How to Look Professional on a College Grad’s Budget

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Have you ever heard the phrase that the clothes make the man? Beyond being overtly sexist, this axiom does have some sway to it. Looking professional is something important when you’re trying to get yourself out there. No, I’m not implying that employers are superficial. I’m sure some can be but for the most part they’re interested in what you can bring to the table. But, you also need to understand that the workplace is a different environment compared to the dorm or classroom. Some of the modes of behavior and dress styles just aren’t going to cut it. So, suck in the gut, tuck in your shirt and follow along on this rundown of how to look professional on a college graduates budget.

Depending on what job you’re banking on, the professional attire may differ. Expect anything in finance or banking to have higher requirements on the wardrobe. Positions at art studios or anything creative are probably a little more relaxed. Computer and IT spots are somewhere in between. Medical fields come with uniforms.

Now, I don’t plan on playing What Not to Wear. That just isn’t my specialty. What I will do is tell you how to dress professionally while keeping your shirt, so to speak. All of this begs the question of why this is even important.

Looking professional is not just about looking good. It’s about communicating maturity. A big strike against college grads when entering the job market, especially today, is lack of prior experience and a perceived lack of maturity. I mention the current job market because more senior workers are taking up the jobs usually reserved for incoming grads because their usual occupations have gone the way of the dodo. Looking professional demonstrates that ‘hey, I’m not a scrub, give me your money’.

First misconception about looking professional is that an expensive label is what it’s all about. You don’t need an Armani or Gucci suit to score a job interview. In fact, depending on the job you might look a bit pretentious showing up for an internship in a several thousand dollar suit. The idea is to look functional and useful, not fashionable.

Shopping online is a great way to save money if you already know your size. Don’t know it? Get measured by a tailor. Pro clothes have exact sizes so jut saying you’re a medium doesn’t work well.

Try outlet stores too. You can usually snag a great suit or blouse that’s drastically reduced. The same applies to overstock stores that carry items that the main retailers have too much of. The stores may be messy but you can score big if you look hard enough.

Finally, don’t be afraid to borrow or try a resale shop. If it looks good, doesn’t smell and fits you, what’s the problem? The person interviewing you isn’t going to know it’s not new. All that matters is it shows that you’re prepared to get this job and you’re serious enough to not wear sneakers, jeans and a t-shirt to do it.

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