Imagine biking to a job interview through the swamp-like humidity of Portland in the summertime. You’re wearing a vegan t-shirt that fits you more tightly than it should, thanks to your alterations (cutting up the seam, removing fabric, re-sewing). Across your chest, you’re sporting a sling backpack fashioned from an old canvas dropcloth. Your feet are showing through holes in your shoes. Your beard is unruly, your hair unwashed. Your neck tattoos are slathered in sweat. You walk into the interview.
The hiring managers regard you like you’re manna from heaven. You get the job.
This happened to a friend of mine, who I’ll call Ian. Ian usually picks up painting/drawing/design gigs online, but decided to interview for a “real job” illustrating medical pamphlets.
He claims he got the job because his image was consistent with what they expected of a 21st century artist – earthy, DIY, nonconformist. From what I heard, the 10-minute interview following his entrance was irrelevant, conducted as a formality.
When you’re hiring for a position (in this case, illustrator) that’s so completely outside your normal realm (in this case, healthcare), I’m sure it’s hard not to be impressionable. Maybe you don’t even know what practical criteria to use. But what if you knew that Ian arrived sweaty and dressed down for that very reason? That he knew he gave off an artists’ aura and thus nixed the button-down? That his free-spirited look was actually calculated?
Not changing out of hipster attire is indeed as much of a choice as saying, “I need to iron creases into my best linen slacks.” In my opinion, whatever is worn to an interview is calculated, no matter the industry or end result. Nowadays candidates are just trying to stand out from the crowd, and "looking the part" is the in-person equivalent of innovating your resume or having a relevant social media presence. Dressing to reflect your industry certainly makes you more memorable than wearing generic business attire. But the advantages may be hit-or-miss.
Apparently, image profiling runs rampant in the tech world, too. Upstart tech companies feel that a candidate is missing a key component if he or she isn’t sporting a local band tee or discussing the fine distinctions between obscure micro-brews.
Now, you could lump all of this under the guise of hiring for culture. But I'm sure you've all been surprised by a candidate whose image "conflicted" with his or her skills or personality ... right?