Cargo shorts guy

Job interview rule one: Remember to wear pants

Peter Harris|

Remember to wear pants. That’s the career advice that I never thought I would be giving. But as it turns out, some people actually need to hear it. (And of course, in this case I am referring to men. Statistical evidence has shown that women fare better in job interviews if they wear skirts. I’m just the messenger.)

This is a true story from last week. We’re hiring a part-time graphic designer here at Workopolis to help out with a backlog on some design projects. Because of the part-time nature of the gig, it is mostly entry-level candidates who apply. We had one young man turn up for the job interview in cargo shorts and a t-shirt.

Now graphic design is a creative role, and people in creative roles tend to be more casually dressed than people in finance or sales jobs. Plus, Workopolis is a business casual office, leaning more towards the casual side particularly during summer.

So it is not inconceivable that someone would come to work on a hot day in shorts, especially someone on one of the creative or web development teams. However, showing up for a job interview is a very different situation from just coming in to work.

When you come in to work, you know the office culture, you are choosing to reflect how much of your own personality to mix in with the vibe of the workplace. At a job interview, you are making a first impression. Your goal is to show that you take the job seriously, you put some effort into appearing professional, and that you care what the interviewer thinks of you.

Cargo Shorts Guy didn’t get the job, but I don’t mean to sound like I’m picking on him. He’s young and either didn’t know any better or didn’t care. And that is the point of this article. You have to care. I want to talk about attitude.

Of course people want to ‘be themselves’ at work, and so they should. However, you have to be the version of yourself who is willing to compromise. Every workplace will have its culture, its quirks and even its rules. You have to find the best fit between who you are and how you can fit within those. (And if you can’t: if the workplace culture is too confining, too far from who you are to fit in with, then you go someplace else.)

But you can’t turn up for an interview with the attitude that “I’m just going to be me and they can take it or leave it.” Employers will always leave it. And it’s not because of any particular trait – as I mentioned, the shorts actually would have been fine on the job – it’s because of the attitude. Not compromising, not dressing professionally for a job interview doesn’t come across as ‘creative,’ it actually seems disrespectful.

A friend of mine was hiring for a media company in Montreal. Again, it’s a creative field, but she was shocked that five candidates in a row – and this was not for a junior position – showed up in jeans and t-shirts. When the sixth turned up in a suit, she hired him on the spot. Fortunately it turned out that he was also eminently qualified, but it just goes to show that the effort he had put into looking the part had already put him head and shoulders above the other candidates.

I’m not saying be a phony, or morph into a corporate drone of some kind for work. Successful people at all roles are the ones who make it their own, who stand out from the crowd through innovation, creative thinking and finding new solutions. The ones who are true to themselves. However, you have to know the difference between personal life and work, between being on the job and getting the job in the first place. Each of these situations requires a different approach and different compromises.

And pants. Wear pants to the job interview. I can’t stress this enough.


Peter Harris

Peter Harris on Twitter

Category: Job interviews, Student
  • farjaad

    Why such double standards? It makes me question you guys instead of the guy in short. When you allow casualness at work, then you should allow it during interview. If dressing down is not professional at the interview then it is NOT professional in ANY setting. Don’t hold on to false standards that do not guarantee that the candidate you are hiring will be a star performer. There are other yardsticks to measure performance: eagerness to work; need for a job; knowledge of the subject.

    If it is not a business role and it is the role of a graphic ARTISTS, then allow them to present themselves as ARTISTS. Those who live, breath and smell art will look, dress and behave as one.

    • Ezziie

      “If it is not a business role and it is the role of a graphic ARTISTS, then allow them to present themselves as ARTISTS. Those who live, breath and smell art will look, dress and behave as one.”

      The counter to this would be: That if someone were applying to a Business role and showed up in casual attire – and are aware of the fact a Creative person could show up in casual attire that person could make the factual argument of Unfairness in the interview process, Why should one group of people applying to a certain field, be allowed to dress casually but another group applying to a different field be forced into dressing formally. Level playing field here – Dress Formally regardless of the position/career/job you are applying for, It’s not about making clothing equal to the level of professionalism one can apply but it’s about being respectful that you are looking to work for a company/business – regardless of the other “yardsticks”.

      “When you allow casualness at work, then you should allow it during interview. If dressing down is not professional at the interview then it is NOT professional in ANY setting.”

      The Difference inherently being Casualness at WORK and Formality during the Interview. Casualness while you work for the company is fine if said company allows it, But in the interview process? No. Formality shows better than showing up in casual attire. What you wear to an interview can and DOES show what kind of person you are outside of a working setting. When you turn up in Shorts and a T-shirt, Jeans and Tank top and compare that to the person who came in a suit, What would you Hire, Professionally – If they all had the exact same set of requirements. 9 out of 10 times it would be the person in the suit.

      TL;DR – What you wear matters regardless of what the Company allows when you work for them, is important in any interview process.

    • Ahmed Tahir

      Agreed Farjaad! Having known the inside culture, if the Management is rejecting the good candidate, it’s a loss of the company, and then also of the incumbent. Surely, this – the article – smells like ‘double standards’ than giving taste of a legitimate advice.

  • mustdisqus

    Search for images or youtube ‘google headquarter offices’, ‘unique offices around the world’ or similar. Ball pits for adults, staff on scooters, chutes to get from one floor to the next, rooms for relaxation etc. It would seem the more money your company makes the more casual you allow your staff to be providing they do their job. lol

  • John_Cage

    You know that KNOWING that dressing well has an advantage YET you choose to dress like a slob to an interview… That shows something about your decision making abilities. As a hiring manager, I want to hire serious, hardworking people who are willing to put aside his/her quirks and come to work. To be frank, a new hire is nothing but a potential increase of productivity to the company. You are not my friend and if you cannot improve my team’s productivity, you will not be hired. Why should I take a chance with some slob when some other equally qualified person shows up in a suit and tells me that, “Yes. I take this interview seriously and I will come into work everyday and make money for you and this company.”

  • Alan Flint

    Job seeker starts of at interview wearing g-string, or Boxer shorts etc, and later at work picking his nose and wiping it off on desk and keyboards.
    It is the jobseekers mindset that Peter Harris was talking about. A personal disposition of new staff to be closer to nature will within days and weeks make rest of the colleagues swing from the trees, and rattle each others cages.
    So Dearest young generation from 21st century and folks from Flower Power generation wearing sandals ……, just tidy up yourself on interview days to show the interviewing team that you are not George of the Jungle. LOL

  • AdrianJayeOnline

    always always always always DRESS UP, those comments below who say otherwise, did you not read the article? it’s not about double standards, or any other such rubbish, DO YOU WANT THE JOB OR NOT ?

    It is DISRESPECTFUL, I 110% agree with the writer, in fact… I a few years ago went to a job interview, from an agency with about 20 other people from different agencies, kinda of a mass interview, I asked about dress she said , oh dont worry about it too much! pretty much ALL the candidates turned up in jeans and tee’s some a couple of the others had business casual.

    I Went fully suited up, I knew from walking into the door we where being watched, after the various rounds, of questions, role playing and working as a team etc, they said they where going to call 5 peoples names. The rest where to stay in the training room.

    My name was called out, and guess what, I was in the group headed for the ACTUAL interview and was told I also got the job, but I turned it down.

    All the others where jeans and tee boys and girls

    nuff said

  • winterlight

    First impressions are so important, especially if you are interviewing for a job that may have 50 other candidates. Look serious, look like you care about the job, look like you respect the interviewing manager and the company. Even if the company is dress casual on a regular day, it is not a double standard to expect the candidates to dress the part. Whether you know it or not, whether you think about it or not, how you dress speaks to people as loudly as if you open your mouth and say something to them. Unfortunately how you dress doesn’t always say what you think it does.

    Personally, dressing appropriately for an interview makes me feel good about myself, it makes me feel the part. Dressing professionally makes me feel more confident. In a way it’s like a kind of armor. Even if I feel nervous and self conscious I can act the part because how I’m dressed gives me that boost of confidence and makes me look polished and serious about the job I am applying for.

    To anyone reading this, please don’t listen to the naysayers who say that expecting professional dress for a casual job of any sort is a double standard. It’s not about double standards, it’s about showing your potential future boss how much you want the job, that you care about the job and respect the company enough to dress well when you meet. It is possible to look professional and put together and to still show some of your personality through what you put on your feet and how you accessorize without looking like a slob. Dress casual once you’ve earned it, until then, dress like someone who cares about themselves, their appearance and whether or not they get the job.