Job attire has changed over the years and with the emergence of tech startup CEOs sporting jeans and t-shirts at the helm of some of the world’s largest companies perceptions have certainly changed.
The global pandemic has also accelerated a move towards more casual work attire as professionals don’t feel the need to be wearing a suit in their own house to talk to clients via video call. This article covers the expected attire for in-person consulting interviews for both men and women as well as what to wear if you are interviewing virtually.
2) Why dressing appropriately is important
There are two reasons for making an effort to dress appropriately for an interview; for yourself and for your interviewer.
Dressing appropriately is a way to boost your own self confidence. Being confident that you are presenting the best image of yourself removes the potential for additional anxiety to creep in when entering the interview. Increasing self-confidence has a direct impact on interview performance.
The second reason to dress appropriately follows the old sayings ‘dress to impress’ or ‘ dress for success’. Rightly or wrongly, the interviewer’s perception of you will be influenced by what you are wearing and there is scientific evidence to support this. In 1995 a study found that people were three times more likely to follow a man dressed in a suit when crossing a busy road than a man wearing a shirt and trousers.
Consultants are providing expertise at a high price to their clients so firms expect their employees to present themselves in a professional manner that meets clients expectations.
3) What to wear - men
There are 5 components covered here for men’s consulting interview attire:
Suits have been the professional uniform of choice for men and women for an incredibly long time. Whilst it is possible to make bold statements with a suit, in consulting neutral styles and simplicity are preferred.
For men this translates into a dark navy or dark grey suit with no stitching or variations such as pinstripes, checks or double breasting. In western culture, black suits are reserved for funerals or dinner suits however in Asia black suits are also sometimes acceptable.
A suit should fit well and meet a couple of simple criteria:
The jacket hugs the natural form of the shoulders with no overhang but not so tight that you can’t fold your arms easily
The jacket sleeves rest at the point where your thumb bone meets your wrist when your arms are by your side
The length of the jacket covers the trouser waistband
The trousers rest on the top of your shoes when stood still
Suits are the most expensive component of men’s consulting attire. Appropriate suits can be purchased for around $100 from some high street stores and prices go up to well over $1000 dollars at the top end. For an interview however, you definitely don’t need an expensive suit.
The second component of men’s attire is the shirt. For consultants and most professionals a simple white or light blue shirt is the most common and suitable for an interview situation. Shirts should fit well, similarly to the suit.
For shirts the most important consideration is the neck size. This is the circumference of the neck when the top button of the shirt is fastened. If the neck is too tight then it will be uncomfortable and if it is too loose it will look scruffy and unprofessional.
There are a number of styles of men’s shoes from brogues to oxford’s however for a consulting interview the style of shoe is not as important as the colour. The colour of shoe expected in a professional context is either brown or black.
Light brown shoes or tan coloured shoes have been popular in the past but are can be controversial. The best colour option for shoes is black. Black will work with all combinations of suit and shirt plus is considered a smart choice.
The other point to consider with shoes is to make sure they are clean and presentable. It is easy task to clean your shoes prior to an interview and an attention to detail that can positively affect the first impression with your interviewer.
What you wear beyond the core attire is an opportunity for candidates to express themselves and bring in some of their own personality. The most important accessory is the tie, for consulting it is still expected for men to wear a tie in an interview, you can be more adventurous than with other components but professionalism should still be preferred over fashion and a non-controversial style and colour is best.
Accessories also encompasses watches, cufflinks, pocket squares, tie clips and even aftershave. The general rule of thumb for consulting interviews is to keep these extra items understated. Consulting is not an industry that rewards exuberance and extravagance as consultants are expected to be trustworthy advisers to their clients possessing impeccable rationality and independent judgement.
The cultural expectations regarding hair have flexed and relaxed in recent years with men no longer expected to be clean shaven and sporting a sensible haircut. However, whatever the choice, tidy maintenance provides a good first impression to the interviewer.
Beards are also common amongst consultants nowadays and a well-groomed beard is perfectly acceptable.
4) What to wear - women
For women there is a less standardised approach to consulting interviews and a number of options available to candidates. Below is a number of options to consider that are all acceptable for consulting interviews.
2) Button down shirt
3) Mid-length dress
4) Blouse and trousers
For women, suits are almost as readily available as they are for men. The styles and colour choices preferred are also the same with navy and dark grey the common choices. There is slightly more room for variation with detailing but simplicity is best.
The jacket should hug the shoulders and hang straight down. Any shoulder pads should be discrete and not stick up too high and the sleeves should cover the arm up to the point where the thumb bone meets the wrist.
2) Button down shirt
Often to be paired with a suit, the button down shirt is a versatile choice for women. The colours can go beyond the white and light blue shirt colours for men and it is okay to experiment with fabrics such as cotton and silk too.
The basics are to keep the bra covered and avoid showing cleavage. Button down shirts are usually tucked in unless designed specifically to not be.
3) Mid-length dresses
Mid-length dresses are a great option for women to wear to consulting interviews. As long as the neckline and hemline are appropriate then this is a great way to add colour to your professional outfit.
Alternatively you can go for a classic combination of a black dress and tights. A simple black dress is a mainstay of most women’s business wardrobe and you can bring the outfit to life with textured or ribbed tights if you want.
For both options classic black heels or ballet shoes finish off the outfit nicely.
4) Blouse and trousers
Conservative and simple blouses are an elegant choice for a consulting interview. With a variety of colours and pattern designs they allow a greater freedom of expression than some of the options outlined above without becoming a conversation point in the office. You may choose to experiment with different fabrics also.
Matching a blouse with a good pair of trousers is always a strong professional look to carry into a consulting interview. A pair of black oversized trousers are a versatile option that can be used with other blouses and button down shirts as well.
5) What to wear - virtual interview
More interviews are now being conducted virtually raising questions about whether the expectations of work attire also changes.
The first point to mention is that whatever is not in the camera shot does not need to be dressed up. However being underdressed on your bottom half is fine just as long as you remember to not stand up.
For everything that is still in the camera shot we recommend following the same guidelines as above for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that it shows effort and desire for the job. By being dressed how you would be in a job interview you are taking the job interview seriously and have taken the time to prepare accordingly.
The second reason is that no interviewer is going to mark you down for being overdressed; however, it is entirely possible they will mark you down for being under dressed. Being dressed appropriately avoids the risk of making a bad first impression.
The last reason is that a big question in an interviewers mind in consulting interviews is ‘can I trust this person in front of clients’ and if you can’t make the right judgement on what is appropriate for the interview then it doesn’t suggest you would make the right judgement in front of a client.
If you’re upcoming interview involves technical questions then please see some of our other online resources here: