Posts Tagged ‘interviews’

Dress for Success: What to Wear to an Interview

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Kat at Smashing Pennies suggested I write about what to wear to an interview. This is an interesting topic and clearly one that is up for debate. For example, when I told my wife that open-toed shoes are definitely out for job interviews, she said I was crazy. I stand by my claim.

Of course, I read in the Wall Street Journal a year or two back about one executive who said he would never hire anyone with rubber-soled shoes. Perhaps that’s above my echelon, but I personally have never owned leather-soled dress shoes. If my Rockport wingtips are dressy enough for weddings and funerals, I hope they should suffice for a job interview.

Men: Neckties

Men, these are required in my opinion. Unless you are applying for a job as a bouncer at a dive bar or a rodeo clown, a dress shirt and a necktie is the minimum. Even if the job you are applying for doesn’t require such attire on the job, you need to show the interviewer that you are serious and not wasting his or her time. Get out your favorite silk noose and refresh your memory on the Half-Windsor knot.

On a side note, one nice thing about a necktie is that, in many scenarios, it can transform you from business casual to interview-ready in a few twists and turns. This can be helpful if you are rushing to a job interview directly from your current job, where your boss may be suspicious of your newfound interest in wool suits.

Men: Suits

This is a tough call. I would say that a suit is generally a good idea. Obviously, if you are in sales, in law, or work in the financial sector, a suit is a must. In other industries, there are some risks. If you are applying for a job in a very casual work environment, a suit might make you seem too stuffy. If you are applying for an entry-level job, the interviewer might think you are putting on airs.

On the other hand, some years ago when H. Ross Perot was running EDI, I heard that even their call center employees, who never interacted with a client face-to-face, were required to wear suit-and-tie every day. Not even blazer-and-slacks, but suit-and-tie. That’s definitely not a place to show up for an interview underdressed. Understanding the culture of the company should give you a good handle on this; I’ve often asked the receptionist at companies where I’ve interviewed what the dress code is like to get a good sense of this.

Women: Hosiery

This is a topic that, as a man, I know very little about. However, I recently ran across an etiquette survey in the October 2009 issue of Real Simple in which one of the questions was “Do you need to wear panty hose to an interview?” 23% said yes, but 67% said it depends on the workplace. I think this falls in line with men & suits — knowing a little about the company should go a long way in informing your opinion.

Women: Skin (& More)

Perhaps this goes without saying, but dress conservatively. Décolletage is out. Short skirts are out. My wife disagrees, but I say even open-toe shoes are out. Makeup? Conservative. Jewelry? Conservative. Unless you are applying for a position as a cocktail waitress, conservative is the rule.

At the same time, be yourself. If you wear something that isn’t like you at all, you may feel less comfortable–as interviews can be stressful for many people, you want to minimize that as much as possible.

Unisex: An Eye on the Time

Wear a wristwatch, if you have one (and it looks professional). I know we all keep the time on our cell phones now, but wearing a watch implies that you are a punctual person, and to punctual people are attributed a great many other traits, deserved and undeserved, such as: strong work ethic, attention to detail, highly organized.

These are just my guidelines. When in doubt, err on the side of caution, and remember: you are trying to impress people. Wear the dressiest thing you can imagine wearing on that particular job (e.g. meeting with an important client or giving a presentation to the CEO).

My wife says that most of these rules would be ridiculous in Hawai’i (neckties?!). Think I’m way off base? Or know of a case where erring on the side of caution backfired? Say so in the comments.

Finding the Wrong Job

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

If the job fits, take it. Unfortunately, there isn’t a Brannock Device for jobs. How do you determine if a job is a good fit for you before you accept the position? That’s the topic of Get Creative to Find Out Whether You’d Fit, from The Washington Post which I found via This Job is Fun? For Whom?

Sometimes you just know. I interviewed at the Kmart HQ in Troy, Mich., approximately 12 years ago. Although the salary offer was a dramatic improvement over what I was making at the time, the massive brick compound reminded me more of Kafka’s Castle than the excitement of a blue-light special, and the windowless basement work area inside, were both clear indications that I should look elsewhere.

Failing an obvious signal, the general consensus is: ask a lot of questions. If you are out of a job right now, you may not feel like you are in a position to ask questions about a job offer, but it is better to hunt for the right job than to bag the wrong one. Plus, asking a lot of well-researched questions at an interview shows interest on your part and is much preferred to the candidate who responds with a blank stare in response to, “Do you have any questions?” Just don’t ask if they have free bagels every morning.

One warning sign mentioned in the former article is lack of participation in great employee programs. I have two examples of this that illustrate both negative and positive cases.

Compare: 20% Time Gone Wrong

One company I worked for offered something akin to Google’s 20% Time (in which engineers spend 20% of their time, or one day a week, working on a pet project). They told new employees that they would have 1 hour out of every 8 to expand their skills through training and study. This was supposed to be more-or-less self-guided. Of course, in practice, managers wanted to see results, and asked anyone who appeared to be sitting around reading a book to get to work. People probably got about an hour of organized training per month, instead of the 15 or so hours promised to new employees. The much-touted career-pathing was also largely ignored, and as a result many talented people, frustrated by a lack of advancement, took to studying on their own time and quickly found better jobs with other employers.

Contrast: Tuition Benefits

The University of Pennsylvania offers tuition benefits to most employees. Who wouldn’t want to add a little Ivy League to their resume? I hesitated, though. Did I really want to give up my free time to sit in class? After 10 years out of school, could I really step back into a classroom? However, the culture at Penn encouraged taking advantage of this benefit. In fact, I would say there was almost peer pressure to take advantage of it. My colleagues took sculpture classes for fun, or entered masters programs  in their fields. I knew one woman who earned 2 masters degrees while working at Penn. In addition to Penn classes, we were also encouraged, and often subsidized, to pursue other job-related training and certifications.

The latter article advises us to “Be cautious about any company that makes too big of a deal about how ‘fun’ it is.” This reminds me of an anecdote shared with me by one of my friends who worked at Google, which I call…

Compare: The Lava Lamp Incident

Apparently, every Google employee is given a lava lamp on their first day of work. It’s quirky and fun, just like Google. And you’d better love it: if you have a certain disdain for the 70s and decide to stuff your lava lamp in the bottom drawer of your desk, your manager might forever have you down on the “not-a-team-player” list.

What does your love of lava lamps have to do with your work ethic? It’s an echo of the movie Office Space — if you aren’t wearing more than the minimum number  goofy buttons, you aren’t doing your part. The job turned out not to be the right fit for my friend. No word on how Google really felt about it.

I happen to like Google’s fun attitude: I brought a box of Lego bricks to my office, something I heard is commonplace at Google. I don’t play with them often, but it’s a reminder to take a break once in a while, which can help if you are stuck in a rut. But don’t let Lego bricks and lava lamps blind you to the real possibility that fun is just a veneer.

Contrast: The Hoppy Cup

I worked for another company that did not offer Google’s massages, laundry service, or daily gourmet lunches (although sometimes we ordered pizza). However, in a back office that was unused at the time, there was a plastic table hockey game. This room was dubbed Piker Arena. A couple of the guys would wander back to play an enthusiastic game of table hockey now and then, chat about work, and blow off a little steam.  At irregular intervals, someone would organize a tournament bracket for the Hoppy Cup (named after the CEO, who participated even if he did not wholly endorse the event) in which every member of the company was scheduled to play. Although I was typically knocked out in the first round of the tournament, any onlooker could have told you that this was a company that knew how to both work and have fun.

In short:

  • Just because a company offers great programs doesn’t mean they will let you participate.
  • Just because a company has toys doesn’t mean they will let you play.

If your prospective employer doesn’t have participation rates handy, at least check to see if the table hockey game–or pertinent equivalent–is well-used.

Get Creative to Find Out Whether You’d Fit InGet Creative to Find Out Whether You’d Fit In