In a consulting interview, you want the interviewer to focus on what you say and not what you’re wearing. You especially don’t want to stand out by wearing clothes that don’t fit the position you’re applying for. In this article, you’ll learn about the McKinsey interview dress code, as well as what to wear to interviews with other top consulting firms.
In this article, I’ll discuss:
- The consulting dress code: general rules.
- Hair & hygiene.
- What to carry.
- Do’s & don’ts.
Let’s get started!
The Consulting Dress Code: General Norms
The purpose of an interview is not only to assess your skills and fit, but also your professionalism, social awareness, and business judgment.
It’s therefore rare for an interview not to warrant professional, formal business attire. And consulting interviews are no different.
So if you’re interviewing with a consulting firm like McKinsey, I recommend playing it safe and leaning towards a more conservative outfit. You want to stand out for your interview prowess, not your attire.
Ultimately, consulting as an industry is fairly conservative, but not stuffy. You’ll typically find this reflected in how consultants dress on the job, which you’ll see if you attend information sessions or coffee chats before your interview.
Make sure your outfit is comfortable and a tried and tested good fit. You don’t want to be pulling awkwardly at too tight clothing that you last tried on five years ago, or grimacing in pain and wishing you could shed those brand new shoes that gave you blisters on the short walk from the subway.
Consider the likelihood that, although you might be unusually warm because you’re nervous and it may be the middle of summer, modern buildings usually have air conditioning blasting around the offices, so I’d caution against anything sleeveless, and you might appreciate the versatility of an extra layer.
Color and pattern choice can also make an impression. Opting for softer, calming tones, rather than bright ones that can come across as over-confident is wise. So perhaps save that tangerine blouse/shirt for a first date rather than your first McKinsey interview!
I’d also recommend avoiding patterns that might give your interviewer a headache. There are scientific studies that suggest stark parallel stripes can bring misery to migraine sufferers so, if you want to ensure your interviewer doesn’t abandon the interview early, stick to softer patterns or solids.
This doesn’t mean you can’t inject a little personality into your outfit, but overall, you’re aiming to exude professionalism and approachability, and not make your outfit distracting to either party. So be you, but be practical about the meeting’s purpose.
Finally, if you’re relocating, bear in mind that in some countries there are traditional and religious connotations with certain colors. This is worth researching ahead of time.
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Here’s a more specific list of items of clothing to consider:
Suit (pants/trousers/slacks or skirt) – it’s just easier, shows you’re taking the opportunity seriously, and will always give a good impression.
Tie – avoid the cartoons, keep it formal. And perhaps save the bowtie for a more elegant or quirky event. McKinsey, in particular, is known for appreciating a smart tie.
Shirt/blouse/top – subtle tones and patterns are best, and for women, avoid any cleavage or midriff showing as you don’t want to be remembered for that.
Dress – smart dresses with suit jackets can look great and might be more comfortable. It’s best to avoid anything too short, and bear in mind that wrap dresses come with some risks attached.
Shoes – comfortable, smart, ideally not ones you bought the day before. Also avoid heels that risk getting caught on carpet or in between floorboards, or are so high you need to lean on your interviewer to help you walk to the interview room.
Belt – if you’re worried your trousers or skirt are a little slack.
Jewelry – keep it subtle and avoid anything noisy or that you’ll nervously fiddle with.
Hair & Hygiene
I’ve already mentioned the risk of giving your interviewer a headache or standing out in the wrong way by opting for a crazily patterned item of clothing. I’ve also sat in small, enclosed interview rooms before and developed a headache from the overpowering strength of perfume the candidate was wearing. Play it safe by remembering deodorant and forgoing perfume or cologne on interview day.
Coffee breath is just about bearable, garlic breath isn’t – think about this the night before and brush well on the day, ideally just before your interview.
If you’re going to be distractingly combing your hair out of your eyes, I’d recommend pinning it back or getting it trimmed — you want to be able to focus on the interview questions, not worrying if your hair is out of place.
This is probably also not a good time to try out a new hair color or style – if it goes wrong, you might not have time to fix it and it’s not what you want to be thinking about at this point. Just opt for clean and neat and you can’t go wrong.
Make sure your nails are well-manicured, which means clean and relatively short. It’s best not to look like you’ve just come from working in the garden, and you don’t want your interviewer to reel away in fear of being pierced by your long talons, if handshakes are still a thing.
When it comes to nail polish and makeup, avoid anything too garish. Stick to the more conservative choices I’ve already talked about to match your outfit. This is not the occasion for glittery or rainbow-style nails and makeup – save that for your celebratory night out when you get your offer.
What to Carry
Unless you’re asked to take anything specific, you can probably just stick to a notebook and pen so that you can use them to brainstorm your ideas and jot down any calculations you‘re asked to do. I hate to break it to you, but calculators won’t be allowed.
It’s the 21st century, so you’ll likely have your mobile phone with you. It may be stating the obvious but make sure it’s off or you’ve switched it to full silent mode. Your ringtone or a vibrating pocket or handbag will not be welcome interruptions.
Briefcases used to be a standard part of the interview dress code. Now, backpacks are used in many professional settings, particularly on the U.S. West Coast. The briefcase vs. backpack decision depends on regional norms, and it’s best to play it safe rather than be fashion-forward. Whether you’re carrying a briefcase, backpack, or handbag, make sure it is in good condition, simple, and understated.
I live in the U.K. so carrying an umbrella everywhere is wise. On many occasions, the heavens have opened as I walked from the tube station to my interview, and I was grateful to have one with me so I didn’t look like I’d had a shower just moments before. So, unless you live in the Atacama Desert, it might be something to consider.
Ace Your Case
Bring it back to the fundamentals. This is not about standing out for your looks, but acing your cases. If you find yourself spending more time planning your outfit than preparing for interviews, you might need to rethink your priorities. So here are a few quick do’s and don’t’s:
Don’t treat it like a fashion show. Your interview performance needs to outweigh your outfit.
Do keep it formal. Consider the vibe of the firm you’re interviewing with. In consulting, smart, traditional, and understated is the best option.
Do make sure you’re comfortable. You need to be able to focus on the questions you’re being asked, not thinking about how long it will be before you can prise your feet out of your too-tight shoes.
Don’t make your scent overpowering or distracting. Using deodorant and foregoing perfume or cologne is a safe bet.
Don’t call and ask the recruiter what you should wear to your interview (yes, this has happened to me on multiple occasions). This is not a question they should be helping you with.
– – – – –
In this article, I’ve covered:
- The general rules of what to wear to a consulting interview.
- Specifics on items of clothing.
- Other aspects of the consulting dress code, including hair and scent.
What, if anything, you should take with you.
Still have questions?
If you have more questions about the McKinsey dress code, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s recruiters will answer them.
Other people interesting in the consulting interview dress code found the following pages helpful:
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