Several Rutgers Business School students were barred from entering their annual career fair last Friday at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick for dress code violations.
Rutgers Business School sophomore Tyler Farnsworth said he was unable to enter because he wore suede shoes, and that a majority of students prevented from entering were wearing blue shirts, blue suits or brown shoes. He estimates that about 40 students were turned away from the fair for dress code violations.
This year’s career fair dress code flyer tells male students to wear “clean, polished dark dress shoes,” but no sneakers or boots. Men should also wear black or dark gray professional suits. This flyer is linked on the school’s career fair web page.
Last year’s flyer also prohibits sneakers, but tells students only to wear “dress or hard bottom shoes,” as well as a “dark, conservative suit.”
“I was in contact with a campus recruiter for (a company) that I was supposed to meet at the fair,” Farnsworth said in an email. “After being denied entry I contacted her, and she replied saying, ‘It was disappointing for us to miss out on the opportunity to speak with students like yourself as a result of the dress code policy.’”
Rutgers Business School sophomore Kevin Chen said he wore his dark navy suit to the business school’s career fair last year, as well as to the annual Career and Internship Mega Fair with no problems. He has also worn the same suit to several interviews.
Chen said while the flyers were specific about the suit colors, he chose to wear the suit because of these past experiences. On Friday, he was told that his suit would be considered professional enough in the “real world.”
“I know at (Rutgers Business School) forums they tell us that navy suits are more professional than gray. (On Friday) a police officer stopped me and said my suit was too light. They directed me to see (Rutgers Business School Director Eugene Gentile),” he said. “He told me I had a nice suit that was too light. He said that in the real world, the suit was fine, but in this world, it was too (light).”
A large number of students were sent home, and while some could easily change and come back, most could not, said Andrew Grinshpon, a Rutgers Business School junior. Students wearing gray suits may not have been allowed in, depending on what shade it was.
He was initially stopped by a security officer, but after Gentile looked at his suit, he was allowed in, Grinshpon said.
“Many students lost valuable networking opportunities because apparently, the color of their suit wasn’t up to (the school’s) standard. Luckily, (Gentile) let me in even though my suit was ‘slightly too gray,’ but I cannot say the same for the girl in front of me,” he said in an email.
The purpose of only allowing black or charcoal gray suits was to ensure companies would be willing to hire Rutgers Business School students, said Senior Associate Dean Martin Markowitz. In the past, students would not be hired from the University because of how they presented themselves.
“We have had many round tables and industry-faculty symposia, and developed relationships with our recruiters,” he said. “Essentially they told us that, while our students are superior academically, they did not ‘present’ themselves well ... (in) interviewing skills, corporate research and attire.”
As a result, the business school will be upholding a “gold standard” for dress code, namely, business professional, he said. This decision was based not only on feedback from recruiters but also from a Board of Advisors, which was established in the early 2000s.
Simply wearing “reasonably presentable” attire does not qualify as business professional, he said.
The reason students were turned away for wearing blue suits is because there is a spectrum of blue and some shades may imply a more casual suit than other shades, he said.
“In the past, I have gotten into ‘discussions’ where students with the inappropriate dress questioned me with respect to the 'definition' of ‘dark’ blue,” Markowitz said. “While a very nice theoretical discussion, I used to teach science and specifically designating a particular color with chromaticity coordinates using a spectropolarimeter is not possible at a Business School Career Fair. To avoid any confusion, we do not permit blue suits.”
Chen said he planned to speak with several potential employers who he had met at the mega fair earlier in February. After being turned away from the fair, he emailed three.
Two have yet to respond, he said.
“I am not angry about being turned away … but to be turned away due to my fashion sense is absurd,” he said. “I didn’t go to show off my style, I went to show my skills and why I should work for (the employers).”
While Gentile told Chen he could change and come back, this was not a viable option for Chen as he is a commuter. He estimated that it would probably take about two hours for him to go home, put on another suit, and return, by which time the fair would be closing.
When he told Gentile that he commuted, he was informed that the school was trying to “uphold higher standards,” and therefore he would not be allowed in, Chen said.
“The event is hosted by the Office of Career Management, and this new dress code policy is their doing,” he said. “Their goal was to make Rutgers students look more professional in the eyes of employers, but what ended up happening is that many students were not let in at all.”
The website did not clarify that the dress code for this spring was different from previous years, he said. Many students also only own one suit, and if that one suit is blue or navy blue, they would have been barred on Friday.
Rutgers Business School will help students purchase suits if they cannot due to financial circumstances, Markowitz said. In conjunction with some corporate sponsors, the school has an “R U Suited” program, which will assist students with buying suits.
Interested students would have to contact the Office of Career Management, he said. The program launched during the Spring 2016 semester.
There is no website for the program. Information can be found in the Business School’s student handbook.
Markowitz said the school produced about 4,000 handbooks this year for roughly 3,800 students.
Gentile declined to comment when contacted by The Daily Targum.
In an email sent to business students on Tuesday night, Gentile told students that the school would reach out to potential employers on their behalf.
“If we can help you connect with your target employers, please contact us immediately so we can be sure you are on their radar,” he said in an email. “We will reach out on your behalf to forward your resume, provide networking opportunities or schedule interviews.”
Students can also reach out to administrators within the business school to organize a meeting if they need help purchasing a suit, he said in the email.
Markowitz said the school would change its policy on suits in the future.
“To avoid confusion in the future, I am going to either tell students to come to the Office of Career Management to have their attire checked or to simply change the professional dress code to black only,” he said.
Farnsworth said the Office of Career Management had been unhelpful to students in the days after the fair.
“When dealing with upset students who were denied entry Office of Career Management staff was dismissive and unsympathetic,” Farnsworth said. “They claim to help students get jobs and are supposed to facilitate interactions between employers and students, but prevented many students from doing that this past weekend for, in my opinion, a stupid reason and for a reason that created a larger obstacle for international or poor students than it did for wealthier students.”
Update: The Business School released a statement apologizing for turning away students on February 15.
Nikhilesh De is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. He is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.