Interview: No Time to Be Casual

   Not really.

Casual rules in the workplace today.  But job applicants shouldn’t let their guards down by showing up at interviews in casual attire. 

I talked with a devastated job seeker last week who said he did everything right:  a one-page, results-oriented resume, showed up 10 minutes early for the interview and nailed Q&As during three separate conversations.  He also called in advance to determine the agency’s dress code, and dressed accordingly.  That was his only mistake.  Despite the firm’s in-office casual dress code, he learned from the HR director that he didn’t get the job.  She also let him know that he was the only candidate who didn’t show up in business attire.  Although the office environment is casual, they wear business attire when meeting with clients or attend outside meetings.  Even though the interviewers were in casual attire, they felt the young applicant should have elevated his interview attire to a higher standard.  They also wanted to see how he might physically appear when meeting with clients. 

Once the job is landed, you also need to be mindful about how to properly dress in a casual work environment.  As a former boss once told me, “too many people don’t know the difference between business casual and beach casual.”  While The Etiquette and Dress provides 10 helpful tips on how to properly approach casual attire, I offer a simpler way to guarantee success: Pick out one or two people in the organization who are in leadership positions and dress accordingly.   Executive recruiter David Moyer of Moyer Sherwood Associates suggests “dressing up “two levels beyond” the attire level of the office.  “For men, that means wearing a sport coat and dress shirt if the office attire is casual,” David adds.

One thought on “Interview: No Time to Be Casual

  1. Ron-

    I could not agree with you more. Is it possible that I am now old enough to still remember that article of clothing commonly referred to as the “interview suit”?
    A wiser man than me once said, “You can never overdress for any occasion.” Coming casual for an interview absolutely creates the untended assumption that you don’t care enough about the interview. Coming to your interview from your current job that is (business) casual? Two options – change in the car/hotel lobby bathroom/etc. or have the courtesy to let your contact know ahead of time that you will not be in business attire because of the timing of the interview. It lets them know that you are aware of protocol and have the EQ to think through the situation through their eyes. Both are huge plusses for recruiters and hiring managers.

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