For God's Sake, Just Tell the Candidate What to Wear!

It was a nice day in late spring, the resume sat on my desk, basically taunting me. It was a brilliant CV - yes, I said CV - Curriculum Vitae. In certain industries - and not strictly European - it is regularly called a CV instead of a resume. And for an Organic Chemist, that is what it is called.

The tech company where I was the Manager of Recruitment had been looking for the right fit for quite some time. A chemist in the light sensor industry is difficult to come by. Someone with the right education and background that could assist in the development of a groundbreaking biotechnology was needed at this point in the product development process. And sitting before me was a quality candidate on paper.

The Director of Product Development had conducted a successful phone interview, as had another chemist (a peer) and ultimately, the Vice President of Engineering. The next step was the on-sight interview. Arrangements were made, flights and hotels booked. All seemed to be right and hope hung in the air - the hope that a protracted search would be coming to a happy close.

And this was the day - that day in late spring - the candidate was arriving from his hotel, the other departmental chemist had picked him up from the nearby hotel, taken him to lunch and on a brief tour of the lab and building. During the tour, the duo swung by my office. I heard them coming, so I went out to greet them and that is when I knew it was over. His loose combat pants bunched about his feet that were casually flopping in a pair of black flip-flops. His pale yellow, "interview-inappropriate" t-shirt clung loosely to masculine shoulders that proved his statement, "I play league water polo."

I shook his hand and invited him into my office for a brief chat prior to his interview with the Hiring Manager, the VP of Engineering and others. I bluntly asked, "Did you need to stop by the hotel to change? I can give you a lift." He raised his hand to shake it off, "I'm fine." I asked if he was sure and he again waved me off. I finally asked, "So.., no suit? no shirt and tie? Going for the casual look today, huh?" He shrugged and laughed it off, "I thought, 'what the heck? It's Southern California, it's Newport Beach...,' I will be fine dressing like this."

His perfect CV lay before me, taunting me. (See? I was right about the taunt.) And the PhD didn't matter. The published articles didn't matter. The List of References seemed a joke. Why? Because, as old-fashioned as it may seem, the way he was dressed was disrespectful. He had anticipated a laid-back environment lightly laced with professionalism - when it was really the opposite - a professional environment that was ever-so-slightly laid back.  He didn't get the job, as a matter of fact we didn't even fully finish his day of interviewing.  I took him back to the hotel and told him we would be in touch.  

And I was - we were in touch - I signed him off stating that we were going to keep looking, that he wasn't the right person for the job and I explained why.  He was unaccepting and called me every two weeks for several months asking if we had filled the position.  Of course, we had not but that didn't matter, he was not right for our company.  I learned.  I learned to tell candidates, though I had always professed to not coach my candidates, I flat out told them to wear a suit or at the very least a shirt and tie for a man and dress top and pants for a woman.  

You see, the candidate looking bad made me look bad.  Never again.

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Ok, This one made me chuckle... it's amazing how some otherwise great candidates will overlook (or ignore) the basic principles of making a good impression. This summer I had a cattle call of 8 acct manager candidates in Seattle, with the hiring manager flying in from the UK to conduct the interviews in person. One candidate showed up in a cowboy outfit sporting a bolo tie, boots outside his jeans and a huge 500 million gallon hat. This was a position that would require a suit and tie everyday. His excuse? He was going square dancing immediately after and because he felt he was the best candidate anyway "it would be fine." Well it wasn't. He was the very first candidate interviewed and it lasted about 5 minutes (slotted for 45) and the Client chewed me a good one for the remaining time period. Thankfully, the rest of the candidates were dressed appropriately.
Great post Rayanne. This is a great reminder that it's ok to provide candidates with basic information about the interview day they are about to experience. Understanding what to wear is as basic as knowing where to park, who to ask for upon arrival, and how much time to plan to spend on-site. Recruiters and HR folks should never be afraid to make sure candidates have at least a baseline of preparation for their interview. In fact, I have a standard e-mail I send out pre-interview to help get the candidate ready for interview day - and I share it with hiring managers as well so that everyone is on the same page. This post is very much appreciated!
I can clearly remember being SO offended when it was suggested that I dress in appropriate attire and look professional. Of course! I am not a moron. I had dressed in a suit for the first interview. Did it really require mentioning again for the 2nd? I made a joke about it and she proceeded to politely explain that she left nothing to chance anymore and that there was no such thing as common knowledge.
Now, being on the other side, I recently spoke to her and she explained further... Apparently one of her candidates had been scheduled for their 3rd interview. Feeling quite cocky about receiving the offer, he showed up in his workout attire as his gym was just around the corner?!
The best is that his explanation to the recruiter was that he was trying to save time as he was going out to celebrate his offer with friends after his workout. Needless to say, he had lots of time to get ready for anything after that stunt and she learned to never assume anything.

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