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Step 4: Professionalism


Being succesful in your career development means knowing how to dress, making a good first impression, and connecting with people in your field of interest. The following section will provide you with the knowledge to succeed in D.C. and beyond. 

Dressing for Success

What to wear to work

Once you are hired, the employer will generally tell you what the office dress code will be. If they have not told you yet, this is something that you can inquire about with your supervisor or human resources.

Generally, there are three dress codes that you may encounter in D.C.:


  • An organization that is not client facing may value the comfort of its employees and elect for a casual dress code.
  • However, not all casual dress is appropriate – clothes should be clean, free of tears and wrinkles, and should not show too much skin.
  • Anything that you would wear to a beach, club, to do yard work, or to do exercise is not suitable.

Business Casual

  • The most common dress code you are likely to find in Washington D.C.
  • It can be very ambiguous and varies between organizations, so it is better to slightly overdress than underdress.
  • A business casual outfit generally consists of slacks or knee-length skirt, a collared shirt or a nice sweater, and dressier shoes (no sandals or sneakers).

Business Professional

  • Suit sets in darks colors with dress shoes

The chart below breaks down what men and women can wear for each dress code.

Casual Business Casual Business Professional
  • T-shirts may be fine (depending on the office), but logos should be work appropriate.
  • Polos, blouses, button down shirts, cardigans and sweaters are good options.
  • Jeans are acceptable, as long as they are dark in color, free of rips/frays/bedazzling, and are worn at the waist.
  • Skirts/dresses should be knee length.
  • Clean, closed-toe shoes (dressier sneakers and sandals may be allowed in some offices, but gauge what your colleagues wear first).
  • Sport coats or blazers.
  • Button-down shirts, blouses, nice sweaters or sweater sets. Note that polos may be considered too casual in certain offices.
  • Slacks or other dressier pants – no jeans. Khakis may be considered too casual in certain offices,so avoid them until you see what others are wearing.
  • Skirts/dresses should be knee-length.
  • Tailored dresses in more conservative colors and patterns are appropriate.
  • Dress shoes – no white socks! Heels or flats with a closed toe. Avoid overly bright colors and patterns.
  • Ties are not required but it never hurts to be overdressed on the first day.
  • Well-fitting suits in dark colors (black, navy, gray).
  • Button-down shirt or a nice blouse.
  • Tailored dresses in dark colors are also appropriate.
  • When wearing a dress or skirt, hose may be required in more conservative industries.
  • Ties in conservative patterns and colors.
  • Dress shoes – no white socks! Heels or flats with a closed toe. Avoid overly bright colors, stilettos, and patterns.
General Tips
  • Make sure that your clothes are always clean and free of wrinkles and tears, no matter the dress code.
  • On the first day, it is always better to overdress than underdress. You can always take off a tie or blazer, or roll up your sleeves if you see that the environment is more casual.
  • Gauge the office environment before you wear items that are more casual, more fashionable, or more colorful.
  • For the first week, dress more conservatively until you get a feel for what other people are wearing.
  • Ensure that you are not showing too much skin. Do not wear anything too short, midriff baring, or anything very low cut, and make sure that your socks are tall enough to not show skin when you sit down, if wearing socks.
  • Make sure that your hair and nails are always neat and well-groomed.This includes facial hair. In some conservative industries, facial hair may not be appropriate. Ensure that dyed hair is still a natural color.
  • Keep perfume/cologne to a minimum, or do not use it at all. Some people may have fragrance allergies.
  • When picking out garments, make sure to hold it to the light. Some garments may be slightly transparent and therefore require the appropriate undergarments such as a slip or an undershirt.
  • Be conservative with your jewelry/accessories. Make sure all bags, purses, and briefcases are professional in both color and style.
  • Be conservative with makeup and nail polish. Stick to subdued and neutral colors.
  • You are not expected to be able to afford the same quality of work attire as your supervisor. Second-hand shops and inexpensive clothing stores like Forever 21 offer professional style clothes on a budget. However, you must ensure that the clothes fit well and are in good condition. Aim to buy clothes with multiple uses and that can be worn in both business casual and more formal situations. Dark colors are the most versatile.
Men's dress

Many businesses allow somewhat casual attire at least once a week, but dress codes vary. Here are some guidelines for dressing business casual, which is a notch below business formal. Also check out our Pinterest page for visual examples!

  • Ask your human resources department for official guidelines. Business casual means different things at different companies. At a large corporation, it may mean a sport coat with a tie; at a smaller company, it may mean khakis and a polo shirt.
  • Before you go casual, check your daily planner to make sure you do not have any meetings that require formal business attire.
  • Select clean, pressed and wrinkle-free clothes. Your outfit should communicate professionalism.
  • Wear a collared shirt with an undershirt. You can break up the oxford shirt monotony by wearing a linen or flannel shirt or one with a band collar.
  • Knitted shirts and polo shirts are also generally acceptable. A casual sport coat is appropriate.
  • Wear khakis, chinos, corduroys or other nondenim slacks. Check your company's policy before you decide to wear jeans to work. Be sure to wear a belt, and have it match the color of your shoes.
  • Wear socks that match the color of your pants - leave white socks or tube socks in your gym bag.
  • Limit visible body piercings to your ears. Cover any tattoos or other forms of body art with clothing.
  • Choose oxfords, loafers, or rubber-soled leather shoes or boots for casual day. Wingtips are often too formal. Worn-out shoes, sandals, or athletic shoes do not make the grade.


  • Observe what others are wearing to get an idea of what is acceptable if your company has no written guidelines.
  • Your casual-day outfit should be formal enough that you can throw on a sport coat and meet a client.
Women's dress

Women can often get away with a wider range of attire than men. Let comfort and professionalism guide you when you're dressing for business casual occasions. Also check out our Pinterest page for visual examples!

  • Ask your human resources department for official guidelines. Business casual means different things at different companies. At a large corporation, it may mean slacks or a business skirt; at a smaller company, it may mean a cotton sweater and a floral skirt.
  • Before you go casual, check your daily planner to make sure you do not have any meetings that require formal business attire.
  • Select clean, wrinkle-free clothes.
  • Wear a good-quality blouse or knit shirt. Include a casual blazer or cardigan if
  • If a dress is sleeveless, wear a blazer or cardigan over it.
  • Check your company's policy before you decide to wear jeans to work.
  • Wear shoes that are comfortable and appropriate for your outfit. Funky platform athletic shoes or strappy sandals might be formal enough for some companies; however, it is more typical to wear closed-toed leather shoes. Avoid worn-out shoes.
  • Keep the makeup and fragrances light. Accessorize with a silk scarf or classic bracelet to give your casual outfit a polished look.
  • Limit visible body piercings to no more than two earrings per ear. Cover any tattoos and other forms of body art with clothing. Avoid showing any cleavage and make sure your stomach and lower back won’t be exposed when you stoop down or sit at a desk.


  • A basic pair of black slacks is a must for any work wardrobe.
  • Business casual attire is more formal than weekend wear.
  • Faded T-shirts, shorts, torn clothing and risqué attire are not appropriate.

Succeeding in Your Internship

Before you start
  • The night before, lay out what you want to wear and bring with you so that you are not rushed and panicked in the morning (use our checklist to make sure you have the necessities!).
    • Be sure that you know what the company dress code is.
    • If the dress code is ambiguous, plan to be overdressed rather than underdressed. You can always take off a tie or change from a blazer into a cardigan once you arrive and see that the environment is more casual.
  • If you have not had time to practice your route to your internship, be sure you leave yourself ample time to get there in case you get lost.
  • Be sure to get enough sleep! You want to be awake, alert, and ready to work on your first day.
The first day
  • Arrive early (about 10-15 minutes) makes a very good impression on your supervisor.
  • Be kind and polite to everyone you meet, including the maintenance staff.You don’t know what will get back to your supervisor.
  • When meeting people, be sure to offer your name and a confident handshake. Make a strong effort to commit each person’s name and their position to memory.
    • If you do forget someone’s name, simply apologize and ask for it again. It happens to everyone!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions! It’s expected that you won’t know how everything works at the organization yet.
    • Any minor questions can be directed to your coworkers.Take questions that they cannot answer to your supervisor. It is a good idea to take notes so that you can refer to these first before asking future questions.
    • Be sure that you fully understand your daily duties and responsibilities.
  • Come with a positive attitude and be willing to learn as much as possible.
  • Don’t be the first to leave. Finishing what you are working on first will show that you are dedicated to the job.
The first week and beyond
  • Take the initiative and ask for more work instead of waiting for another assignment to be given to you, or offer to assist other employees with their projects.This will show that you are dedicated and are a team player.
  • Use calendars and to-do lists to stay on top of all of your projects and deadlines.
  • Emergencies and illnesses do understandably occur, but try to make it to work every single day.
    • Don’t call in sick in order to do personal activities, such as sightseeing.
  • Take advantage of company activities! This is a great way to integrate into the organization and get to know your coworkers.
    • If you are 21 and are invited to drinks with your coworkers, keep it to one drink. You still want to appear neat and professional.
  • Reserve personal activities , like checking social media or texting, for when you get off of work.
  • Avoid taking part in office gossip. It is very unprofessional and does not reflect positively on you.
  • Most importantly, be confident! You were hired for a reason,so your employer has confidence in the skills you can offer and the experience you bring.


What is networking?

Networking is the process of developing reciprocal relationships with others who can support you in your internship or job search. It is a great opportunity to gather information about the various careers and industries that you are interested in. The people you meet will be able to talk to you about the skills necessary to succeed in each field, and can provide advice to you on how to break into an industry. This can be helpful for clarifying your career interests, and may help you learn of job openings in your desired career field.

Where can I network?

Almost anywhere! You should certainly work on establishing lasting professional relationships with your bosses and colleagues. Especially if they are in an industry you hope to work in after you graduate, the people in your office can be an invaluable resource of information and contacts.

There are also professional networking events that you can attend. In these situations, you must be prepared give a short elevator pitch about yourself and focus on starting meaningful conversations with people.You want to come dressed professionally and have a small case of business cards to give to those you speak with.

You also never know where you may run into contacts that you have made. People have run into their contacts at a restaurant on Saturday night, at the grocery store, and even at a bar. Although D.C. seems like a large city, you will be surprised at how often you run into people you know. Thus, it’s important to always be aware of your behavior and actions.

Significance of networking

Get out there! You won’t make any contacts if you don’t put yourself out there and meet people. Start by developing meaningful professional relationships. You do this like any other relationship – sit down and get to know the person. Know who they are, what they do, and what their interests outside of work are, and ensure that they know the same about you. Before you ask this person for any sort of favor, they have to trust in your professional capabilities.

Don’t be afraid to meet people outside your direct area of interest. They may be able to point you in directions you had never before considered, and can be helpful in connecting you with people you would never otherwise meet.

Be sure to maintain your contacts by keeping in touch consistently. If someone helps you, always be sure to personally thank them. Before asking for a favor, be sure to ask if there is anything you can do for them.

Above all, just practice, practice, practice! The more you engage in networking, the more naturally it will come. Especially if you are shy, it’s very important to work on making connections with people as much as possible.

Business cards

When you’re engaged in networking, it’s important to have business cards with your contact information on them in order to hand them out to people you meet.You never know who you’ll meet out and about, so always be sure to keep some with you!


  • Make sure that the design is clean and professional.
  • Suggested websites to use:Vista Print, Minted and Tiny Print.
  • Be realistic about the number of cards you will need. Printing only a small number of cards will save you money.
  • What to include on your card:
    • Name
    • Email and phone number (be sure your email address and voicemail are professional)
    • School and major/minor
    • Expected graduation year
  • What not to include on your card: 
    • UC Davis or UCDC logo (unless approved by our team) 
    • Unprofessional email address