Feb 282014

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We all know the phrase that first impression matters. We have heard of how appearances form a significant part of people’s first impressions. In conservative business environments, it is still very important that people dress in certain ways. However, with business world as we know it consistently changing, how important is dress code for interviews today?  

Many Recruiters argue that even today, the first impression a candidate makes on a potential employer is the most important one. The first assessment by an interviewer is usually based on how they look, which includes what he/she is wearing. They insist that now, more than ever, it is important to dress appropriately for a job interview regardless of the work environment. So what is an “appropriate” dress code?

A lot of Recruiters agree that the most appropriate way a candidate should dress is like a banker – Suit, tie, long sleeve shirt, formal dress, limited jewelry, limited perfume/aftershave, dark shoes and socks. Some even go as far as specifying that candidates should wear leather shoes.

What of liberal environments

Throughout my recruitment agency recruitment career, I visited lots of client’s offices. My reason for visiting differed from client to client and even with the same client, from time to time. However, one thing I noticed was that each company had its dress code. For many like the banks, it was conservative, for others such as ICT companies, it was more liberal. So if on a typical Monday, a company’s culture allows for jeans and T shirts, does it make sense to expect a candidate to wear full suit for an interview or worse still score him low for failing to dress in a way that almost no one dresses in that company?

Let’s talk about the clime.

I grew up in a warm environment, where people typically wear suit and ties to interviews. It is bad enough that the weather can get to disturbing degrees sometimes, but the discomfort of adding suits to that can only be imagined. Imagine making a two hour journey to an office for an interview in scotching sun. By the time a candidate gets there, they will normally not be in their best frame of mind. Seriously.

And interviewers?

I have seen interviewers attend their interviews with jeans and T shirts, yet complain that a candidate did not “dress well” (aka wear a full suit) for his interview. In Africa, we refer to this as “a kettle calling a pot black”. These types of interviewers, sometimes through no fault of theirs, see interviews as a one way process. HR teams have the duty to educate their hiring managers that interviews are in fact a two-way process. Candidates are as important as their interviewers, if not more important. They are in an interview room because the business – whatever kind – has identified gaps that need to be filled, without which there will be some negative consequences.

What of common sense?

There is an argument which is entirely common sense based. Some Recruiters argue that if a candidate is not sure of what to wear, they should go for the safest bet, which is suit. While I agree with this, I will add that if candidates feel for any reason that will not be comfortable in suits or know that the company they are interviewing with has a relaxed dress culture. There is no harm done in asking. However, like many other Recruiters believe, if you are uncomfortable asking, play safe. Go the suit route.

In a world where physical mobility is fast dwindling as we embrace new technology. In a world were face to face meetings are fast losing their importance, with emails and calls taking over, how important is a suit and tie dress code for interviews? Are we stuck in the past and clinging onto something that does not have as much relevance? Are people in warm climes losing great candidates because they are stressed, not because of the interviews they have, but because of their uncomfortable dressing?

These are food for thoughts for us all of us.