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How to Dress For an MBA Level Interview.
An MBA level interview, whether during your first semester at business school or a decade out, is very different from your run-of-the-mill job screening. MBA interviews are very in depth events that can involve three or more separate interviews in multiple cities with up to a half-dozen of your peers or interviewers. The companies at this level are going to be paying you very well, and they want to make sure you posses the capabilities they need and are a good fit for their culture.
With this being said, very little is covered at Business Schools as to how to dress for an interview. I was always surprised to see people spending one-hundred thousand dollars on their education yet wearing a two-hundred dollar ill fitting suit and cheap unpolished shoes to an interview. An interviewer make his or her first judgment about you before you even open your mouth to speak; studies have shown the first 3 seconds of a initial meeting are critical in terms of overall perception. It is very difficult to overcome a bad first impression; in an MBA interview, you do not want to worry about your clothing sending a negative message.
Know your Target
Behind every successful MBA interview are hours and hours of preparation. As you study the company you are going to interview with, pay attention to their unstated dress code. Most likely you have met a few of their employees; how did they present themselves? Were they conservative or relaxed in their appearance? Interviewing with Goldman Sachs is very different than interviewing with Google’s Marketing Department; both will require a suit, but with Google its safe to say you can wear a less conservative color and maybe throw in a white pocket square.
The good news for the MBA is that the classical men’s suit style has remained the same for a hundred years. The bad news is that there are a lot of fly-by-night fashion suits out there that will become dated faster than you can purchase them. The key is to ignore temporary fashion, and understand what your timeless style is. This sounds complicated, but it’s not. Remember three things when choosing a suit: Fabric, Style, and Fit.
When selecting a fabric for an MBA level interview suit, take into consideration its construction and color. Try to go with a natural fabric, either wool or cotton. If you go with a blend, try to ensure the synthetic make-up is 50% or less. Although a blend may keep the price down, it will not last as long and may have a tendency to breathe less. As to color choice, the most common and therefore safest selections are navy blue, charcoal, and black. Although you can move outside these three if this is not a first or second suit with a pattern (navy blue pin stripes, birds eye, or a medium gray fabric are all excellent selections), make sure you understand you will stick out from a room of interviewees. But perhaps that is what you want.
When it comes to men’s suit style, go with a classical cut. In the United States this is a single breasted, notched lapel, 2 or 3 button jacket with a single or double back vent and regular flap pockets. Ensure you have at least as many cuff buttons as you have front jacket buttons (4 buttons on the sleeve is normal) and ensure you have a left breast pocket. Take a close look at the lapels: a trend right now is thin lapels; avoid this fashion fad as that you want to wear this suit in a year (and 5 years from now for that matter). With your trousers, depending on your build you want either flat or pleated fronts. If you are taller than six feet, consider going with a cuffed bottom. Finally, inspect the jacket and trousers for quality construction (tug on buttons, inspect the sewing).
The last but possibly most important detail when choosing a suit is the fit. Most men wear suits that are too large in one area or another. Try to find a brand whose cut matches your build. Ensure that the sleeves (when standing) show one inch of cuff, the lapels lay flat, that when the jacket is buttoned an X from tightness does not appear, and that the jackets shoulders do not extend past yours. Also, you need to ensure that the jacket covers your backside, but not so long that you can easily grab it with your hands when standing straight; finally, make sure there are no fabric bunches in the back near your neck collar, which should lay flat and show ¾ of an inch of shirt collar when standing.
One way to get a perfect fit is to have your suit made-to-measure or hand crafted by a tailor (bespoke). For the MBA student or recent graduate willing to invest at least 600 dollars per suit, this is a great option; it will save you the time and frustration of searching for the ideal fitting jacket by helping you get exactly what you want quickly. Men who go down this path fall in love with the selection (thousands of fabrics), control over the build (any style, secret pockets, etc), and of course the perfect fit that no off-the-rack men’s suit can emulate.
The Dress Shirt
The rules that apply to men’s suit selection for an MBA level interview are very similar to selecting a men’s dress shirt. Again, take into consideration Fabric, Style, and Fit.
Shirt fabrics come in a much wider variety of colors and weaves than their suit counterparts; a pink striped herringbone dress shirt can turn an ordinary navy suit into a outfit that demands attention while a conservative white broadcloth dress shirt can tone down a striped suits allure. It is no mystery that white and blue dominate the field. However, going with a unique fabric weave (such as a twill or herringbone) in a conservative color is a great way to retain your individuality while not making too much noise with your clothing ensemble. Conservatively colored patterned shirts are another way to break the mold without offending. Although they lower the formality of the outfit, a patterned shirt with a conservative tie is a safe bet on a second or third interview.
Two parts of your shirt will be showing when you wear a jacket; the collar and the cuffs. The collar should be chosen based off of your facial structure. Men with long, thin faces should go with a spread while round faced men should look to lengthen their face with point collars. Normal barrel cuffs with one or two buttons are fine for all interviews; you may be tempted to wear cuff-links to your interview with an investment bank, but be careful. Some interviewers view this display of jewelry as obnoxious.
As to fit, you should be able to put two fingers in-between your neck and the collar when buttoned. Your sleeves and cuffs should extend to the top of your hands, and you want to show approximately one inch of shirt cuff from under your jacket sleeve. Unfortunately it is very difficult to get both of these in an off-the-rack shirt. MBA students and recent graduates should look into custom-made shirts; many online vendors can deliver excellent fitting garments for the same price as you would expect to pay at a quality brick-and-mortar store.
A conservative selection here is the best bet for the MBA level interview. Red is a popular favorite, although you can stand out of the crowd by choosing a red tie with a simple repeating pattern. Striped ties are a good choice, but you should be aware as to whether it is a regimental tie or not. In countries such as England, memberships to certain clubs are symbolized by striped tie design; you may find yourself in a situation having to explain why you are wearing another man’s regimental colors. There is no reason to use a tie clip or tie pin in an MBA interview, unless you are going to be eating (where it serves to hold the tie in place).
For MBA level interviews we recommend a plain black Oxford. This shoe features round toes, sometimes with a cap, and closed lacing. Plain cap-toe Oxfords are the most formal option for business wear, and can do double-duty as formal shoes. Oxfords with broguing along the cap’s edge, or trimming the uppers, are still formal enough for an MBA level interview in the United States. Avoid slip-ons, whether they are loafers, boots, or monk-straps. Although these are perfectly fine for a business casual luncheon, in a formal interview you need to have a pair of laced Oxfords.
Your socks should match your slacks or shoes and be dark in color. The goal here is to not draw attention to this part of your body. If the socks are seen, they should appear to flow seamlessly between the shoes and trousers.
A wedding ring is always acceptable in an MBA interview. Anything else is fair game and left up to the interviewer’s personal views. A class ring from Harvard, Annapolis, or Texas A&M may give you a leg up if your interviewer is an Alumni or you are in Houston, Texas. But it just as easily could backfire. Nose rings, eye piercings, and earrings are becoming more popular, but are not yet mainstream. Whatever your opinion on these may be, you cannot wear these pieces without it affecting a persons impression of you. Be yourself, but be aware of the ramifications of this decision.
Get a haircut a few days before, or at least have a trim around the neck and ears. Your nails should be cut and clean, and avoid cologne; a shower, deodorant, and aftershave are all you need; anything else could be overwhelming to the senses.
Final thoughts in preparing for your MBA level interview: Arrive early, get plenty of sleep, and be genuinely enthusiastic about the job you are seeking.
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