Robert Beecher is no stranger to professionalism. And as a Pitt senior who has had internships in Senator Bob Casey’s district office and with 8th District City Councilman Bill Peduto’s mayoral campaign, Beecher knows the importance of dressing professionally in the workplace.
“When you’re thinking about the type of dress to wear, you have to be aware of the impression you want to give off,” he said.
As college-aged young adults start to find themselves in professional jobs or in internships, it’s important that they’re aware of how their choice of clothing impacts the impression others have of them. A well-pressed suit and tie can go a long way, and these ensembles tell employers that young adults do, in fact, take their jobs seriously.
Beecher recognizes that his professional experiences fall into what he describes as a more traditional work environment, so he sticks to tasteful and professional attire. But, he recognizes that the type of dress appropriate for specific jobs may differ from industry to industry.
Amy Lynes, the on-campus recruitment coordinator of Pitt’s Office of Career Development and Placement Assistance, encourages students to be aware of the type of job to which they’re applying or for which they’re working.
“The employers’ opinion varies by industry, company and recruiter. Always dress for the job that you are trying to get. For instance, the style and interview at a fashion-based employer is going to be much different than the style and interview at a Fortune 500 company,” Lynes said in an email. “A general rule of thumb is that it is always better to be overdressed than to be too casual and under-dressed.”
For students who are preparing for an interview, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Jamie Moyes, a career development specialist at the Tafel Center for Student Success through Pitt’s College of Business Administration, says that a student should aim to be more dressed up than the person interviewing them.
“It’s always better to wear professional dress,” she said. “So if there’s ever a question of ‘Should I wear a suit?’ It’s better to be safe and wear the suit.”
Some of the most common mistakes that students make when dressing professionally are related to clothing’s fit and color, as well as the appropriate incorporation of accessories into an outfit. Men should always have a navy, black or charcoal-gray suit and should avoid pinstripes. Standard recommended dress shirts are light blue or white, and ties with polka dots, paisley or repetitive patterns are always a safe bet. Men’s shoes should match their belts, and dress socks should reach their calves.
For women, a suit or tailored dress is a solid professional look, with pant or skirt suits serving as versatile staples. Closed-toe pumps are best, and heels should be no more than two inches. The shoes a woman chooses should not hurt, and they should be as dark or darker than her hemlines.
While some of these rules might seem negligible, students should always be aware of what the specifics of their outfits say about them. In Beecher’s opinion, paying attention to the little odds and ends in one’s outfit shows employers that students are detail-orientated. Making sure that everything — shoes, belt, tie, accessories — work well together is an essential step in getting ready for work each day.
Lynes says that the misconception among young professionals that they can’t afford professional attire is unsubstantiated, stating that many retailers offer student discounts. These student discounts come in addition to retailers’ normal sales, promotions and coupons. She also says that going out and buying a whole new wardrobe may not always be necessary, although investing in a few professional staples is always a great choice.
“You can always mix and match existing articles in your closet to create a professional look,” said Lynes. “However, investing in one good suit now will go a long way toward a career no matter the stage of the process you are in.”
But although students can use some of their preexisting clothes in their professional outfits, they need to be careful not to become too informal in how they dress, even if their great first impression in an interview landed them the job.
Students would do well to remember their major, their industry and the culture of their place of employment, Moyes says. Some employers may want to see their employees demonstrate a bit of individual style, but others may prefer a uniform dress code. In her opinion, students need to remember that they should keep in mind the old saying, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” before dressing too informally.
Beecher agrees, saying that the type of dress a student wears should be conditional on the type of work environment. He says that as a student becomes more comfortable at the workplace, they’ll be better able to adapt their dress to the specifics of what their employer wants and know whether or not certain styles will fly. But, he says, though a young professional’s effort is recognized and appreciated by employers, it’s important for the attire to complement the student’s demeanor.
“The dress is important and it’s very critical, but it has to be coupled with a professional impression and a professional attitude,” he said.