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.


See also:

How to shine during a telephone interview

Interview tips from the Toronto Academy of Acting

The 5 most common interview questions (and how to answer them like a boss)


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