What You See Is …

There are three old but still relevant axioms I’d like to quote here.  The first is:  You can’t judge a book by its cover. The second is:  What you see is what you get. And the third is: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Now when we think of how well we fit into particular work environments, chances are that one of those old sayings describes us best.  But to an employer doing interviews of prospective hires, the way you present yourself may not necessarily be completely accurate.  It may not be the way you think others see you!
Unfortunately most interviews don’t last long enough for an employer to get a very complete picture of who you are.  For this reason it is all the more important that you are able to demonstrate through your mode of dress that you fit it to their workplace.  Yes, the rules of workplace attire are not as hard and fast and in days gone by, and the lines of what is acceptable clothing are blurred.  But employers are still trying to find people who can represent their company and corporate image, as well as primarily find people who can do the jobs they need done.  So the image you present during an interview can be crucial to the employer’s perception that you fit those important criteria.
While not all employers share a common vision of how people who fill certain jobs should dress, it is important to remember that once hired, you’ll be a representative of that company, and the employer wants you to fit in with that vision.  For example, if you’re being hired for an outside sales job, where you will constantly be going into others’ offices, the employer will want to be confident that – in addition to being able to effectively sell their products or services – your image to others will be neat and presentable as well as professional.  If you are being hired as a graphic designer, your attire may be less of a concern to most employers when you’re in the studio working, but it might still be important when you are meeting with clients to present yourself professionally.  Tee shirts and ripped jeans internally, but a couple of steps up when you’ve got to represent.
Gone are the days when all bankers looked buttoned down.  It’s not uncommon today to see tellers and new accounts representatives wearing khakis and polo shirts.  So since the lines are so blurry, how do you know what to wear?
The standard rule of thumb remains to always dress a little better for interviews than what may be required on a day-to-day basis. How do find out what that is?  Ask!  If you scored your interview through networking, talk to the person who referred you, and ask about the daily attire they’ve witnessed in that company.  If you have no contact with anyone on the inside, call and talk with the receptionist and simply ask how people dress on a regular basis.  Is typical attire business casual?  Is it strict professional?  Is it very casual?
Of course the position you are interviewing for will help determine what may be expected of your garb, so use your best judgment.  If you’ve been in a particular industry for a while, you’ll have a good idea of how to dress for your interview based on past experience.  But if you are a newcomer to that industry, you may also be able to determine appropriate dress by looking at related event photos from trade-related website or publications.
While the standards for interviewing dress continue to lean toward the conservative side, what is considered acceptable has evolved a lot over the years. It is still best practice to limit jewelry (nothing dangly or noisy or too ostentatious), your hair should be neat, your shoes should be clean.  If you dress like a slob, even if you are highly qualified for the job, you will likely leave the interviewer with the perspective that you are disorganized, and someone they may not want representing their business.
Ultimately you want to be judged by the quality of the work you can contribute, not by what you wear, but employers will judge you – correctly or not – by your appearance, by your cover, if you will.  If you dress appropriately for your interviews, the employer will perceive they will get what they see.  Someone prepared to do a good job!  Is what they see, what they get?
And a Happy Labor Day to one and all!
For more tips and help for job seekers and those on the job please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com


  1. Hanora -

    Update, a company I interviewed with a long time ago, recommended me to another company who hired me in a much better position with better pay. Which goes to show you that you just don’t know…

  2. Hanora -

    Statistics for my job hunt:
    Time Job Hunting: 1 year
    Resumes sent : 300+
    Recruiters who I’ve met or spoken with: 14+
    Phone Interviews and in-person interviews: 18+
    Job offers: 1
    Jobs accepted: 0
    I should mention I have been employed by the same company for over seven years as an IT Project Manager. I have certifications from the Project Management Institute and IT Infrastructure Library. I train on Microsoft and Cisco products. I’m good at understanding technology. I can’t begin to tell you how many meetings I’ve recently been through for Active Directory Design and Unified Communications. It’s a small consulting company and I’m the only Project Manager. We’ve tried to hire other PMs, but usually they go running for the door. Consulting isn’t for everyone. I have a long commute and it’s not the worst job I’ve ever had, but it’s not the best. I know I’m lucky to be employed and am grateful for all I’ve learned. That being said, I feel it’s time for me to move on, so I decided to throw the proverbial job hat into the ring this last year and see what happens.
    Where do I begin? Numerous companies set up phone interviews and never bothered to show up on the phone calls. One guy managed to not show up twice. When his HR department called me for a follow up, I could only tell HR I had never spoken to the Manager. I had a phone call immediately from him that ended up being a five-minute interview and never heard from them again. Was I supposed to lie for the Manager to HR?
    Maybe because I work in a city known for its casualness, most of the interviews I’ve showed up for, the CEO, Sales Manager, etc. have all been wearing shorts and flip flops. I’m wearing a suit and heels or a dress. While I appreciate the casual work place, it’s hard to take a Sales Manager seriously in a Hawaiian shirt then spent most of his time commenting on my comments with “right on!” Um, could you possibly send in your father to interview me?
    A telecommunications company replied back I was too technical for their Telco projects. Since they were technical projects, I was a bit surprised they didn’t want their PMs to know about the technology they would be implementing. Wouldn’t that be a plus in most businesses?
    After intensive test taking for a “top rising” company in the near-by city, when I asked what the corporate culture was like, I was told by the HR Manager, “everyone screams and cries a lot but no one ever quits.” Pardon?
    After three phone interviews, two in-person interviews, another phone interview, three lunches with the executive team, another company offered me a job. The money was awesome and they wanted me to implement a Project Management Organization in their company. The more I met with them, the more I didn’t want to work for them. Hearing him say, “The CFO really likes to kill things and their Sales Manager after a new exercise program looks good naked.” TMI. I’m all for getting-to-know-you lunches, but the more I ate with them, the worse it got. I can’t even repeat what the mid-managers told me.
    What’s not mentioned above is all the networking. Meeting friends-of-friends for coffee, attending PMI meetings, having numerous ex-bosses keep their eyes open for me.
    I understand why some people give up job hunting. You have to be willing to subject yourself to all kinds of indignities. It’s a roller-coaster ride of getting your hopes up and then getting thrown off the ride!
    So where do I go from here? Well, I’m going to keep looking. It’s not a sprint, it’s a long distance race in today’s market. I did a session with a life counselor who helped me to narrow down my focus and gave me some better planning ideas and direction. I know it is tough out there, but I’m tougher. As Scarlett O’Hara said, “Tomorrow is another day.” For job hunting that is…

    • Hank -

      Thank you for sharing your thoughtful and experiences. You have indeed been through a lot. And it is good that you recognize that you may need to retain your fortitude a bit longer!
      The casual attire that has become acceptable in many industries can be off-putting during interviews because it sends miscues about the seriousness of why you are there. It also potentially projects a cavalier attitude toward all their work and responsibilities. I’ll bet that someone else may find that kind of atmosphere acceptable. But not you! Your instincts kicked in, and you decided that is not the environment where you want to be. And I think you made the right decision.
      Keep up all your efforts, including the networking. I believe your awareness of the job search roller coaster will enable you to continue with your strength and perseverance
      until you find the right fit.
      Thanks again for your contribution. Best of luck, and please let me know how things turn out.

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