Interview in Shorts

I have worked with or for large companies like Microsoft, T-Mobile, Wachovia Bank (now Wells Fargo) and Hilton. I have been the interviewer and the interviewee. I have since taken a role with a small, blue-collar company and have come to a startling discovery: We should interview in short and a t-shirt!

OK, maybe not necessarily in shorts and a t-shirt but casual clothes. I know this goes against everything we are taught by articles, in business school, and our parents. The mantra is that we need to look professional, dress for the job we want, or show respect. All of which I agree with but still think interviewing should move to casual wear.

And here is why…

When we dress “professionally” for an interview, we are doing so to impress the interviewer with our appearance. As an interviewer, we have all seen candidates walk in dressed in an expensive suit, with a nice watch, shined shoes, coiffed hair and thought, “This person knows what they are doing.”

That is the problem. We have just allowed our eyes bias the entire interview. We automatically think this person knows what they are doing rather than the correct thought which is, “This person knows how to dress well.” Unless the job they are interviewing for is dressing well, then so far they have not shown us they can do the job. Yet the bias is there.

When I moved to a blue-collar company, I started hiring people who thought a clean shirt was dressing up, and they came to job interviews accordingly. Initially I would mentally disparage them, thinking they should take the interview more seriously. But then I realized I was listening a little harder to what they had to say and challenging them a bit more on the actual skills they would need to do the job. Basically, they had not dressed to impress so I challenged them and myself to make their knowledge impress.

And this should be the basis of most interviews anyway. In an interview, you are trying to find out who is going to help the team, group, company the most. To do that, they are going to need a certain skill set. Usually the ownership of a fancy suit is not one of those skills. Yet I know we often add a bias for those who dress well and mentally eliminate those who do not.

Now I know there is a feeling that being able to present things well is important in all of business. I do not disagree with that. If two ideas are equal, the one with the smoother PowerPoint is going to win out. But this is an easy enough switch to make to the interview process; conduct the first round in casual clothes and have them submit a sample PowerPoint later. The suit itself still does not matter.


Trevor Shand, MBA has worked with both large and small companies, focused on helping to use data and fresh insight to grow product, programs and the bottom line.

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