Interview Outfit? Hint: Don’t Remix the Suit & Tie
Posted by Kerith Dilley in MBA
Throughout the entire MBA application process, you’re told it’s best to stand out. From your resume to stories of your experience to your personal brand, it’s essential to communicate your unique qualities so the admissions committee can see who you are as an individual.
Now, take everything we’ve told you about differentiating yourself as an MBA candidate and set it aside. It’s time for your interview… and all the rules have changed.
We asked an Admit.me expert with years of experience interviewing MBA candidates to give some tips on what to wear in different interview scenarios. See Kerith Dilley’s best advice below!
What to Wear to an MBA Interview
The interview is one of the rare times when you don’t want to differentiate yourself. No matter your long-term goals, aim for assimilation in dress. Success is when the interviewer doesn’t notice what you’re wearing when you walk through the door and can’t remember your outfit after you’ve left.
That being said, not all MBA interviews require the same attire. Depending on the circumstances, your outfit may vary. Here are some specific guidelines for each interview type:
With Admissions Officers/Group Interview, On and Off-Campus
Everyone: Wear a professional business suit and minimal jewelry.
Women: Wear stockings if you wear a dress/skirt (even in California!), although a pantsuit works perfectly.
Men: Wear a tie.
With Alumni, Off-Campus
First, follow the lead of the interviewer – if the interviewer says the dress code is business casual (i.e. “this is a not a coat-and-tie interview”) – don’t wear a suit. This is not a stress or “test” interview; if they tell you to dress business casual, then follow directions.
If you’re coming directly from work where you normally wear a suit, then men should remove their ties and women can remove their jackets (weather permitting). Find a way to tone it down a little.
None of the alums who interviewed me gave me clues; however, one interview was at his office and the other was at Starbucks during the day. Fortunately for both interviews, I had donor meetings earlier in the day, so I was stuck over-dressed, at worst. When both mentioned they forgot to tell me to dress down, I shared that I had meetings with donors, which segued into my work.
Definitely wear a professional shirt and jacket. It’s easy to not care about your pants, but we suggest wearing (at least) nice slacks on the bottom – consider how ridiculous you’d look if you had to stand up and your interviewer saw your PowerPuff or Johnny Bravo PJ bottoms!
General Guidelines for Other Scenarios
If the interviewer doesn’t give you direction, consider the location and time.
If you’re meeting at Starbucks on the weekend, wear business casual. We consider business casual to be nice slacks, a professional skirt, dress shirt, no tie, or a professional dress. No jeans, t-shirt (or any type of un-collared shirt) or tennis shoes.
If it’s their office during business hours (even at the end of the day) – wear a suit.
Along with location and time, consider your interviewer.
When I interviewed applicants, my expectations adjusted based on whether I was an alum or part of the Admissions team.
When I was an alumni interviewer, I always advised applicants to dress business casual since we were meeting at Starbucks. Unless someone came in a full-blown suit on Saturday at 10am after being told NOT to wear a suit, I didn’t factor their dress into my evaluation. I felt pretty strongly that people applying to Wharton (my alma mater) know how to dress and since Southern California is already casual, it was a waste for people to dress up.
But, when I was part of the admissions team on-campus at Wharton, I expected applicants to wear a suit because they were interviewing on-campus and didn’t know whether they’d interview with students or full-time staff.
General Clothing Tips
Try your outfit on ahead of time.
Look at it in the mirror as you walk, stand, and sit. Do the sleeves fall funny when you shake someone’s hand? Does the dress shirt fall awkwardly? How does the dress look when you’re sitting down?
Don’t forget about fit.
Your MBA interview outfit should fit well without being too tight. Men: Save your slim-fitting suit for another time and stick with a traditional silhouette. Women: If you choose to wear a skirt, make sure it doesn’t hit above the knee.
Concentrate on color.
Leave your bold shirts and light suits at home. In general, darker colors fare better. You can’t go wrong with a navy or charcoal suit paired with a crisp white shirt. Men: Opt for a neutral or dark solid or subtly patterned tie.
Select the right shoes.
Your shoes can be new, but break them in before the interview.... And make sure you don’t choose anything too trendy. Keep in mind that you may have to walk a lot or go up a flight of uneven stairs. You don’t want to navigate any of this in shoes you’ve never worn before.
Don’t try out a new look.
Whether it’s makeup, suit, shoes, hair or tie/shirt combination... You don’t need the added stress of worrying about whether mascara will bother your contact lens or whether your tie is too “out there.”
Get a haircut about a week or so before your interview. Don’t take on the stress of figuring out a new style. Men, please shave.
Wear the normal amount of makeup you would wear to an important business meeting. Don’t try anything new that day. If you don’t wear makeup, that’s fine too.
Bottom Line: Be true to yourself and wear a sharp outfit that projects your confidence! The most important thing about your MBA interview is that you bring the person you depicted in your application to life. Put on your best ensemble, show the interviewer who you are, and wait for acceptance letters to roll in!
Last Updated November 26, 2018 Kerith Dilley