Sunday, May 2, 2010

"I Wouldn't Dress Like This on a Real Interview"

It is time people started dressing better for work.  They don't have to wear suits and ties, but they should look nice enough to be acceptable anywhere.

A few years ago, I had a summer intern. She went to Duke and grew up in Charleston, SC. She came to work in either a skirt and blouse or a casual dress. One day, just after a candidate left after an interview, she asked if she could speak to me. She wanted to know if the way some people dressed to come see me was acceptable. The person who had just left my office was an account manager and had been wearing cut-off jeans, sneakers with no socks and a tee shirt. In fairness, it was a summer Friday. The intern’s follow-up comment was appropriate: “My daddy would skin me alive if he thought that I went on an interview dressed like that, even on a summer afternoon.”

I told her I agreed that wearing cut-offs was unacceptable. I also told her that many candidates don’t think that seeing a recruiter is a “real” interview. I see many atrociously dressed people.  Some desperately out of work. Many volunteer to me that they would dress differently on a real interviwe when seeing a company about a job. (I find that amusing since, what many people who come to see a recruiter don’t understand, is that a recruiter interview may be far more real and important to their career than any individual company interview. After all, recruiters work for multiple clients. Chances are the recruiter will be around a lot longer than any individual one might interview with corporately. A good recruiter can be with someone for the bulk of their career. But I digress from my point.)

When I was a kid, I was taught to dress in a suit and tie and for the office. My dad always said that a little formality would make me feel better about myself and my work. I don’t dress that way much anymore.  I started my career in a suit and a tie, then I downgraded to sport jackets and a tie.  A few years ago I dropped the tie. Now I rarely wear a sport jacket.  But I still feel better about myself when I am wearing slacks and a button down shirt than when I am dressed even more casually. And I always wear a sports jacket when seeing clients.  While we accept the notion that business has become casual, there should be a distinction between work wear and weekend or beach wear. The old expression, “Dress for Success”, still applies. It just means dressing nicely and appropriately for the occasion.

Ad agencies have become very casual. Some of the digital agencies are even more so. But that does not excuse coming in dressed for a Sunday summer picnic. There is casual and then there is casual.

It is perfectly acceptable to wear jeans – if they are clean and pressed and not torn. I had lunch with one of my favorite senior executives two weeks ago. He is an agency president. He was wearing jeans, an open shirt and a suit jacket. He looked great and he looked like an executive.

Dressing well is good for business. And it is good for one’s head. Even in the most casual places, it is interesting to notice that most male senior executives still wear dress shirts and, even if they are wearing jeans, they have a sports jacket or suit top behind their door. Women executives still mostly wear skirts or slacks and a blouse – or jeans and a jacket, as well. There is no reason to wear schleppy clothes to the office during the week. Dressing well  is a sign of respect for your company and it earns respect from those around you.  It could be argued it is also a sign of self-respect.

In advertising, perhaps if people dressed better, clients might respect their agencies more.

I would love your opinion.


  1. I think it's an important point that dressing well is a sign of respect for your company - not just your business, but the people around you. That's not always articulated that way and it makes perfect sense.

    I recently got wind of a very senior executive being dissed by a client as looking disheveled. They devised a negative impression of him based solely on that. Even if the agency culture is accepting of flip flops and baseball caps, we should remember that we're in service to clients who might feel differently.

  2. I agree with your comments. I also feel that if you wear a "full suit, including a tie" for an interview, people think of you as "old school." Translation, "old."

    Your comment about the client is spot on as well. As an agency person, even more, an account person, you still need to respect your clients work conditions and styles. In some ways, "clothes do make the man."

  3. If you look like a duck and quack like a duck, guess what? You're a duck. You once gave me great advice-it never hurts to dress like your boss...

  4. I agree with you. But as a creative if I wore decent clothes, I'd be kicked out of the club.

    For the first fifteen years of my career I put on slacks and a shirt when I saw the client. When I was CCO, I did the same. Now, jeans and clean is my rule.

  5. I couldn't agree more -- I remember working for someone years ago who believed agency people should always dress a notch better than their clients, and who said that when you're asking clients to approve your recommendations or spend their money, you should dress for the part. Alas, I fear we've lost this principle with the new generation coming into the business.

  6. @Geo I'm a creative too. I don't think that decent clothes means wearing a suit. It means...decent. I hate to admit it, but I think I'd get the impression that a kid with a hot portfolio showing up in cut-off shorts will be a big pain in my ass.

    Paul's piece, from a recruiter POV is really interesting because it's really not about decorum, it's about casting.

  7. PG you really hit it. I have always felt that how you dressed was all about "your brand." My motto..."always look better (dress better) than the client."

    An agency president

  8. Dress for success should also apply to wearing appropriate shoes. Summer is almost here and everyone will be wearing open toe shoes, flip flops or sandals. I can't tell you how many times I hear comments like "she needs a pedicure" or "those flip flops look dirty and disgusting".

  9. Bravo! This has been one of my "what is wrong with people" issues. And it's gratifying to see all these positive comments.
    (I like your digression...how do people not realize that the recruiter is the one who can get you in the door?)
    Call me old-fashioned (not old), but I've always enjoyed dressing well (not up)as an expression of self respect and respect for my clients. Yes, it is part of your personal brand!and can add to your effectiveness in building relationships with your clients. This may surprise you, but in Europe people are less hung up on formal rules, there is no "dress code", people dress casually but generally with a sense of propriety. So I wore great Jeans and a blazer to client meetings years ago. Funny enough, clients kind of expected agency people to dress more "hip". When a creative director showed up in a formal suit and tie they asked if he had lost his creativity!


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

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