General Etiquette > All In A Day's Work

How do you reply to "Am I dressed ok for an interview?" from a stranger?

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The other day I was riding down in the elevator at my office and it was just me and one other person. She turned to me and asked, "do you think I'm dressed ok for an interview?" I thought maybe she was on her way to an interview, but anyway, she was, in my opinion, dressed fine*, so I said so. At that point, she told me that she'd just been on an interview and the interviewer had told her she wasn't dressed well for it. I was sort of in surprised and reassured her that she looked ok to me. As we chatted, I figured out which company in the building she'd been to and thought, hmmmm... they certainly don't dress any more formally than what she was wearing, and some dress much more casually.

I felt bad for her and wished her good luck in the end. Afterward I thought about what I would have/should have said if in fact I felt her clothes were inappropriate. Fortunately this wasn't the case, but would it have been prudent to give her constructive criticism if I felt she needed it? Is it rude to tell someone what you really think in this kind of situation, or is it ruder to hold back when you've been asked for your opinion?

As an aside, it also made me wonder about the interviewer and whether she really believed that or not, or anyway, what her motivation would be in saying it.

*She was wearing dark slacks with a dark plain top and a knitted short vest over it and sandal type shoes with a medium heel. So nothing outstanding but well within the realm of "business casual".

I think the responses here are going to vary, but I personally don't think "business casual" is formal enough for interviewing for a professional position, even in companies that wear business casual on a daily basis.   In a similar situation, I think I might advise someone to err on the side of being over-dressed rather than under-dressed for an interview.

I don't think it's rude to answer a question you've been asked. There are certainly more or less tactful ways to answer, but they shouldn't ask the question (especially to a stranger) if they don't want to hear your response.

Unfortunately for this person, the damage was done since she had already interviewed and was told by the interviewer that she was not dressed appropriately.   When she asked you the question, you of course, had no idea of what had already occured.  I think she was just seeking validation that she was dressed OK for an interview. 

In the woulda'/shoulda' universe, I might have asked what type of job she was interviewing for and then made a general comment that I've often read that for a job candidate to stand out, it is recommended to dress for an interview as though you were interviewing for your boss's job, in other words, dress for the next higher level on the org chart than what you are interviewing for today.   Of course this will vary depending on the type of job for which one is interviewing. 

For a job interview you should dress more formally than the company you are interviewing at, not match their style.  So if they do business casual, you wear a suit.  If its a super casual work environment (warehouse etc) you wear business casual.   The extra effort shows that you care about putting your best foot forward, not just the minimum.  You're showing what you are capable of and the level of respect you have for the company.

And I would gently suggest that if asked directly, although just the first part, I wouldn't go on and on or make them feel bad.  Just let them know the general rule for next time.


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