Everybody knows you should dress conservatively for a job interview. A straightforward interview suit is the way to go, and that goes double for a management consulting interview.
We won’t assume you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know that navy blue and charcoal gray suits are your interview suit standbys. But there’s so much more to dressing to impress than that.
We talked to business suit expert, Derek Tian, co-founder of the custom clothing brand Black Lapel, to get some perspective. Before starting Black Lapel, Tian worked in finance and his wife was a consultant at McKinsey. Suffice it to say, he knows a thing or two about dressing for a consulting interview.
We gathered Tian’s tips for consulting interview suits, along with some important advice from our very own Jenny Rae, and here’s what they had to say about putting your best foot forward going into a consulting interview.
Interview Suit Secret 1: Fit Comes First
A lot of guys think that throwing on a dark, solid colored suit means they’re ready for an interview. But if the suit doesn’t fit you well, you could be doing serious damage to the first impression you give off.
A poor fit looks sloppy. “Looking sloppy signals a lack of concern for how you present yourself,” says Jenny Rae, our CEO, adding “presenting is a key part of consulting, so it’s important to show that you care about how you present yourself when meeting with a client or a hiring manager.”
But what exactly is a good fit? Black Lapel’s Derek Tian shares that “It’s really just about keeping things in proportion.”
A great fit comes from the sum of many parts. “The main areas where things tend to go off the rails,” says Tian, “are the shoulders which are often too large in a suit you grab off the rack, or when the waist of the jacket is loose and just drapes like a curtain. The most noticeable one is when the pants are too long and leave you with fabric puddles around your ankles. That’s often one of the first things you see when someone walks into a room.”
On the flip side, think about what it says when your suit fits you perfectly. When your look is put together, it affects how people perceive you in general. A great fit not only makes you look good, but it also makes you look competent as well. In other words, it makes you look professional and ready to meet with a CEO client at a moment’s notice.
When you don’t have a lot of professional experience to refer to on your resume, like many starting out in the consulting world, making a professional impression is extremely important. “Look the part,” Jenny Rae says, and “don’t give an interviewer any reason to say no!”
Interview Suit Secret 2: Black Is For Funerals, Not Interviews
Black suits are a favorite of many men. Tian confirms that black suit sales make up a not-insignificant portion of suit sales at Black Lapel.
“As part of our service, though, we counsel men on style online and in-person in our showroom, and we usually steer guys away from black suits for job interviews.”
Black suits, it turns out, are a little bit of an anomaly. In menswear, the black suit is more closely tied to a tuxedo than a business suit, whereas gray is considered more appropriate for business.
“Guys love black suits. Black suits make us feel invincible. And black suits have their place,” says Tian, “but that place is a formal ceremony, like a wedding or a funeral, where you’re dressed up but not conducting business.”
Interview Suit Secret 3: The Small Stuff Makes A Big Difference
Mention the word accessories, and most men think of women’s style. But men wear plenty of small items too, and it can make or break your look.
Tian reminds us that “you can subconsciously derail an interview with a little thing in your outfit that’s distracting.”
How do you avoid that? We asked Tian for a crib sheet of accessories to wear to an interview.
Of course, there are the basics like a tie. “Your tie can be strong in color,” Tian notes, “as long as it doesn’t overpower your overall look.”
Tian suggests either a white or pale blue shirt to ensure that your tie matches up easily.
Next, Tian suggests wearing a simple pocket square. An often overlooked element of wearing a suit, Tian swears by the traditional white pocket square because, as he puts it, “It gives you a touch of class without calling too much attention to the square itself.”
Jenny Rae agrees, “a candidate wearing a pocket square looks like a guy who pays attention but doesn’t obsess about the details, and that’s a plus in an interviewer’s mind.”
How do you wear one? “There’s no need to stress over how to wear it.” Tian says, “Keep it boring with a square fold and let your problem-solving skills be where your creativity shines.”
Next up, a proper pair of dress shoes. The shoes should be clean and scuff-free. A freshly spit-shined pair of shoes can be too aggressively stylish for an interview. “While some people like the polished-like-mirrors look,” says Tian, “I think it can look a little too slick, so I would aim to get the shoes looking clean, but not too shiny.”
Finally, Tian reminds us, pay special attention to the socks. “While I love a pair of socks with personality, play it safe when you’re interviewing for a job. Stick with solid gray or blue socks that are as dark or darker than your pants color.”
As for what accessories NOT to wear to your interview: “You want to avoid flashy jewelry,” Jenny Rae explains ”Things like cufflinks would be a no-no. And don’t do anything crazy with colors like brightly colored shoelaces or lapel pins.”
Steer clear of these no-nos and the above accessories tips will serve you well.
One Last Bit of Friendly Advice
Now that you know the secrets to suiting up for an interview, it’s time to put that knowledge into action. Following these guidelines will let you focus on getting the job, rather than getting dressed.
Black Lapel suits take about 4-5 weeks to craft so if your interviews are coming up, hop to it and make sure you’re buttoned up when it comes to your interview attire!