Skip to content Skip to navigation

Please Don't Wear a "Members Only" Jacket to an Interview...EVER!

February 15, 2009
by Tim Tolan
| Reprints

A few months ago, as I was conducting a search for a "C" level executive for a very well known healthcare organization. Let's just say it’s a marquis name OK? The initial interviews were done by phone and then followed up with either a video interview or an in-person interview with each candidate and myself - depending on scheduling. This is done for a variety of reasons including to really give the search consultant a better feel for each candidate being considered. Clearly this was a very prestigious client I was working for. One might assume that any candidate competing for this position with this institution would naturally put his or her best foot forward. Well...maybe not:-) Are you ready for this? Here we go…

I scheduled the in-person interview over breakfast (my partner in crime Gwen Darling touched on this subject last year in her blog) to see the other side of this star candidate. Breaking bread with a candidate can tell me a lot! He was prompt and on time when he arrived. However, Mr. GQ decided to wear a Members Only jacket to the interview so he could display his knowledge of "dress for success". What? A Members Only jacket? I wanted to say to him - "are you kidding me" What were you thinking? Or maybe, ‘How’s that working for you”?

The sad part is that he had great skills and matched most of the job specifications to a T. Here's the problem: He made the choice to dress casually for a very important interview for a very well known healthcare organization and – a great job. His business acumen led me to believe that he did not give much thought to what he should wear. C’mon! His decision making on what to wear really came into question here. I coached him about his attire and then, like Simon on American Idol – I had to let him know that he would not be going to the next round. It was painful – but it was the right call.

I always recommend to all of my candidates to dress appropriately when going on a face-to face interview. Suit up…Period. Usually a dark or grey suit – they never go out of style. It’s always safe, it’s always smart and it just makes good business sense. Although we, as a country are still in somewhat of a "business casual dress" mode in many work environments, don't take that chance when you are interviewing for a very high level "C-level" position - with the potential employer OR the search consultant.

Dumb move - just plain dumb! When in doubt - suit up!

Topics

Comments

I love the Bee Gees!!

Tim Tolan,
What I think is interesting is the professional level of this individual. It would be one thing for someone interviewing for a clerical position not to dress up for an important interview (though even there, it would depend on what was involved), but someone at this level should know that it's always best to dress "up" and also on the slightly conservative side whenever in doubt, unless one is specifically requested to dress a certain way, and then in that case, one should follow such instructions to a tee.
In my past lives, I've interviewed many job candidates and could relate some fascinating examples of inappropriate presentation from my own experiences. But I have to say, I've never had anyone show up for an interview in a Members Only jacket! (Plus, was this guy stuck in the 1970s/early 1980s, or what...?!) Thanks for the very interesting anecdote, and your reaction to it!
Mark

Tim. I guarantee you some of the people who do the type of thing you described above think they are showcasing their individuality, a lack of conformity, that is charming to others. They think, "only someone really talented would have the nerve not to wear a stuffy suit."

I find this attitude foolish. As you know better than anyone, those hiring (or recruiting) usually have a number of candidates to see. In the first rounds, at least, they are actively looking for a way to weed people out so their pile of prospects gets smaller and smaller. They eventually have to get down to one, of course!

Why people decide to take stupid risks and allow themselves to be easily tossed aside is beyond me. I absolutely agree with you that these things, which some might call superficial, are sound reason to move on to other candidates. Knowing when to take risks, and express oneself, will be critical at that level. The individual you describe made it a point of showing you he is not ready, and probably never will be.

The Bangalore angle is interesting... The answer is we do have to turn candidates down - and for a variety of reasons. We are paid a fee to source, vet, screen and to test candidates based on the job or the client requirements. If a candidate fails to meet the requirements we have to let them know the job is not a good fit. I usually try to motivate, encourage - but let them know why so they can benefit from the experience. And...it IS very awkward at times but that is the role we play. Here's the good news. We often will let a candidate know they are not a fit for one job and call them a month or so later for a different job where their skills are a better fit. Great questions!

"Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes" ?

Anthony - you are exactly on point here. Why would anyone being recruited for a C-level job show up to an interview looking like they are on their way to an Eagles concert? C'mon!

I just don't get it! And your point about them showing that they are not ready to lead is spot on! It was a easy decision for me as that was NOT what I was expecting. I was actually shocked that he decided to go "casual". A real non-starter for me.

Tim. This is the part of your post I find especially interesting. "I had to let him know that he would not be going to the next round. It was painful — but it was the right call." Wow. I guess I never realized that a recruiter sometimes has to turn someone down. That must be awkward. Do you try and salvage some semblance of a relationship while doing it? Do you say something like, "Sorry, this CIO job isn't for you. But there's a programming gig in Bangalore that's right up your alley!"

I would not dress up to meet a recruiter. I would expect the recruiter to know their business and try to get me in the job I am qualified to do, and advise me to get very dressed up for the actual interview, or to dress casual for another interview. Your job is to know the candidate and the employer. You should not be predjudiced about the clothes an employee wears. I would rather have a smart qualified person in a Members Only jacket that an unqualified stiff in a suit working for me anytime.

Mark:
You are right - it's always smart to take a conservative approach in any important interview. I was actually pleased that he did not wear his Bee Gees disco platform shoes to complement is chosen attire:-)

Tim Tolan

Senior Partner, Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice

@@TimTolan

http://sanfordrose.net/thetolangroup/

To help readers cope with the shortage of skilled healthcare IT workers, Tim Tolan’s blog...