be both office appropriate and fun. For instance, funky printed blouses with dark slacks or a preppy dress (but don’t forget to double check the length) will satisfy the three F’s: flattering, flirty and fine for the office.
4. The Basics: Gentlemen
Arguably, guys have it a bit easier. Play it safe and wear that suit. If it’s more casual than you though, you can always ditch the jacket. Don’t underestimate the importance of the jacket–it shows respect. Even if you’d rather have your fingernails pulled off one by one than wear a jacket, don’t walk in with it balled under an arm. Wrinkles are never ok. In fact, this is a good time to become really good friends with an iron. As for shoes, avoid anything you’d wear to the gym but keep them neat and shiny as well.
Let me break down for you in easy to understand terms: button down + slacks/trousers + tie + jacket = effortlessly professional. You’re welcome.
5. Cool, Calm and Collected
As important as dressing appropriately is, remember to wear what makes YOU feel confident. Whether that’s a blouse that makes your waist look amazing or the bright blue tie that reminds you of the ocean, go for it. That starchy, practical pantsuit may make you look professional as hell, but if it makes you feel like an uncomfortable little kid playing dress-up, then it’s an epic fail. The key is to look and feel good so that you can kick some serious butt at your internship.