A few candidates have asked me recently about what they should wear to their consulting interviews so I thought it might be helpful to write something on this topic.
The answer is simple- if you're applying to a top tier consultancy you should dress as smartly as is possible for interviews. Men should wear a suit and tie. Women should wear the female equivalent (i.e., a suit or some other equally smart business wear).
When choosing your suit and accessories, I'd recommend being as conservative as possible. Wear a black or dark blue suit. Choose a white or light blue shirt. Make sure your tie is not too garish. Minimise jewellery, cover tattoos and remove any 'unusual' piercings if possible. McKinsey and other consulting firms are conservative institutions that rely on their sense of gravitas and discretion to attract clients. As a consultant, you will spend a lot of time with clients. For you to progress through the recruitment process, your interviewers need to be confident that they could put you in front of a client without putting this reputation in jeopardy.
On top of this, many consulting firms want to present a unified appearance to their clients. By this, I mean that it's in their interest to reassure their clients that all their consultants are 'from the same mould' and that a client can feel confident in whichever consultants end up being staffed on their projects. For this reason, its beneficial for firms like McKinsey to have their consultants act, work and even dress in a similar way. Commentators that criticise the McKinsey consultants for having a 'Stepford' like quality are missing the point- this is carefully cultivated and exactly what the firm wants.
What does this mean for you? It means that you should dress as smartly and conservatively as possible for your interviews. Doing this won't automatically mean you'll get through the interview rounds but it does mean that no-one will raise awkward questions about your suitability to be placed in front of clients.
One final point on this- don't be thrown off if your interviewer is dressed much less formally than you are. A lot of consulting interviewing takes place on Fridays, when consultants are most likely to be in the office, and these are typically 'dress-down' days. During my time at McKinsey I interviewed a lot of candidates who were dressed more smartly than me- this obviously didn't meant they had dressed incorrectly.
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I'm a ex-McKinsey London EM who recently left the Firm