How to “stand out” at your next networking event

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As corporate dress codes become more flexible and less formalized, that which is deemed acceptable by the fashion police is becoming more ambiguous.

For a female business student like myself, deciphering the corporate dress code remains an unsolved mystery. Nonetheless, it is a code worth interpreting as the clothes we wear can speak volumes to a recruiter.

For most of us, our first encounter with a recruiter will take place at a networking event or career fair. Networking is more than just a buzzword or a ticket to socialize. These events create an environment where valuable business relationships can be formed while providing students with a stage to showcase their talents to an attentive audience.

As the competition becomes fiercer, recruiters are now turning to alternative methods of differentiation. The clothes you choose to wear create an image that can either seal the deal or become your worst nightmare.

Creating your “personal brand”

In “The 22 Laws of Immutable Branding,” authors Al and Laura Reis state that “a brand should strive to own a word in the mind of consumers.” The same rule applies to personal branding: dress as your counterparts do, and you end up labelling yourself a follower who cannot think outside the lines. What you need to do is overcome this label and empower your competitive advantage by spending just a few more quality minutes in front of the mirror before an event.

Dress for your personality

Melissa Chien, a Schulich graduate from the iBBA program and marketing co-ordinator at Trade Secrets, says, “The way you dress should reflect how you want the employer to perceive your work ethic and personality.” I

n some industries, an individual with scuffed shoes and a wrinkled blazer would be labelled as one who fails to pay attention to detail and does not respect her surroundings, regardless of her skill set. “Your external brand image can be the deciding factor for an employer in assessing your fit with the firm’s corporate culture,” Chien says.

And the key lies in being authentic, a subject that Chien says she believes is left out of the Schulich curriculum. “What business schools need to teach students is that your personality matters the most and how it matches up with the company culture.”

Ask for advice

Students who struggle with their “personal brand” can visit their school’s guidance department for assistance and advice. Lisa Pierosara, graduate employment manager at Schulich’s Career Development Centre (CDC) and trained life coach, has played a valuable role in the creation of my own personal brand over the last two years.

“Someone who looks like they have it all together and pays attention to the details in how they look displays a confidence that transcends into how you would work, think and act,” Pierosara says.

Students in search of advice on corporate image should also participate in workshops that focus on dress and etiquette. Pierosara says, “Hiring managers look for ‘fit’, but not ‘cookie cutter’. Adding your own flair to the ordinary is encouraged, as long as it comes from a genuine place.”

Do your research

Proceed with caution when choosing your attire for your next networking session as violating the corporate dress code can leave a negative lasting impression. Always consider your industry, your position within the industry, your geographic location as well was what is expected by a recruiter or clients.

Pierosara suggests that students should “do their research on what the organization regards as acceptable or part of their corporate culture.” Do not hesitate to contact the organization’s human resource department to inquire about their dress code.

Although this exercise in personal branding may require some soul-searching, once you gain insight into your point of differentiation, you can gain a competitive advantage against your colleagues. By making an investment in your appearance, you are making an investment in your career!

Photo Credit: Tokyo 2.0 by Steve Nagata on Flickr
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About the author

Christina Pellegrini has recently completed her BBA in marketing and organizational behaviour at the Schulich School of Business. She is studying for her Master's of Journalism at Ryerson University and looks forward to a career in business journalism. Follow her on Twitter at @chris_pelle.