What Not to Wear: How Casual is Too Casual in Today’s Digital World?

Posted by Jane Turkewitz on October 3rd, 2012 at 3:09 am

Recently, a candidate was referred to me by a CRO of a digital media company who thought this person was an A+ but just didn’t have a job opening for him.  After speaking with the candidate, who we’ll call Jim, I completely agreed. He was smart, polished and completely on his game.

I sent Jim on two interviews with two different digital companies. The first company loved him and wanted to move forward. The second company, not so much.  Sure, they thought he was on his game in terms of where he’s been and what he seems capable of. But, apparently, Jim failed to impress because of how he chose to dress.

Jim showed up for the interview with a pair of ripped jeans and a five-o’clock shadow.  The client did not like this one bit.  And, since this is the second time in a few months that I’ve received feedback from a client on candidates arriving to an interview too slovenly, I thought it was time to address (uh…pardon the pun).

It used to be easy.  If you were going on a job interview, you put on a suit and tie or a skirt, depending on your gender.  Professionalism was the name of the game and your attire was a direct reflection of capabilities. 20 years ago, you wouldn’t have THOUGHT of going on an interview in a pair of jeans!

Not to sound like a grandma, but times have changed.

Start-up digital media companies tend to be super casual.  Many have foosball tables and kegs in the office. With this kind of mentality, if a candidate comes in with a business suit on, this could actually be damaging.  The hiring manager could think that the candidate is too stuffy and will stick out like a sore thumb from a cultural perspective.

On the other hand, digital divisions of traditional companies tend to be more corporate, and if a candidate comes in with a pair of jeans for an interview, he might shut down the process before he even utters a word.  Game over.

So, how SHOULD one dress on an interview to make sure he doesn’t over — or under — do it?

Well, my husband is an attorney and whenever he goes to court, he picks out the most generic suit and tie one could ever imagine. He has always told me that, when it comes to the courtroom, he wants to blend in, and not make an overt impression — positive or negative — with his attire.  He wants the Judge and jurors to focus on the substance of the case he is working on, vs. what he looks like.

This advice resonates with me regarding dress code for interviews in the digital business.  Blend in when it comes to your attire.  Make sure that the interviewer focuses on your substance, not your appearance.

If you are going in for an interview, no matter what the company, dress with pride and confidence.  Come clean-shaven, unless you have a beard or goatee, so you don’t look like you just stumbled out of bed.  Show that you care about how you present yourself since, ideally, you could be representing the company you are interviewing with in the near future.

Wear a nice pair of pants and a button down shirt.  Or, if you insist on wearing jeans, make sure they are dark and undamaged and that you wear them with a button down, and a nice pair of shoes and socks.  Show some respect for yourself and the interview process and, you’ll get the same in return.

Carpe diem…

Jane Ashen Turkewitz is Managing Director of TalentFoot Executive Search and Editor of LetsTalkTurkeyBlog.com. Tell her what you think about today’s interviewing dress code: JTurkewitz@TalentFoot.com

One Response to “What Not to Wear: How Casual is Too Casual in Today’s Digital World?”

  1. Cara Olson says:

    I couldn't agree more. I prefer that candidates over-dress rather than under dress. Not dressing up says you don't really want the position. Also bring resumes! And something to write on. Have questions prepared. Unfortunately these are all basics that I feel should be easy. If a candidate fails to do these items we usually pass. It says they are not prepared in advance, lack organization, are not committed.

Leave a comment