Professional Image



Dressing for success is an important part of the internship and job search process, as it ensures that you are putting your best foot forward and making a good impression on potential employers. There are three common levels of professional dress: business professional, smart casual, and business casual. The differences between these types of dress are often subtle, but important.

Business Professional:

Business Professional is the most formal level of professional dress. This style is most appropriate for interviews, career fairs, and more formal events. Some offices may have a business professional dress code as well, although current trends lean towards a more relaxed look.

Examples of business professional clothing include jackets and blazers with matching pants or a skirt. It is recommended to opt for darker, more traditional colors such as black, navy, or gray. A button-up collared shirt and tie combination, or a tailored, conservative shirt are recommended for business professional.

Smart Casual: 

Smart casual will combine elements of business professional and business casual to create a tailored, put together look. Some offices adopt a smart casual dress code, but this look may also be appropriate for interviews at companies that have a relaxed dress code, or at a networking event.

Smart casual allows for more flexibility in personal taste than business professional. Examples of smart casual wear are wide ranging and include jackets, outfit-enhancing jewelry, dress pants, dress shirts, skirts, tailored sweaters, vests, ties, matching leather accessories, and leather pull on shoes and boots.

Business Casual: 

Business casual is the most relaxed of the three levels of professional attire. Many employers adopt this dress code in an effort to allow employees to feel more comfortable on the job and to have more freedom of expression through their choice of attire. Although business casual is casual, it also doesn't mean that anything goes.

Business casual is difficult to define, as a lot of clothing items can be defined as business casual. In this case, it is easier to explain what is not considered business casual. Clothing items to avoid include jeans, athletic wear, shorts, skirts above the knee, sundresses, sweatshirts, t-shirts, sneakers, and open-toed sandals. Otherwise, you will see a combination of business professional and smart casual elements in business casual.

Industry or Event Culture: 

It is also crucial that you know and understand the industry or event culture as you decide what to wear during your internship and job search process. Your attire is part of your collective professional brand — you don’t want your first impression on a potential employer to be negative simply because of appearance. When in doubt, remember it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed, and that your clothing should be neat, clean, and fit well.

Finally, forms of self-expression such as color, pattern, jewelry, piercings, and tattoos are often areas of concern for job seekers. One thing to consider is the industry or company you are speaking with. Is it more traditional or more forward-thinking? What is the average age of their employees and the leadership? Is the industry more conservative in general? In the end, it is up to you to decide if this self-expression is worth the risk of not being considered for a position. If self-expression is important to you, consider exploring industries and organizations that allow freedom in this area.

If you are in need of professional clothing as a student, there are options for free or reduced cost professional attire. Many stores offer student discounts if you show a student ID. In addition, second hand clothing can be a good option. Check thrift stores and consignment shops. Finally, the Professional Clothing Closet in the University Career Center is a great option for students, and everything is free. Visit the University Career Center in 206 Summerfield for more information.

Exploring Careers Series:

Exploring Careers is a workshop designed to help facilitate your knowledge and understanding of career paths. It is not a recruiting event. Casual attire is acceptable for this series. However, when interacting with industry professionals, it’s always important to make a positive impression, which includes a thoughtful approach to your clothing. Please avoid shorts, sweats, ripped jeans, and workout gear. Jeans are acceptable.

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