Get the Job Aug 27 2010

What to Wear to a Finance Interview

By julie steinberg

You wouldn't walk into a finance interview without sophisticated knowledge of the company and its background. Nor would you walk in without prepping for both case and behavioral evaluations. But showing up without being properly attired is as serious a faux-pas as blanking on the CFO's name. How you dress is just as important as how you act -- clothes, in every situation, are a signifier of power.

"We had a candidate come in for an interview wearing business casual," said an analyst who ran the recruiting process at a global asset manager and asked not to be named. "All anyone could talk about was his dress, not his qualifications or his knowledge base."

The office took bets on whether the interviewee would wear a tie in his second round -- he didn't. "Ultimately, we didn't give him an offer," the analyst said. "I can't say it was because of his business casual attire, but it definitely didn't help."

Finance, more so than other industries, puts a premium on a conservative appearance, so it's in your best interest to dress with caution for the interview. Luckily, the sartorial situation can be the least of your worries. Even if you haven't bought a new pair of jeans in four years, it's easy to dress for the job you want.

Here are some tips to help you dress for finance interview success.

Err on the Side of Conservative

Unless the hiring manager has told you specifically to show up in business casual, aim to overdress. Select a good quality suit in a dark color. For men, think navy or charcoal. "Black can be perceived as 'too fast,'" says Glen Hoffs, the director of men's fashion at Brooks Brothers. Women, however, can dabble in black if they prefer it to navy -- it's classic but still fashionable. Avoid wearing red until you're a high-level executive.

Skirt suits are still commonly preferred in the most conservative offices, so don't chance it with a pantsuit. Be sure to wear hosiery -- even in the summer, says Lizandra Vega, an image coach and author of "The Image of Success: Make a Great Impression and Land the Job You Want." If you can't afford a Tahari suit, make sure it's still of good quality and that no seams are sticking out. Also, be sure to break the vents (the little "x"s in the back) before leaving the house.

Keep Your Accessories Formal

For men, that means matching the shoes to the belt, and making sure your pants aren't darker than your socks. Also keep the tie understated. Ostentatious gold designs, or worse, marching bulls and bears up and down the tie, should be avoided. According to Hoffs, red and burgundy are two god tie color choices.

For women, less is more. Pearl necklaces frame the face nicely, says Kat Griffin, the author of Corporette, a blog that offers fashion advice for women who work in law, finance and other conservative fields. She also advises wearing studs close to the earlobe if you choose to wear earrings, to make sure the accessories "don't outshine you."

Stay on Your Feet

Literally. Ladies, former Lehman CFO Erin Callan may have been able to rock the five inch stilettos, but for your first interview, you want to able to actually walk into the conference room. Stick to three inches, at least in the first round, and go for closed-toed. Men should make sure to visit their favorite shoeshine stand just prior to the interview. Scuffed shoes are a sign of laziness, and no MD wants someone on their team who will embarrass the firm in front of clients.

Brush the Dirt (And Hair) Off Your Shoulder

Generally speaking, be as clean as possible. More specifically, get the manicure (yes, men too) so you can shake hands without feeling like you've got claws. Women should keep long hair tied back, either half up or at least off their face, says Char Bennington, director of career management at University of Chicago Booth School of Business. "You don't want recruiters to remember you by the hair billowing down around your shoulders," she adds. Men should shave that morning to avoid any scruffiness.

Present a Complete Package

Even if the interview takes place in the middle of winter, choose a coat that emphasizes your professionalism. Puffy ski coats age you down by at least twenty years. Stick to a wool coat and whatever you do, don't wear snow boots into the building. If necessary, scout out the nearest coffee shop beforehand where you can change, Griffin advises.

When in doubt, look to the firm's recruiters for inspiration and mimic their style accordingly. Or phone a friend who works there to get the inside scoop on how to look like you fit in.

Ultimately, the interview isn't about clothes, but you want to make sure they notice you, not how you dress.

Write to Julie Steinberg

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