Practice all day, sleep all night, arrive early: It’s interview day. But despite meticulous preparation, the moment an interviewee walks through the revolving doors, a potential employer makes many subconscious decisions through his eyes alone. And there’s nothing those flash cards can do about it.
In a job market in which, as of April, half of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, students are recognizing that every aspect of an interview matters. Both knowledge and fashion must be carefully calculated to sell a candidate as a professional and a necessary addition to a company. Unfortunately for men, style sections of most newspapers and magazines drop most ink on the opposite sex. But the male wardrobe deserves attention, too.
“When women dress for an interview, there is a lot more room for interpretation,” said Maxwell Widdick, a third-year candidate for a doctorate in pharmacy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. “A man, though, is locked in the confines of a suit.”
By definition, a suit is limited by its uniformity. The jacket and pants consist of the same fabric, usually wool, and they are always the same color. Working within these boundaries, a college student has fewer drastic options when attempting to stand out from other candidates. Looking memorable means nailing the details.
“As a younger, college-aged person, I wear a short jacket, single-breasted suit,” said Rami Sherif, a pre-medical student at the University of Pennsylvania who has worked in research and financial fields during his college career. When interviewing for those positions, he preferred his suits cut right to the body with a double vent in the back.
“In my opinion, the more tailored, the more exact to your body, the better you look. For the student or recent graduate, a slimmer suit is the way to go. Compare this style to the double-breasted suit, which tends to have an older, country-club feel,” he said.
After the cut, color conveys the most personality to a potential employer. According to Widdick, abnormal tints and tones can express “an element of edginess,” but the interviewee always risks overpowering the tastes of the interviewer. More conservatively colored suits, such as gray or black, are a blank slate; accessories can spice up the outfit and provide more options when creating a look.
“It is difficult to choose the perfect colors for the impression one is trying to leave on the interviewer,” Widdick said.
To help solve this problem, Sherif suggests using a method for color matching. A process as simple as laying the suit on the bed and comparing different shirts, belts and shoes can help the eyes make the right decision. However, he emphasizes paying close attention to the tie.
“Ties are someone’s chance to let loose a bit, in spite of the formality of a suit, but he should make sure to never clash,” he warned. “That could ruin the entire look of the suit combination.”
After the color is chosen, tying the tie correctly can incorporate a physicality and energy that perfects the suit. Knots come in various styles, but as University of California – Berkeley history major Oren Friedman has experienced while working in the entertainment and journalism industries, the college-aged man really has two popular styles from which to choose.
“The full Windsor, compact and symmetrical, is a more traditional look. It is the power knot of the big-shot CEO,” Friedman explained. “The four-in-hand knot is not as formal but still carries a tremendous amount of appeal. It is easier to tie than the Windsor, and it can be worn in multiple settings, from a Tuesday at the office to a Friday date night.”
While many complete suit packages can reach nearly a thousand dollars, the college student must confirm to his notoriously low budget. The Internet brings reasonably priced alternatives into the dorm room, and economical versions of designer fashions are accessible without sacrificing the quality of fabric and stitching.
“Nobody can see a price when you walk around,” reminds Bruce Saar, a junior at Liberty University. As a music composition major performing regularly on campus, he has learned to dress sharply without breaking the bank.
“If you can find a fitting suit in a lower price range, go for it,” he said. “It’s not how much you spend, but how good you look.”
Once he pulls the jacket over his shoulders and laces his shoes, the final and most crucial accessory to the college man’s suit is confidence. Style can give the interviewer a strong first impression of personality and values, but the clothing will not do the talking.
“You could be wearing a ragtag suit from Goodwill or a fitted suit from Nordstrom,” Friedman said, “and your employer will still pay more attention to how you carry yourself rather than how you look.
“Still, a quick look in the mirror doesn’t hurt,” he added.
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