I was never a fan of being overdressed, but it was a problem I consistently encountered growing up. I remember when I was in elementary school, my mother would never let me pick my own clothes for special occasions. While my peers were wearing jeans and t-shirts, I was dressed to the nines, fully coordinated and accessorized. I hated the feeling of sticking out, and I remember being embarrassed. But looking back from where I am now, I’m grateful. When I see pictures from family gatherings and school events, I always look well put-together. It makes the memories nicer, and easier to look at. I didn’t think dressing up mattered at the time, but now I understand.
This attitude is the same one I have when I look back on my internships. I almost always overdressed! I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb, but overdressing served a purpose. Here’s why you shouldn’t be scared to overdress as an intern.
Your circumstances are different.
When you arrive on your first day of your internship, it’s likely you may be overdressed. It’s the first day, you want to make a good impression, and you haven’t gotten a feel for what everyone else wears to work. Many people will start to relax their standards as their internship goes on, replicating the clothes that all the regular employees wear, trying to fit in. We often aren’t even fully aware that we’re do this! We have an innate desire to be accepted, to fit in with those around us. Don’t fall into the trap of doing this!
You shouldn’t try to replicate the rest of the employees, because you’re an intern. Think of an internship as a job interview that’s several months long. Companies often use internships to develop their talent pipeline, which basically means finding candidates for permanent employment. As an intern, that means your position is temporary until you convince them otherwise! You shouldn’t get too comfortable, because if you want your internship to end in a job offer, you’ll need to prove you’re worth it through the duration of your time with the company.
As an intern, you don’t want to blend in. You want to make a great impression with everyone you encounter. An internship is an opportunity that provides valuable leverage for your future career, as you make professional connections and establish your reputation in the workforce. This means you should treat every day like it’s your first, and always aim for making the best impression.
Use the “one step up” method.
When I recommend you overdress, I don’t mean wear a full suit when everyone else is in jeans. You want to stand out in a good way, not because you look like you walked into the wrong place! I used what I call the “one step up” method. Take what everyone else is wearing in the office and just dress a step above that.
For example, if the dress code is casual, aim for business casual. This could mean while everyone else is wearing jeans, you wear black jeans or khakis. If it’s business casual, make sure you’re always dressed stylishly, wear button downs instead of polo shirts, or wear dressier shoes. There’s not a “step up” for full-on traditional business wear, but you should make sure your clothes are wrinkle free and lint rolled, and your hair is always styled.
Regardless of dress code, one of the easiest things you can do to help your appearance is accessorize! If you have a watch (one with metal links or a leather strap, leave the Swatch or G-Shock at home), wear it. Rings are great too, but make sure they’re subtle, and won’t get in the way of your work. Ladies, if your ears are pierced, try to wear earrings every day! Necklaces help boost your look too (again, avoid overly large or “loud” pieces).
Like it or not, your appearance will influence others’ impressions of you. When you have to prove yourself as an intern, it’s important to be consistent, and to excel in your role. So no matter how tempting it might be to relax your standards with how you dress, don’t!