What should I wear to a campus interview? (Men’s version)

I over-use the Bell Curve when describing averages. Though it’s so applicable in so many and varied situations that I can’t help myself. And believe it or not, what people wear to a campus interview falls into the standard deviations laid out in the Bell Curve.

We all know the curve. The bulk of the curve, the hump, represents 70% of the populace. They’re all within expected norms of this measure. In this case, it means 70% of campus interview candidates dress alike. This is true. It also means that 15% of candidates dress impressively, while 15% dress unfortunately. This is also true. And while some may argue that there are more nuances and degrees of appropriateness, there aren’t. There really aren’t.

So let’s take a look at the three different groupings of male attire for campus interviews. I’m not necessarily going to recommend anything, but at least I’ll highlight what’s happening with the competition.

The Huddled Masses
It’s easy to be a man going to a campus interview, because the expectation is well-known: wear a suit. This is less of a rule for women, though it is a safe and sure bet. But there are certainly variants on the suit theme, and lots of opportunity to stand out or blend in. The candidates in the middle of the Bell Curve all wear suits. Here’s what an average man wears:

  • Suit: Dark colored, typically a shade of blue, sometimes with detail like stripes. Most likely ill-fitting, typically too big, but often too tight as well. I assume college seniors are either sharing suits between themselves or borrowing them from their older brothers, because a big percentage of candidates look like they’re not wearing their own clothes. A surprising number of people like shiny suits.
  • Shirt: Almost all shirts are colored–nary a white shirt to be found. And many of the colored shirts are non-standard colors, like purple, deep blue, red, pastels, or black. I’m not sure what happens in college that drives men away from white and light blue shirts, but apparently it’s happening on campuses all around the country.
  • Tie: Most ties are very matchy-matchy with the shirts. Not a big deal. In fact, I’m surprised at how many male candidates do wear matching shirts, ties, and suits. I figured there’d be plenty of guys with clashing outfits, but I don’t think I’ve seen more than one or two. Anyway, the average tie matches the suit directly, and is neither too flashy nor too staid.
  • Shoes: Good shoes are so expensive that most college seniors can’t afford them. And, frankly, they shouldn’t spend their money on $400 wingtips. The average male wears <$100 casual/dress shoes with rubber soles. Like Clark’s, Rockport, or Alfani shoes. The kind of shoes people wear with either a suit or jeans.
  • Hair: I know college is a fun time to experiment, but when it’s time to interview, it’s time to get a haircut. Seriously. I can’t count the number of guys with really, really sloppy hair. Apparently that the average these days.
The Bottom of the Curve
It doesn’t happen that often, but sometimes I run into a male candidate with a golf shirt and khakis, or a button-down oxford and dress pants. Those outfits put someone in the bottom tier. Same with wrinkled clothes (though I see it often enough that I’m tempted to put wrinkled clothes in the middle tier). For some reason, guys just don’t iron. It’s too much to ask. Other things that get someone to the last rung:

  • Messy hair
  • Not shaving
  • Dirty fingernails
  • No pen/paper/resume
The Top of the Curve
Anyone who dresses too nicely gets knocked down into the middle of the curve, because it comes across as affected or pretentious. For example, no cuff links, pocket watch, and three-piece suits, please. Same for really expensive things, which scream of Mommy and Daddy’s money.
The top of the curve is the same as the middle, but with more attention to detail. Everything fits correctly, is free of wrinkles, the candidate is obviously comfortable in a suit, and he wears nice-but-not-too-nice shoes.  Also, he has an appropriate hair style. I don’t know why, but most college men don’t have well-groomed heads of hair. Those who do get high marks. Doesn’t have to be anything stylish or high-maintenance. Just under control and presentable.
Oh–and the right candidate always brings a pen, paper, and list of questions. 
That’s what I’ve seen on campus in the last few years. 

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