A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that “individuality” is the key to success. ~Robert Orben
Your degree may serve as your certification for a future career, but it is no guarantee that you’ll actually get a job. There are a lot of people these days running around after jobs, and while 10 or 20 years ago that B.A. or B.S. you’re soon to hold in your hot little hands would be impressive, today there are probably 100 other people with similar sheepskin in their own grubby paws trying to get the job you’re seeking.
So you have to set yourself apart from the pack.
And of course, there’s the rub. By the way, that is the line, rather than the oft-misquoted “therein lies the rub.” By Shakespeare. From Hamlet. But you’re a college graduate, so you already knew that, right?
If you are too out-there, too individual, you probably won’t get a job, unless you’re some kind of wunderkind who is such a genius that people are going to be warily admiring even if you do have spikes through your nose.
By the way, if major corporations have not yet offered you bazillions of dollars to do whatever it is you do, you probably are not that kind of genius, so listen up.
There’s nothing worse that someone who has a higher esteem of himself than the rest of the world.
I know a guy who was a brilliant ad guy, but every time he showed up to work he was wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops. When he was just an on-the-way-up guy doing nothing but writing ad copy for a crap outfit, that was not entirely acceptable, but because he was making almost no money, people at the crap outfit put up with it.
Then the crap outfit won a major client – a major client. Much of it, I have to say, came about because of the wild creativity of my flip-flop-clad friend, who took such an imaginative new take on a tired old product that it suddenly became popular again.
So the crap outfit moved to a cool building in that area off downtown that was new and hip and on-the-cusp. Décor, which had been minimal before, became rampant. Rampant. The place was so cool that it could have been turned into a nightclub.
The ad execs all began wearing slick suits that cost the earth – because they had the earth. The conference room was a wall of glass with a table so shiny and long that it made the Silver Surfer practically Hulk-green with envy.
And my friend couldn’t take a meeting. He’d been an object of affectionate ridicule for some time while the firm was a struggling no-name, but after the big account came, and with it the hope and expectation of other big accounts, he was just an object of ridicule, more than slightly tinged with distaste.
He wouldn’t change his ways – he’d really bought into the idea that he was a wacky rebel in his sand-ready footwear. So they eventually got rid of him, realizing that in the real world, there were a lot of crazy-smart, creative people – and most of them would buy a suit.
My friend – and he still is my friend, bitter though he is and scoffing at the money-grubbing establishment – now writes copy for a newspaper and brings down slightly less money each year than a McDonald’s assistant manager. Sure, he has the superiority of his platform, but are any of the folks he’s sucking up to each day inviting him for drinks?
No. And not just because they don’t allow flip-flops in most private clubs.
Being slavishly devoted to teen-aged sloppiness or fads initiated by ugly people and adopted by normal people who then look ugly is not individuality. Individuality is about being a creative thinker, a do-er, an artist in whatever field you choose. Even accountants can be individualistic, if they think outside the box.
To be recognized as a stellar individual, you’ll have to be taken seriously. That means that you are going to have to conform to the popular idea of professionalism.
This doesn’t mean you have to be a nondescript gray eye-floater.
There is, without question, nothing as sharp and commanding as a guy in well-tailored, impeccable business suit. This can be a very classic, traditional ensemble, or, if you’re in a more creative business, a trendier version of a classic suit – but always try to stick with something that harkens to the best in menswear, or you’ll end up looking like a clown. For an example of what I mean by clown, take a look at the football commentators on ESPN.
I’ll wait here.
Pull in your individuality with your accessories – excellent shirts, immaculate shoes, non-garish ties, and cufflinks. These items can be varied to serve the needs of the moment, from formal to more casual, conservative to trendy.
A dark tie works well for a formal event – or a somber one, and a bright tie can lend a bit of dash to even the most staid business suit. Cufflinks can run the gamut from engraved and polished to glinty and jeweled or funky and – dare I say it? Individual.
The cool thing about cufflinks is that they go through your cuffs, not your nose, and so while they garner attention, that attention is not watered down by repulsion.
You’re almost finished with that degree. You can get a job, or you can change the world. But first, you’re going to have to change your clothes.