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Dress for Success or Mediocrity?

admin | 15.05.2013

In the midst of my 49th year of life, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always up on the latest fads and trends. My children range in age from 26 to 12 so I have constant reminders of things I’m just clueless about and one of those is most definitely – trendy apparel.

In the midst of my 49th year of life, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always up on the latest fads and trends. My children range in age from 26 to 12 so I have constant reminders of things I’m just clueless about and one of those is most definitely – trendy apparel.

After reading a post on LinkedIn by Dave Kerpen entitled, “How to Dress for Success Today” and viewing the three “under 30” models portrayed for the post, I had to ponder for a moment if my 18 year old knows something I don’t. My moment of pondering was VERY short lived. (Perhaps you may want to search LinkedIn for Mr. Kerpen’s article and his bio photo before further reading this post.)

As a seasoned executive search consultant, my job description includes routine engagement with successful managers and leaders from all over the globe. One of the more noticeable details I pay attention to is how people dress when they’re knowingly engaged in dialogue about their credentials. I’m NOT talking about the last minute and unprepared “I’m in your area and let’s meet at Starbucks for a quick exploratory conversation about a search assignment I’m working on”. I’m talking about those times when the person has more than a 24 hour notice that we’ll be speaking via Skype or face-to-face.

Most of the people I speak to in my line of work are happily employed and are not looking for their next role and logic therefore dictates that the burden of impressing would rest solely upon me. However, with successful people that’s not the case. Successful people know that an opportunity to discuss their track record of success is an opportunity to reinforce their value proposition to the market for talent as well as gain valuable insights into current opportunities. Successful people understand that to be taken seriously, one has to represent oneself in a manner befitting.

In fairness to Mr. Kerpen, he did warn readers that his post may be controversial and I would certainly agree that I found it to be so. He seemed to be addressing his post to the 1.8 million college graduates set to graduate this month and it’s my opinion that he’s doing them a great disservice to advise them to launch into job search mode in untucked shirts and orange sneakers.

I allow that there are numerous exceptions to formal attire. Take a tour of most any of the technology or Internet campuses in Silicon Valley and you will be hard pressed to find a suit anywhere. In fact, one well known organization espouses the health benefits of going barefoot to work. I’m envious but the fact is that these employers represent a very small slice of the total employment market.

Mr. Kerpen does provide good advice in telling readers to research the company culture prior to determining what to wear to an interview. We do the same when we advise candidates prior to interviewing with our client employers and occasionally we get hiring managers that request candidates wear business casual attire to the interview; but I emphasize the word “occasionally”. It’s not the rule. In these instances, it’s usually because the industry is industrial or technology oriented. And, I’m sure if we worked in the creative arts space, it would most likely be the norm.

It’s our experience that most of the time, hiring managers want to see candidates in a suit and tie. Not a sport coat and tie, not a suit without the tie; but a full-on suit and tie with proper shoes that have been shined and properly cared for. It’s an interview folks! How a person dresses for an interview speaks to the person’s attention-to-detail, sense of taste and style and to the more astute hiring managers – many other things this post can’t do justice to.

Mr. Kerpen appears to portray people who wear suits and ties as the kind of people that would show up every day in a suit and tie. I, for one am elated that that’s not true. Those that know me, know that I take no pleasure in donning a suit and tie. I average suiting up about 5 or 6 times per month and I have friends and clients from managers to the C-suite that do the same. The remainder of the working month is in business casual attire and if I know I have a day without meeting anyone, I could be found in jeans. The point I’d like to make is that the suit and tie is not dead. High performing people in virtually every discipline in the modern working world need to possess the requisite style and decorum to represent their organization in the utmost manner when needed.

Dressing for mediocrity on the other hand is not without its merits. Jeans and t-shirts are comfortable. Not having to dry clean anything saves unnecessary expense. No need to press anything translates into time efficiencies. But in the laws and dynamics of supply side economics, when mediocrity is everywhere, why pay top dollar for it?

Warren Carter is an executive search consultant with ExeQfind.  Warren is passionate about helping clients from all over the world find the talent they need to lead and manage their organizations in the US and Mexico.   He enjoys the challenges inherent in matching people that both meet client’s needs as well as them being compatible with the culture of the organization.  Warren can be reached at (619) 921-1795