What to Wear During Your MBA Admissions Interview

Admissions InterviewSo you finally finished off those pesky business school applications you put months of work into, and, after a few weeks of waiting impatiently, you receive the great news that you’ve been invited for an MBA admissions interview with your dream school. Congratulations! Having put in extensive research about what questions into expect and rehearsed the ideal answer for each one, you feel fully confident in your ability to wow the admissions officer with your polished, persuasive answers to whatever they can throw at you. Still, one remaining question nags at you:

“What, exactly, am I supposed to wear to my business school admissions interview?”

This question seems extremely innocuous at first glance, but for many prospective MBA candidates it can create as much (or more!) anxiety as any other aspect of the admissions process. In the majority of cases, this anxiety stems from overthinking by the applicant, but it may also reflect a lack of overall comfort with this type of interview. For many candidates, they may not have had to go through an interview for many years, making the entire process even more daunting than it otherwise would be.

The best advice to follow (in the absence of specific guidelines from the school or interviewer) is to choose your MBA interview attire the same way you would dress for an interview for a position at a conservative-thinking company.

For men, this means a traditional suit. Keep it simple in terms of color (navy and charcoal are always safe bets) and pattern (no loud pinstripes or gaudy plaids; you don’t want to look like a used-car salesman from the ‘70s). Choose a dress shirt in white or light blue. In terms of your necktie options, feel free to get a little more creative (but do not wear a tie with the logo of the school with whom you are interviewing!), but keep in mind that there is not a style component of your interview performance. Your choice of dress should not be something that the interviewer remembers long after you’ve finished the interview, so err on the side of caution if you’re not sure whether to wear something. The interviewer should remember your words, your goals, your enthusiasm, and your sincerity; if she remembers your necktie or blazer, there’s a good chance your MBA interview attire overshadowed your overall candidacy, and not in a good way.

For women, the same general strategy applies. Treat your MBA interview like a job interview, and avoid taking any risks. Choose a pantsuit or skirt suit in a dark color, opt for conservative blouses, and avoid making a wild statement with your shoes. Keep your clothing simple and let the quality of your background and your ability to convey it persuasively speak for itself.
For everyone, remember that your MBA interview is a one-on-one session, so you already have the interviewer’s full attention for the duration of the meeting! You do not need to dress to stand out from the crowd. There’s not much reward to be had from dressing memorably, so the risk/reward ratio is heavily tilted toward just risk.

Increasingly, MBA programs are evolving their interview practices. Elite programs like the Kellogg School of Management and the Yale School of Management have incorporated virtual interviews and essays into their application process. While the interview format is different, you still need to choose your clothing intelligently.. For a remote virtual interview, follow the same rules as discussed above (well, at least for any part of your body that may appear on camera; feel free to wear slippers if you’d like!).

However, if you are asked to complete a video essay, an admissions component that has become increasingly more popular, a business casual approach is more appropriate. If the school provides specific guidelines, make sure to follow them; if not, keep it neat and clean. For men, a collared shirt or a polo shirt, with or without a jacket, is acceptable. For women, aim for neat and clean with appropriate dresses, shirts and blouses. As with the in-person interviews discussed above, your wardrobe should not be a distraction; aim to keep the viewer’s focus on the content you are communicating, not the clothing you are wearing.

If you are doing a virtual interview or video essay, consider the environment in which you will be conducting or recording it. While this is not strictly relevant to “what to wear”, you do want to make sure that it contributes to the overall image you’re trying to project. Test your camera setup ahead of time to make sure you will be well-lit and viewed from a good angle. If you’re not used to talking on camera, spend some time practicing; it can be a bit off-putting if it is unfamiliar to you (similarly, practice making eye contact with the camera if you are not used to doing so). Finally, spend some time considering the backdrop that will be in the frame of the camera. Ideally, it will be uncluttered to avoid drawing the interviewer or viewer’s eye.

If you need to move things to create a simple backdrop, do it; the interviewer does not need to see your Harry Potter collection or unmade bed (or just bed, in general) in the background.
It is commonly said that it is better to be overdressed than underdressed (true to a certain extent; showing up in a tuxedo or ballgown might be slight overkill!), but if you can follow some of the guidance above, you will be dressed for success and in the perfect position to make the most of your MBA admissions interview opportunity.

To finish, let’s recap the dress code strategy discussed above, as well as some tips and general ideas for dressing your best on interview day:

Be conservative in your choices. Well-fitting, professional clothing is the way to go if you’re not sure what the dress code for your MBA interview is. A well-tailored suit projects the image you want.

This is not your chance to make a fashion statement. Avoid bold prints and wild colors; keep the interviewer’s attention on the answers you give during the admissions interview and your candidacy in general.

Make sure everything fits. You’re aiming for a polished, professional image, so make sure your clothing choices convey that. The overall package is what matters, so avoid anything that may come off as sloppy. Can you squeeze into the suit you bought seven years ago for your job interviews as a college senior? Technically…but if you’re going to look and feel uncomfortable the entire time, it’s best you have it let out or invest in a new one.

Err on the side of modesty. Dark colors are a safe choice. In terms of fit, err on the side of professional and not skin-tight. Avoid skirts of questionable length and deep necklines.

Know what a school means by “business casual.” For men, this typically means a collared shirt with a sweater or sportcoat (you can forgo the tie). For women, a conservative dress, or skirt or pants with a blouse or sweater.

Keep your shoe game simple. Pick a pair that matches the overall style of the outfit. If you’re wearing a suit, know which colors work best. Navy: black, brown, or tan. Charcoal: black or brown. Light gray: black, brown, or tan. Black: only black. For women, black is always a safe choice. Retro Jordans? A great choice for many occasions…but not when dressing for your MBA admissions interview.

Accessories should also be simple. Tasteful jewelry is fine; your neon orange Apple Watch band probably isn’t. (On that note, too, make sure you turn off notifications on your smartwatch and smartphone. Your MBA admissions interviewer deserves your full, undivided attention.)

Don’t forget your grooming. For men, clean-shaven or well-kept facial hair and a neat haircut is fine. For women, keep cosmetics subtle. The same goes for perfume/cologne – the less memorable your scent, the more memorable you are for your words and actions.

Remember where you want the focus to be. You want the focus on you as an MBA admissions candidate, not you as the fashion icon you may or may not be. When it doubt, err on the side of conservative choices. Your goal is for the interviewer to leave remembering what you discussed and how polished and compelling you were; you do not want them remembering the outlandish stylistic choices you made.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. As always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more of his articles here