I recently interviewed 7 candidates for two different professional biologist positions in a state government agency (in USA). Of these candidates (all males), only one wore a suit. None of the others wore a tie. One came to the interview wearing an untucked sport shirt and jeans, another wore a flannel shirt, jeans, and scruffy cowboy boots. The most casually-dressed candidates were applying for internal promotions and may have thought this was a low-key affair.

I know Mark's recommendations on dress for interviews, and I'm wondering if we're being too demanding in expecting  more respect for the interview panel and the position they are applying for? 

For a candidate that otherwise gave a great interview, how should I consider this aspect? Would you give input to the candidates about their attire when it's time to let them know whether they got the job?

tplummer's picture

Were all the interviewees entry level? I can't imagine anyone over 35 not wearing a suit, or at least a tie. And even college students are told to wear professional attire. And this is a government job?! I maybe could see it in a start up, tech firm, IT, etc. Maybe. 

Are you setting your standards too high? No. Interviews are about respect. I would seriously stop and think if someone didn't respect an interview by wearing casual clothes. I once interviewed for an internal position among people I worked for, and I wore a dress shirt and slacks. No suit. No tie. My feedback was that I didn't take the interview seriously. They were wrong but that's what I was conveying. Serious mistake on my part.

Now, if someone really knocked your socks off, maybe bring them in to a 2nd interview and tell them it's business dress. If they still don't wear a suit, run, run, run away. That person will never take direction, or orders, from you.


manager252's picture

 These are not entry level jobs and require several years of previous professional experience. Three of the candidates were current employees in the agency with many years of experience, so I was surprised they felt casual dress was OK. I'm definitely going to do a second interview of the top one or two candidates. Good suggestion to let them know what is expected attire.

karl66's picture

If they were 'internal' candidates, would all of them have been comfortable telling every one of their work-mates that they are interviewing for the position you are offering?

Would you perhaps want to NOT tell them about the attire, but simply take the interview off site (if feasible), thus giving the candidates the opportunity to 'dress up' without having to explain? 

If they then fail to cease the opportunity, that is probably a legitimate starting question.


manager252's picture

 Afroe - In my experience there hasn't been a problem with internal candidates having their coworkers know that they are interviewing. Even if it were an issue, I'd question their real desire for the job if they felt they had to hide "dressing up" for the day of the interview. If they felt the need they could have arrived early, changed clothes in a restroom, attended the interview, then changed back to their casual clothes. In this case, the casual candidates came into headquarters from remote offices, so their daily coworkers wouldn't have seen them anyway. 

duplicate_account_MarkAus's picture

I love Tom's idea of suggesting professional dress for the second interview.  Shame that you need to even point that out though.   If they are internal staff, I definitely think feedback about dress once the process is over is appropriate (in the context of coaching them on career development).

I guess this goes back to candidates' mistaken idea that they "just want to be themselves" in an interview combined with Horstman's Christmas Rule - the person interviews so infrequently that they do it badly.


afmoffa's picture

I'm a transplant to the San Francisco startup scene, and wearing a suit and tie to a round 1 interview would likely disqualify me from many firms. Khaki pants and a polo shirt would be right; a long-sleeve dress shirt and pressed pants would be considered "dressed up." Call that critereon crazy if you like, but it is what it is. It has been a real adjustment for me, as I prefer a somewhat formal work dress code (we make so much else up as we go, so it'd be nice to have clearly-defined expectations for office attire).

But even in San Francisco, if I were walking into a job interview for a firm whose culture were unknown to me, I'd wear a suit. You can always "casualize" a suit by removing a tie, a button, or a jacket. It's hard to tuck in a T-shirt and call that "dressed up."

mattpalmer's picture

Like afmoffa, if you turned up for a job interview (for a technical job) at my company in a full suit you would lose credibility.  Part of that is the company culture, which is very informal (our CEO today is wearing cargo shorts and thongs ("flipflops" for the international audience), but we also explicitly say "casual dress is fine" in all our interview invites, so it's an "attention to detail" fail.  I've never arrived at a job interview in more than a (non-business style) button-down shirt open at the collar, dress pants, and shinable shoes, but I know before I turn up that that is one step above what the other people I'll be interacting with will be wearing.  If I didn't know, I'd either find out, or play it safe with formal attire that could be stepped back, as afmoffa suggests.

For an excellent take on "professional dress", I recommend  Reading all the way to the end is highly recommended.

duplicate_account_MarkAus's picture

The whole culture question is interesting - but I think the recommendation should be that you take the risk over over-dressing versus the risk of under-dressing.   As afmoffa said, you can always dial it back once you get there.

I hear what Matt's saying, but I'm not sure I judge people who over dress as harshly as I do ones who under dress.  (Of course telling someone "casual dress is fine" changes things slightly)   

I can think of an internal candidate I interviewed once who knew the place was very casual but still wore a suite to my interview.   Yeah, "the suit wore him" and I'm sure he got jokes about it from others.  But you know what?  I liked that he distinguished himself and told me through his dress that he took this very seriously and was prepared to make an extra effort.

It actually was one of the factors that lead me to hire him.  He gave a very average interview, but I took the time to ask my network about him because he obviously was trying hard.  I found out he'd be a great hire - the kind of guy who worked hard, took initiative, and would always go the extra mile.   Turns out he was, and was promoted within 18 months.   It'd be too much to say I got all that from the way he dressed, but the way he dressed certainly showed he was someone who was conscientious and wanted the job badly.   And it is always better to hire someone hungry for the opportunity.