What is the right way to dress for work and interviews?
London receptionist 'sent home for not wearing heels'
Remember this headline? It captured the attention of the media in many countries a few months ago, and Nicole Thorp (the receptionist it refers to) started a campaign about what women are expected to wear to work. If you missed it, Nicola is a temp worker who, on her first day at PwC was told to change her shoes to ones with a 2-4 inch heel. When she refused, she was sent home without pay.
Is it legal?
In Australia, the tribunal would determine if a dress code is reasonable, and if so, then is it discriminatory. For example, recently there was case where a man won his claim for discrimination on the grounds of gender because females were allowed to wear earrings at work while he was not.
So, what is appropriate to wear to work?
If you try and google this (as I did) you will find there is still quite the debate! I liked this article from Inc which although doesn’t give any definitive answers, does suggest that the “right” dress code differs by profession.
For example, I remember when we were scouting out day care centres and at one of the centres, the Director was wearing rubber thongs. Now, I love comfort a much as the next person, but it really put me off the centre because the most senior person at the Centre was dressing like she was going to the beach with no thought to the potential Health and Safety concerns. (Maybe I’ve just been in HR too long, but footwear like that is just asking for something to be dropped on it!)
Pictures have also been doing the social media rounds of a woman (not in Australia) who was told her headscarf was unprofessional, so she started going to work in CosPlay as that wasn’t against the dress code( pictures are here: ). I sure don’t recommend this as a way to get your point across! It does, however, show that dress codes don’t mean an awful lot when they can be interpreted in so many different ways.
Generally speaking, you should always be neat and tidy, and start a job wearing an outfit a little bit more on the formal side. (so women, closed toed shoes; men you should have a tie).It will quickly become obvious by looking around you what the “norm” is for the office.
My other observation is that the old adage of “dressing for success” is true. I find there are particular areas of the corporate world (like IT employees) where people are more likely to dress very casually. Although this may make it easy to roll out of bed and get to work in the morning, it does impact on other’s perceptions of you. Rightly, or wrongly, if you come to work every day in your shabby jeans and t-shirt, it becomes hard for others to take you seriously if you do try and go for that promotion down the track. Obviously the overall corporate culture comes into play here, so it is important to look around at the people doing the jobs that you want to do some day and take cues from the way they dress.
It can also be a mindset
Have you ever been on leave from work for an extended time, or worked from home, and found that you were more productive when you "dressed the part"? There are loads of articles that suggest that although it is tempting to stay in our pyjamas all day, we get much more done by dressing nicely. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, talks about how when she is not feeling very creative she goes and dresses up like she would to invite a secret lover. She showers, shaves, wears a nice dress, make up and perfume, and then finds that she has invited creativity in and is able to write again!
What to wear to an interview ?
Probably more important than what to wear each day to work, is what is appropriate to wear to an interview? Is a suit required? Nail polish a go or a no? Open toed shoes? Ties? How much make up?
"Interviews are the make or break. It comes down to a mix of two things; keeping your personal style (there’s no point trying to be someone you’re not!), and secondly presenting in a professional manner and looking sharp. I have interviewed hundreds of applicants for positions ranging from entry level right through to CEO. I don’t believe there’s a difference in how one presents in regards to the role they interview for.
Speaking from experience and from my time in recruitment, perception is key matched with skills and expertise. How you look in those first 30 seconds will set the scene for the interview! In particular I work with a lot of mums returning to work. It can be quite a leap for those who have been out of the work environment for 12 months + and dressing for interview can feel quite foreign to them! My biggest tip to my clients is to get dressed as if you were going to an interview, but instead tee up a coffee with a friend and get used to your new look! This way come interview time it will feel like second nature.
My top 5 must haves for an interview:
Suit (tie for men, shirt/ top for ladies) ; it’s ok to lose the jacket as the interview starts, it’s important to feel comfortable as well, so just slip it onto the back of the chair
Smoking is a killer, obviously it’s your choice to do this, however ensure your clothes are smoke free and don’t smoke before an interview! I had a candidate smoke well over an hour before interview and I could still smell it on them!
Nail polish is fine; always a debate on this one, but the reality is if it’s worn well and looks great then wear it with confidence; it can also show pride in yourself!
Shoes must be polished, closed or open toe, but ensuring they are smart and nails done
Hair pulled up in a pony or neat bun, hairspray will be your best friend!