Beware: dressing inappropriately for a
a job interview can be totally avoided.

I felt so bad.  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. My subject is dressing inappropriately for an interview and this all ties in. Hang in there with me.

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

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

Listen to the podcast on the subject of dressing inappropriately for a job interview.

I had it covered and dressing professionally was part of it!

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 over 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 the 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 and interested in the topic of dressing inappropriately for an interview.

He was so humble, that he asked me softly “Should I take it off” referring to his hoodie. 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. At 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 too 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. 

Be careful with 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 a 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.

I think people confused dressing inappropriately for an interview and dressing for a casual experience.

Common mistakes people do make dressing for job interviews are:

1. Dressing too casual for a job interview.

Being too casual is the #1 faux pas for dressing inappropriately for an interview. Remember, in a job interview, you’re selling your best self. Like it or not, your clothes really do matter.

Interviews are not the time to be over-confident about your appearance and assume the attitude “I’m good at what I do and clothes don’t matter to me.” Hey, first impressions still matter. Unless you’re Bill Gates, present yourself professionally.

When you reach his status, you can dress “down”, until then, put your best “you” forward and get the job.

2. “God made me funky!”

Sorry. This is a line in an old hip hop song.

Anyway, your job interview is not the time to be trendy, funky, or extraordinarily unique. Here’s the thing. You don’t know what will be perceived as immature, flighty, or offensive. The wrong sort of “standing out” may label you as just that.

Go ahead. You can say “I don’t care, I love my blue hair” and that’s ok. Just know the power broker interviewing you may hate it and that “self-expression” may cost you the job you want. Sorry. It’s true. Or, as my grandpa used to say “it’s tight, but it’s right.”

I’m not advocating for losing “yourself” to be considered professional. Not at all. Still, you must adapt.

If your hair is blue, maybe wear it in a bun when interviewing in a traditional work environment.

I will often wear my Afrocentric jewelry with a suit. It’s all about balance.

Another personal example is my hair. I have natural hair and it’s BIG when unleashed. I will often tie it back a bit in “some settings” and unleash the “beast” later. That’s me.

The thing is I know how to navigate socially to get what I want and get to arrive where I want. Being able to do so has served me well so far.

For example, it’s not inauthentic that I don’t wear my Snuggy in public. I know when and where to do such things.

Present yourself as a “blank slate” during an interview.

3. Doing way too much.

My first point was about doing way too little, so this point will be about doing entirely too much.  For example, never let your jewelry,  clothing or any accessories outshine your talent in an interview. If you wear too many accessories, this is exactly what can happen.  Instead, exercise the same balance I spoke of in point two. Your job interview is not the time to wear hoop earrings the size of saucers or a 5 inch cross around your neck. Let nothing outshine the real you.

Along the same lines, showing too many tats could give the wrong impression to an interviewer who has none or who has strong opinions about them.

So, show just enough of yourself to get that second interview. It’s better to unveil yourself gradually than to get “cut off” or cut out after the first one and lose the opportunity to “sell” yourself, right? 

Dressing for a job interview can be tricky.
It can be tricky, but learn to navigate between the various spheres of life,

 4. Consider the environment so you don’t dress inappropriately for an interview.

This is key to dressing for interviews. If your environment is creative – or if the job itself is – you can get away with dressing more creatively.  Nevertheless, if the workplace is a bit more subdued and conservative, dress accordingly if you want to work there.  If you don’t, then why did you apply? 

In the end, the most important thing is to find the intersection of showing the interviewer your personality while demonstrating your professionalism. Don’t let something as silly as clothes prevent you from doing just that. 

What do you think? 

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”

Dressing inappropriately for an interview

Dressing is just one thing. You also want to know how to conduct yourself and what questions (soft skills) they may ask you.

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Leveraging the 4 personality styles to help you when working with different personalities in the workplace

My work as a True Colors consultant and trainer…

Leveraging the 4 personality styles to help you when working with different personalities in the workplace.  I also discuss often how business personalities play a role in how you approach work and manage work personalities in general. I also answer the question” “how does personality influence communication at work?” Your temperament plays a role in everything. I love talking about it and exploring exactly how!

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