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#698: Consultants Should Still Dress for Success

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 16, 2011
This may sound like a stupid question, but there are times I feel overdressed for meetings at my client's office. Every Friday is a "casual dress day" and there are some people who never wear a suit and tie or nice dress, including the CEO. Can I dress professionally and still be "overdressed"?

It seems that every generation goes through this question of how to "dress for success." There are plenty of books written and classes offered to help you select and dress "appropriately." Yes, there are even consultants whose practice centers around advising others how to dress for the job. Some consulting firms, in effect, have a "uniform" that supports their brand - either suit and tie or business casual, depending on the markets they are in, and they always dress in this style. Others are more flexible, letting individual consultants tie their dress to that of the client.

There are a few basic rules about how to approach this. The first is that this is about you and not your client. Regardless of what the dress rules are for your client, what kind of image do you want to project? What makes you comfortable and what do you want your dress to say about you? Dress or pantsuit? Sport coat or three piece suit? "Power tie" or no tie? You don't have to match the dress of your client (especially if each of your clients vary) - pick a style that works for you.

A second rule is addressing occasions that call for attire other than the office standard. For example, if you are invited to a company social or sporting event where causal dress is called for, you can dress casually. Casual, however, does not mean sloppy. Have a set of casual clothes specifically assembled for such events, don't just throw together whatever.

Tip: Select your clothes from a one or two sources that fit your style and budget and stick with them. This will help you create "brand continuity" and make sure your attire is not an issue of note. The bottom line is that your dress not be a distraction from what you are there to do - deliver services.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  business culture  client relations  customer understanding  goodwill  professionalism 

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Michael E. Cohen CMC MBA says...
Posted Monday, November 21, 2011
If you're not sure about the style of the company, you can always ask in advance. But to be on the safe side, dress conservatively in business dress, not business casual. Not for sporting events, obviously.

A few years ago, I had a lunch meeting wiht the CEO of a consulting firm to dicuss jouint prospects. I asked him in advance how people in his office dress. He said most dressed in business casual, but it really didn't matter. As it turned out, the CEO wore a suit, and I found it he always does so, while bearly all of his employees dress in business casual. I wore a blazer sport jacket, tie and dress slacks, and felt comfortable. Remember that if you seriously underdress for a meeting, you risk offending the other party.
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