Dressed for Success

I work for the City of Little Rock and recently, my department did some hiring. The jobs being hired for attract younger applicants. For the last couple of weeks I’ve seen young people come in for interviews and they look to be anywhere between 17-20 years old. It’s been interesting to see the range of dress. Some have come very formal and others look like their heading to the gym right after the interview. I don’t judge it because after the military I began to see uniforms and work clothing in a very different way.

Obviously, everybody wears a uniform in the military. It’s supposed to be seen as a sign of discipline when one carry’s themselves in a clean well kept uniform. Discipline that will then carry over to the job itself. However, the number of soldiers I knew who had well groomed faces and well kept uniforms while being physically out of shape and drinking away their weekends is too numerous to count. During my time in the service I began to question a lot of the things we consider to be indicative self-discipline, particularly, shaving and uniforms. There was a saying we had, “A turd is still a turd, even when you dress it up.”

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. With out a lot of time to make judgement on character, someone’s dress in an interview is one of the things that necessarily becomes a distinguishing factor among candidates. What is interesting to think about now is the fact that I actually used to think that a person was better prepared for a job than I was if their formal interview dress was better than my own. I had this feeling that what you wear is somehow indicative of your capability to self-regulate and accomplish the mission. At least, that’s what I thought at the time.

The reality is, my uniform was a bit wrinkly sometimes because I felt that getting complete sleep and a solid workout was more important to my overall performance as a soldier than ironing uniforms. Even now, when I go to job interviews they are usually for jobs that involve some level of physical activity. I wear a collared shirt and more formal athletic shoes. It’s much different from the suit and tie I thought I had to wear. Part of the reason I do this is to show my physique. I think it shows discipline more so than the clothes themselves and it shows a physical readiness for the job. More than this, with age has come awareness and confidence in communicating the value that I can bring to a particular job role and knowing what roles to apply for. Which brings me back to the young people I saw coming in to interview…

I personally feel like wearing button-up shirts and dress shoes to interviews as a must, is an antiquated idea but it’s certainly still acceptable and still expected depending on some job roles. And there is a such thing as too relaxed or out of context. If you come to an interview for an administrative role at an office in a cut off shirt, you’re probably not getting a call back for that job. Everything in between these too extremes might be seen as risk/reward. You can wear sweats to your interview but be ready to interview and practice answers to questions and visualize what work in that company might involve and how you can help solve problems in that environment. You can spend time and money getting a great business suit together but be aware that it’s no guarantee that anyone will take you seriously for a job they have. I guess this is something that I would hope we are communicating to young people starting their working lives. Finding a job can be an arduous process and having authentic well thought out reasoning behind how you approach the process rather than rigid programmatic tactics, is important in my opinion.

To be transparent, what’s really got me thinking about this is the fact that I actually enjoy my current job. I’ve been working for 22 years. I’ve never been fired from a job. I’ve never been written up at a job. I’ve never been a disciplinary problem at a job. My former employers have always been sad to see me leave jobs. Until now, I’ve never had a job that I enjoyed. I’ve always been a hard worker and one that was very serious about following through on my commitments at work but until know I’ve never had a job that I liked. I guess part of me says, “If I’m going to come to work on time and work hard doing something that I don’t enjoy and even dread in some cases, can I at least keep my facial hair? Can I keep my $300-400 dollars that I would have to spend on a business suit and shoes that I’m probably never going to wear again?”

I think I’ve felt this way since I was 16 years old. Of course you could look at it another way: somebody doesn’t want to wear a suit and tie to an interview but they do it anyway. That says something. Again, I suppose it’s all in the risk you are willing to tolerate.


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