Look the Part
Yes, at the end of the day, it’s about what’s in your head and what you present as a skill-set to a company. However, as humans, we are visual creatures, which means we can’t help but form opinions based on appearances. Humans have such short imagery attention spans that we form first impressions in just 7-seconds. That means, if you went into your internship interview with a tattered suit on and sneakers, your employers will immediately associate you with laziness, immaturity, and lack of professionalism, no matter how good your answers might be.
Therefore, don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you even get a chance to woo people. Your appearance should be the easiest part of landing the internship of your dreams. And even if you are applying to a more laid-back company, like one that is filled with graphic designers or poets, you can never be “too overdressed” at an interview. Here are some of my interview etiquette tips for your appearance.
I would say 99% of the time, men should wear a suit to their internship interview. There really is no instance in which you should dress down for this kind of presentation. As I mentioned, maybe if you are an artist or applying for an outdoorsy kind of program, then a suit really isn’t necessary. But for the rest of the world, please, wear a suit.
Your internship interview is not the time to be Pablo Picasso with your style, which is why I would leave the flashy ties and bright colors at home. Instead, look professional, well-kempt, and not obnoxious. Additionally, don’t wear a brand new suit that barely fits you; people can tell. Wear a suit that you have broken in a few times so you look natural and comfortable. Again, people will be able to tell if you are absolutely miserable in your apparel. Overall, the suit should be neat, clean, and pressed. If you don’t have an iron, send the suit to a dry cleaner’s beforehand. Wear deodorant so that you don’t smell when you sweat, bring nicely shined dress shoes or loafers, and carry a handkerchief in-case of any last second spills.
Bring mints for fresh breath, since many of us end up with cotton mouth when we are nervous. Brush your teeth before the interview, slick your hair down, and ensure that you are able to control your bodily temperature before you arrive so that you’re not soaked in sweat.
What about a second interview?
Although it is generally accepted you can dress more casually for a second interview, I would still bring a suit jacket with you. You can take it off and just wear a dress shirt this time around, but it wouldn’t hurt to come prepared, just incase you sit down with high level executives as the finally interviewing process.
When it doubt: be more conservative. Maybe your personal style is funky, edgy, and creative. That’s totally fine; just leave it at the door when looking for a professional job. I would recommend wearing a pant suit, or a skirt suit, leaning towards the conservative end of the spectrum.
Like the men, make sure the suit fits you comfortably; people will be able to tell if you are totally out of your comfort zone. I would recommend picking a darker color, as walking in with a lavender pantsuit is either going to win hearts, or completely disqualify you from the position. As a newbie entering the internship program, you don’t exactly want to communicate that you do best when the spotlight is on you. Make sure the skirt goes to your knee, and that there are no rogue skirt slits that provide an inappropriate view of your thighs.
Wear a conservative blouse with your skirt that does not have a plunging neckline, nor is so tight that there is no room left to imagination. As for makeup, you want to look your best, but do so with neutral tones. Avoid vivid eyeshadow and blue mascara that might make it hard for the interviewer to imagine you in a professional setting.
Keep other accessories, like jewelry, nail polish, and hair accessories to a minimum if possible. Jewelry can be highly distracting, especially if it is clinking and making noises while you answer questions. Your shoes should have a heel, but it should be a low heel (between 2-3”).
Like I said with the men, all clothes should be neat, cleaned, and pressed. If you do not have an iron at your home, take the clothes to a dry cleaner’s before you show up for the interview. Brush your teeth that day and try not to eat any food before the interview. Wear deodorant, but avoid scented perfumes that might irritate some people’s sense of smell (many people are allergic to strong fragrance scents). Consider clipping your hair back, or putting it into a low bun, so it is out of your way.
What About My Personal Style?
Again, these rules can vary depending upon the interview. But, if you are interviewing at any Fortune 500 company, these are rules that apply across the board. It’s better to be safe than sorry. After all that work, losing the internship over your appearance will be downright defeating.
On Vault.com, there might be some information that eludes to the dress code and preferred style for the interview. Otherwise, these are best practice tips to follow if you want to be safe, rather than sorry.