I didn’t hire a woman once because of her pants
I was once part of a panel interviewing a candidate for a freelance writing and marketing job that required a certain amount of expertise on a particular topic.
Asked what I thought of the candidate after the interview, I blurted, almost without thinking “Her pants looked cheap.” It wasn’t that she had a careless attitude about her appearance. Her hair and makeup were done, I could tell, with care. But her clothes (which included pants) looked cheap – and not cheap in a cool, eccentric, or thrift store kind of way – just cheap, and ill fitting.
I felt guilty after I said it. The woman needed a job, so what if she was a less-than-snappy dresser? But I found myself explaining why her attire made me feel less inclined to hire her, and once I’d listened to my own reasoning it became even more clear that what you wear to the job interview matters a great deal.
Here’s the thing: The woman claimed to have a large client base. I couldn’t help but think that someone with such a large client base should be able to afford better clothes. The fact that she was cheaply attired suggested to me that she wasn’t getting a lot of work – and was possibly misrepresenting herself.
I felt sorry for her. But one doesn’t (or shouldn’t) hire people because they feel sorry for them. We hire people because they inspire confidence that they can do the job. Her appearance didn’t inspire this confidence.
On a similar note, a new report out of South Korea has found that wearing luxury brands makes you seem more qualified for the job.
The Harvard Business Review reports that researchers from Yonsei University and Coastal Carolina University examined how people react to others depending on the brands they’re wearing. In one study, 150 observers watched a video of a woman being interviewed for an internship. Viewers were shown three versions of the video, all identical except for the logo on the woman’s shirt. The three different scenarios showed her wearing a luxury brand logo, a non-luxury brand logo, and no logo.
HBR reports that observers of the luxury logo rated the woman most suitable for the job as well as deserving of the highest compensation.
Here’s, I think, why: Luxury brands imply that you have money, having money implies that you are in demand, being in demand implies that you know what you’re doing.
How can you put this principle to good use in the job search or at least test the theory? You could go out and get some brand name clothes — HBR points out that the logo must be visible and recognizable in order for it to provide an advantage. Should you wish to do this, note that designer duds can be found in thrift stores all over. There’s no need to sell your soul to buy them new.
But I don’t think you have to go that far if logos aren’t your thing. (I don’t think I own anything with a name on it, myself.) I think the best takeaway here is to dress to inspire confidence.
The reality is that expensive clothes are often an effective means of doing this, but it can mean different things in different situations. For a freelance writing and marketing job, if you’ve claimed to have a massive client base, you better show up looking like someone with a massive client base. If the position is customer facing, you might need to look more put together than if the position is behind the scenes. If the position is nerdy, maybe you should wear a T-shirt with the periodic symbols for Germanium, Nickel, Uranium, and Sulphur. I don’t know. I’m not a fashion consultant. But I know what I want the person I hire to look like – like they know what they’re doing.
And you know how best to inspire confidence, of course: be confident. The reason Steve Jobs could wear his silly black mock neck every day is because he had confidence in himself. I’ve no doubt that if the woman with whom I began this story wore her cheap outfit with confidence, I’d never have noticed it.
Note: The interviewer should not feel sorry for you.
Keep that in mind next time you’re preparing for an interview. Try on your outfit beforehand and ask yourself if you feel confident and will inspire confidence. If not, go change into something that makes you feel better. It could mean the difference between getting and losing the job.