Author Topic: How do you reply to "Am I dressed ok for an interview?" from a stranger?  (Read 3471 times)

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lowspark

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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".

MummySweet

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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.

mandycorn

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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.
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AvidReader

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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. 

Ceallach

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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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Surianne

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I think that in case like this you were asked a question as an impartial stranger -- so answering honestly would be the best thing to do.

I've seen some completely crazy interviewers when it comes to clothing, though.  Two examples:

One of my friends interviewing for a library student job got chewed out by the interviewer about her clothing.  The interviewer said her outfit was completely inappropriate for a job interview because it didn't match.  My poor friend had no idea what she was talking about (since she was dressed in black pants, black shoes, and a white top), and asked for clarification.  The interviewer said that it was obvious -- her shoes were glossy black, but her pants were matte black.  The interviewer would never dream of hiring someone with shiny shoes and non-shiny pants, and it clearly demonstrated a lack of attention to detail.

Another time, I was one of the interviewers.  My supervisor asked me to help interview some assistants.  One woman impressed me, and my supervisor didn't like her.  She kept saying vague things about how the woman's personality was clearly wrong for our department, and that she was too boring for the job.  When I asked what she meant, my supervisor said "Well I would never hire someone who came to an interview dressed head to toe in black.  She looked like she was going to a funeral!  That just tells me everything about her personality."  I mentioned that the woman had been wearing a navy blue suit, and a cream blouse underneath,  and my supervisor said "Well that's close enough to black" and refused to hire her.

So I've learned that often clothing is just a way for the interview to project his/her prejudices on a candidate.  That's not the kind of person you want to work for, anyway.

Marbles

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I would say that a knit sweater vest is not formal enough for an office job interview. She should have been wearing a suit jacket.

So I've learned that often clothing is just a way for the interview to project his/her prejudices on a candidate.  That's not the kind of person you want to work for, anyway.

I have to agree with this, though.

delabela

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If some random person asked me that, I would be too afraid to point out anything wrong - how are they going to fix it out in public?  I guess unless it's something easy to fix, like a sweater mis-buttoned.

If I knew the person asking was in a position to fix something, I might make gentle suggestions. 

(On a side note, is it super old-fashioned of me that open-toed shoes seem off to me in a office setting?  It probably is.)

Fleur

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If some random person asked me that, I would be too afraid to point out anything wrong - how are they going to fix it out in public?  I guess unless it's something easy to fix, like a sweater mis-buttoned.

If I knew the person asking was in a position to fix something, I might make gentle suggestions. 

(On a side note, is it super old-fashioned of me that open-toed shoes seem off to me in a office setting?  It probably is.)

I think it is :) I am fairly conservative and work in a conservative field, and open toes would not make me raise an eyebrow.

lowspark

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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.

That's a good point. I guess I just based my response to her on what I've seen job candidates in my company wearing. Some dress up in suits but most dress in business casual. The last person that I was involved in hiring came to the interview dressed in business casual. Some of the people we interviewed for that position were dressed better but didn't have the qualifications or for some other reason (other than clothing) didn't pass the interview. So maybe I'm too easy on the clothing issue but as long as the candidate shows up in clothing appropriate for the office, I'm way more focused on their answers to the interview questions, their qualifications, their demeanor, etc.


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. 

That's pretty good advice. I have no idea what position she was interviewing for and it didn't occur to me to ask. I will say, though, that I've never seen anyone at that company dressed better than business casual. Not to say that I know what everyone there wears everyday, but generally from what I've seen, they all dress in business casual or lesser. Of course, someone going to interview there couldn't know that....

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.


.... and yeah, it might be more of a case of the bolded in Ceallach's quote.


So I've learned that often clothing is just a way for the interview to project his/her prejudices on a candidate.  That's not the kind of person you want to work for, anyway.

The bolded from Surianne: that is exactly what I was feeling but couldn't put it into words.

lowspark

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If some random person asked me that, I would be too afraid to point out anything wrong - how are they going to fix it out in public?  I guess unless it's something easy to fix, like a sweater mis-buttoned.

If I knew the person asking was in a position to fix something, I might make gentle suggestions. 

(On a side note, is it super old-fashioned of me that open-toed shoes seem off to me in a office setting?  It probably is.)

I think it is :) I am fairly conservative and work in a conservative field, and open toes would not make me raise an eyebrow.

I'm in Houston and open-toed shoes for women are extremely common in most professional settings here. Not flip-flop type shoes, or even flat sandals really, but open toes with a heel can be pretty dressy and usually do meet business casual specifications.

Lynn2000

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If some random person asked me that, I would be too afraid to point out anything wrong - how are they going to fix it out in public?  I guess unless it's something easy to fix, like a sweater mis-buttoned.

If I knew the person asking was in a position to fix something, I might make gentle suggestions. 

This is where I fall. Not knowing any different, I would probably assume they were on their way to an interview, and couldn't dash home to change, and as a kindness I wouldn't want to say anything that might shake their confidence. So I might say something like, "Oh, your collar's crooked," or "Your shirt is mis-buttoned," or if they were wearing a casual top but carrying a suit jacket I might say, "For sure I would wear the suit jacket, better to be too formal than too casual."

But if there was nothing obvious like that I would probably just say, "Yeah, you look nice." Unless it was really extreme, like ripped jeans and a t-shirt with an obscene saying on it, where I started to wonder if they were just asking me as a joke. Even then I would probably say something like, "Hmm. I think I would have gone a different route, but you have to go with what makes you feel confident." I mean, it's free advice at the last minute (as far as I know) from a random stranger, you get what you pay for, you know?
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lurkerwisp

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I would say that a knit sweater vest is not formal enough for an office job interview. She should have been wearing a suit jacket.

So I've learned that often clothing is just a way for the interview to project his/her prejudices on a candidate.  That's not the kind of person you want to work for, anyway.

I have to agree with this, though.


Meanwhile... our super informal (we're a kinda ripped jeans and tshirt group when no customers are around) company's office gossip suggests that a recent interviewee was not chosen because he showed up in a suit and tie that looked so fancy it probably cost more than our server.  It was assumed that anyone who dressed that slick (and drove such a fancy car) would probably be looking for a higher salary than we could offer.  So I guess the lesson is that you should dress appropriately for the position for which you're applying, neither too far above it nor even a little below.

Amava

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I would say that a knit sweater vest is not formal enough for an office job interview. She should have been wearing a suit jacket.

So I've learned that often clothing is just a way for the interview to project his/her prejudices on a candidate.  That's not the kind of person you want to work for, anyway.

I have to agree with this, though.


Meanwhile... our super informal (we're a kinda ripped jeans and tshirt group when no customers are around) company's office gossip suggests that a recent interviewee was not chosen because he showed up in a suit and tie that looked so fancy it probably cost more than our server.  It was assumed that anyone who dressed that slick (and drove such a fancy car) would probably be looking for a higher salary than we could offer.  So I guess the lesson is that you should dress appropriately for the position for which you're applying, neither too far above it nor even a little below.

Instead of assuming, they could have just asked... :(

The lesson I am starting to take away from this thread, is: "dress however the heck you want because for some companies, it will never be right and you're probably better off not working for/with people who are that prejudiced and assume-happy." >.<

nayberry

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sounds like she was dressed smartly to me,

when i interview i tend to wear a plain cream or white top, black slacks, black shoes and if in winter a dogtooth pattern jacket with a scarf.  i've never been told i've looked underdressed and whilst i could wear a suit i don't as i can never find a jacket to fit my bust