The ‘Power Suit’ is a Necessary College Cost
Last week, the Daily Targum, the campus newspaper at Rutgers University – New Brunswick reported that 40 college students were turned away from an undergraduate business school job fair because they wore suits of a color other than black or charcoal gray.
Reading the article, it appears that university administrators have taken it upon themselves to define a “power suit.” A power suit could be complemented with a white shirt or light blue shirt, even “French Blue.” That’s acceptable in most corporate settings in finance or commerce—but apparently not at Rutgers Business School.
I have been to many entry-level job fairs. This is the first time that I have heard of students being turned away for this reason. At the same time, there has been no other Targum story that mentioned an equally restrictive dress code for the other job fairs run on campus. However, I went to the career services Web site and found these words under the description and sign-up instructions for an upcoming Health Professions and Law School Admissions Fair:
Minimum attire for ALL fairs and interviews with employers is business formal unless otherwise specified.
This, plus the fact that the vast majority of attendees to the business school fair wore the appropriate attire, shows that Rutgers, at the very least, informed students in advance. Restrictions based on color go a little far. But I get the reason for them. The career development center wants college students to show respect for the recruiter and the job, and for the students to earn respect back. The intentions are good; the execution could have been better in time to help the students who were turned away.
But there is a lesson here: the power suit is a necessary college cost for most college students who hope to find internships, co-op positions, entry-level jobs or admissions to graduate and professional schools.
It is not too late for Rutgers students to find and get fitted for a suitable suit. The university career center will even help to arrange for a discount. Career centers at small liberal arts colleges have gone one better: they will actually lend college students interview suits for them to talk with prospective employers. Gettysburg College was the first school where I learned of this practice, though I have heard that it’s done elsewhere.
But here’s fair notice to high school and community college students who are applying to a four-year college: buy the power suit now, unless you already have one. It can come in handy for alumni or scholarship interviews as well as the more formal events you might attend on campus, and especially if you work regularly with senior administrators and trustees or participate in concerts. If you stay fit and take care of a power suit, it should last through college.
Budget for the purchase and maintenance of a black or charcoal suit, white shirts, conservative ties, black shoes and matching socks. Don’t buy a suit off the rack at Kohl’s or a similar discount store and take it to a tailor. Go to a place with a tailor on site so you can go back if it does not fit right. Recruiters frown on candidates who look unkempt or uncomfortable in their clothes, even in the standard corporate attire.
There are college campuses and corporate settings where individuality is prized, even encouraged. But if you want to become part of organizations where conformity rules, you have to become willing to accept it. That includes buying into the corporate uniform.
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