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Dressing inappropriately for job interview

Dressing inappropriately for job interview

Dressing inappropriately for a
job interview should not be a  fatal career mishap.

I felt so badly.  I almost couldn’t rebound from that lurking, heavy, dark sense of regret.

It was like a gray cloud looming over my training and I couldn’t seem to shake it. I thought about what I should have said, could have said and ended back at the point of the scenario where remorse resided.

Let me get you caught up.

The other day, I did a mini-training for a friend. I usually am paid $350 an hour to train, but I like this person so much that I quickly say “yes” to support her.

Well, the training content was about making good first impression. The audience were teens.
Yes, kiddos! I love young people.


I had it covered!

I covered all the basics of making a good first impression and how to actually acquire the skills you admire in other people. It was a good training and my rapport with the teens was really good (for a Gen-Xer). We discussed dressing appropriately for various occasions and how one outfit doesn’t translate well into another one.  It was all covered and in record time!

After I had thanked the kiddos for their time, the unsolicited applause started.  I felt good. Really Good. Then it was interrupted.

An adult from the back of the room, went to stand behind a young man wearing a hoodie. After gently placing her hands on his shoulders she said “Could you say something about wearing hoodies”.

Ugh. Crap. Dang!

I sensed the young man’s embarrassment.  Heck, I was embarrassed for him. In my haste, I tried to say something like “he was  at a training – not a job interview -, so it was OK for him to wear his hoodie”.

Blah Blah Blah

The frustration and anger at the situation muffled my communication skills. I was a little flustered by the audacity of that person.  As you know, it’s never good to humiliate anyone; especially a young person in front of a room full of people.  I wished I had said more and that’s were the regret kicked in.

During break, the young man was standing near me. I had an opportunity to apologize to him and re-affirm that he looked fine for the setting in which he was in. After all, AGAIN he wasn’t at a job interview and no one had communicated a dress code prior.

He was a good kid

He was so humble, that he asked me softly “Should I take it off”, I said a strong “NO!” sighed and said “You’re fine, Honey.” Even though he was taller than me, I saw a six year old in his eyes – desperate for affirmation in a world that would judge him by a stupid hoodie.

I don’t pen this post to glorify myself. In the moment, I did and said too little. I’m writing this to remind us all that we cannot judge a book by its cover. I’ve sat across from clients who own large-scale Kansas City companies and many of them wore hoodies and sneaks. Guess what.  They were dressed appropriately for that setting (mainly because they owned the company).

I’m sure you’ve interviewed someone improperly dressed. Perhaps, they wore jeans, a mismatched outfit or were entirely too casual for a job interview. For years, I was guilty of judging such people and assuming they couldn’t do a job based on what they wore. This is a new world. Like it or not.

The truth is there are lots of reasons people may come to an interview (or anywhere) dressed inappropriately. Don’t miss out on a jewel because you judge to harshly … too soon.

So often people simply don’t know any better than what they do. Many young people grow up without proper coaching and support. As a result, they have no idea flip-flops are inappropriate for a job interview.

In some cases, you may have to catch the  fish before you can clean it. You can coach an employee on proper attire, but you cannot coach the exceptional skills, attributes and abilities one needs to be a good team member.


I know the lady that singled out the young man in the hoodie meant no harm at all, but she caused some.  Dressing inappropriately for an interview should not be a fatal career mistake.

Be careful with your, your staff and your interviewees. Cut people some slack and be a good person as well as a good professional.

Just so you know, I rebounded from my ominous haze of regret. Yes, dressing inappropriately for job interview is a huge mistake; but casual dress at a training is not.

My colleague and work buddy also attended that training. We chatted and she made me feel much better about the scenario. She also gave me a hug.

A great resource:  “How to Dress for an Interview by Industry” from Monster.Com”

Another great Resource: “15 Tips for Improving Your Skills Interviewing Candidates”


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