Why’d you wear that?

I recently had a chance to catch up with some of my favorite local HR friends and let me just go on record now, that doesn’t happen enough! After catching up on other areas of life we did the usual: swapped weird stories, dissected everything around the one employee we can’t seem to make happy, and talked about our hiring woes.

A couple of the people in this group work at the same place and these two shared a fun story about their most recent hiring process which included interview faux pas. This one was a dress faux pas and as I sat with a look of sheer horror painted on my face while listening to them describe this terrible outfit choice for an interview, I remembered I have my own, “interview dress code violation.”

Listen, I tell the story of how I got into HR and Talent Management to every new crowd or client I get, but I usually leave out some of the details. Totally not on purpose because it just occurred to me last week that I’ve been skipping this part of the story. So here goes…

The day I interviewed with a staffing company (having no idea what I was getting into or what kind of job they would send me to) I was desperate. I was young and had been in Alabama for two whole months at that point and hadn’t landed a single job despite my best efforts. I always joke that employers could probably “smell the Arkansas” on me so they didn’t want to hire me. This was back in 2006, which happens to be the last time our college football team beat both Alabama and Auburn, today employers would probably just take pity on my Arkansas self and throw me some type of bone.

I digress.

So, I’m desperate. I need a job or I’m going to lose my mind. My then only boyfriend (now husband) had three jobs so like, we were fine $$ wise, but my sanity was absolutely in question. His sanity was probably in question too now that I think about it, I mean he did take me up there – KICKING AND SCREAMING – to apply. I was so stubborn I didn’t think I needed a staffing company to find me a job, I could find my own job, blah blah blah. I walk in and the lady at the front desk asks how she can help me. I tell her I’m here to apply and she hands me this thick packet of paper. Its 2006 and they just handed me a 20-page application, we are not off to a good start. She says “Do you want to fill it out here or take it home with you?” Friends, I knew if I took this application home, I wasn’t bringing it back so I quietly said “I’llfillitouthere.” She points me to a room to sit in while I complete this monstrous packet and the whole time I’m thinking “what am I doing here? What is happening? What if they want me to do assembly work? I would be terrible at assembly work. I’ll get fired; I won’t last one full shift of assembly work.”

I return to the front desk with a completed application. She says “Ok, follow me.” She plops my application down in front of the office manager who is eating a bag of popcorn and tells me to have a seat. YALL! I WAS IN AN INTERVIEW AND I DIDNT EVEN KNOW IT.

 

interview ready

This interview was so calm, so methodical, and every other question was followed with a couple of bites of popcorn. I’m still thinking “what is happening?” over and over again. By the end of the interview the office manager asks if I want to work in the office. I said I’d take it, a little too excitedly and that totally caught her off guard, but I felt relief from here to heaven that she didn’t offer me an assembly job and I just couldn’t contain myself. We discuss the details and work out my start date (the very next morning because I was tired of sitting in our empty apartment) and she says “one more thing… you’ll need to wear something less revealing in the office.”

So, here’s the part of the story I could’ve told you earlier… that same day I had drove myself to Huntsville and interviewed at Hooters. When you interview for Hooters, you dress the part (I think). I had a tight, black, low-cut top on that proved I was qualified for the job. When I interviewed for my first job in the recruiting realm, I was dressed like I was interviewing for a job at Hooters because I had.

I grabbed at my shirt when she said this, smiled awkwardly and said “of course, absolutely” and carried my red faced self out the door (only to discover that my sweet boyfriend had left me there and I needed to go back inside and use the phone to call him and  find out why he had left me there to relish in my tight, low-cut shame).

If that office manager had made a decision based on how I was dressed, she would’ve missed an opportunity to hire someone who became one of the best recruiters and closer at the company. She also would’ve missed an opportunity to hire someone who was sometimes the biggest pain in the neck she had, but I like to think my excellent numbers and customer service skills outweighed most of that. Some issues you can easily manage, like not the best choice in tops for an interview, but some issues also don’t have anything to do with how well a person will work, like not the best choice in tops for an interview.

inappropriate

If she would’ve said I couldn’t do that job because I dressed the wrong way for the interview, there is no telling what my career would’ve ended up being. I know it wouldn’t have been Hooters though, because they never called me again.

It’s casual day

I’ve always thought that a dress code for the workplace was a little archaic, but I suppose I’m just progressive like that. If you don’t have a uniform does it really matter all that much if your employees dress how they want? I guess there is one in every crowd that messes up that flexibility: “oh, you mean a spaghetti strap tank and pajama pants are frowned upon here?” You’re an idiot ma’am.

I work in a corporate environment which means corporate attire. I kind of bend the rules and wear a lot of dresses with cardigans over them and I keep a pair of sanuks under my desk in case I need to make a mad dash across campus to save someone’s life, because let’s face it those four-inch heels would only slow me down in that scenario. I know enough to know that if I have a meeting with an executive or a presentation to give that I need to slip into my suit jacket that hangs on the back of my door before I make one last check for lip gloss on my teeth and stride out like the successful meeting attendee that I am, but occasionally we get a treat. That treat is known as casual day.

casual day

Not the kind of casual day that dares you to wear a Hawaiian shirt (shout out to my dad, this man digs Hawaiian shirt Friday and I love him for that!), but the kind of casual day where you get to wear blue jeans to work. Unfortunately I’m the kind of girl who has two sets of clothing: office clothes and workout clothes. Casual day (blue jean friday) stresses me out to no end. I feel awkward in jeans, yet I own a pair to have on hand just for this special day. I never know which shoes to wear with my jeans because all I have is high heels and tennis shoes. High heels make me feel awkward weird dressy in jeans, like when we were 18 and would go out clubbing on friday nights (ew, I know). Tennis shoes make me feel like I’m going to go work in the yard, which I don’t do. I refuse to wear flip-flops to the office (c’mon now, flip-flops are gross), even though they are surprisingly allowed on casual day. If I skip casual day and wear normal work clothes everyone assumes I forgot it was casual day and I have to answer that question all day long and that’s annoying. If I wear casual clothes, I feel frumpy and I don’t do my best work when I feel frumpy. Maybe dress code policy should encourage employees to dress in a way that’s conducive to the work they need to produce, yet presentable in case of any customer or executive interaction. Is that too simple?