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Dress for Success: The MBA Interview

The MBA interview is all about standing out for the right reasons.  Candidates should want to be remembered for what they say, not what they wear.

In my role as an expert coach at Fortuna Admissions, I advise many clients on preparing for their MBA admission interview, and field many concerned — and valid — inquiries about wardrobe.’

Why? Being mindful about appearance is directly linked with your situational awareness and professional presence and ties into your broader strategy for success. Remember that your audience, from admissions committee interviewers to alumni, wants to see that you’re astute and discerning about how you present yourself in a professional context.

In this context, effectively conveying your candidacy for business school shouldn’t rely on making a bold fashion statement. While it’s tempting to showcase of your authenticity via your personal style, you don’t want your clothes to make a bigger statement than you do. Save the stilettos, colorful patterns, clunky accessories and unruly facial hair for welcome week.

Here are tips on interview attire and presentation informed by my experience as an MBA admissions consultant, a Columbia Business School alumna and a veteran of the fashion industry:


For a structured on-campus interview, like those held at Harvard or Wharton, you can’t go wrong with business formal attire. For men, this means a suit and a tie. If you’re not comfortable in your tie at some of the additional events on campus, you can always take it off, but if you go without you might regret it (especially if your interviewer is wearing one).

For women, it can be a pantsuit, a skirt suit, or my personal favorite, the dress-and-jacket combination. It’s more modern with a little bit of flair, yet still appropriate.

A meeting with an alum at a coffee shop may be a signal to dress more casually, but do some due diligence first. If your meeting is at 6 p.m. and your interviewer is coming directly from their Wall Street job, chances are that they will be in a suit; you will want to be as well, to subtly signal you are ready to be part of their milieu.

If you’re meeting near a Silicon Valley tech campus, where many employees swear off ties forevermore, business casual will probably suffice. Business casual is generally collared shirt and dress pants for men, and a dress or tailored top with pants or a skirt for women. You want to be comfortable and avoid feeling self-conscious, so steer clear of ill-fitting, sheer, short, or low-cut clothing. Make sure that what you’re wearing is properly ironed before the meeting.


It’s important to keep the accessories subtle, from jewelry to footwear. One of your superpowers may be strutting in five-inch stilettos, but practical, on-trend shoes will be more comfortable. The spread of business casual has led to equally casual footwear at work and birthed the concept of “dress sneakers” for men. Comfort is great, but make sure your shoes look subtle and somewhat like business dress shoes. Avoid bright, flashy colors that attract attention.

Also avoid big earrings or chunky jewelry that moves as you do, as these can be distracting.


Sure, you always want to be comfortable. But for facial hair, err on the side of more conservative. A clean shave is advisable; your beard, mustache, and/or sideburns will grow back! If you’re really attached to your facial hair, make sure it’s well groomed. The same goes for nail polish: Think neutral colors – it’s not the time to wear wacky colors or nails so long they get in the way.

Video interviews

For an on-camera interview, the guidelines for attire are nearly identical, though no one will be the wiser if your feet are snugged into fuzzy slippers. The cautions about oversized jewelry apply here as well; anything that could clank or jangle when you move can be a distraction.

Take time to “dress” your interview setting as well. Check your backdrop carefully to be sure it is simple and free from any clutter or distractions that might detract your assessor’s attention.“Sometimes I laugh when I’m running mock interviews on Skype and see someone’s Hello Kitty collection on their bookshelves in the background,” says Fortuna Co-Founder andDirector Judith Silverman Hodara, former head of Wharton MBA Admissions.

It’s always smart to do a test video prior to the interview. Make sure you are sitting in a way that you have good posture and can maintain direct, level eye contact, without hunching forward or looking down into your screen. Test your sound to be sure you are coming across at a consistent volume and that the room is appropriately lit with minimal shadows, so the interviewer can see your face.

For more on how to dress for the MBA interview, check out my short video strategy session with Fortuna’s Judith Silverman Hodara:

Fortuna AdmissionsKaren Hamou is an alumnae of Columbia Business School, fashion industry veteran and a former recruiting lead at Deloitte Consulting.

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