When the only reason you didn’t get the job is — you
WFFH: Know the line between casual and unprofessional
Writer’s note: This post was originally published on Medium’s “We Need to Talk” on September 8, 2021. (“Work Fluently From Home,” or WFFH, is a series within “Window Shopping” geared toward entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, gig workers and startups.)
I was so excited to start this blog team. There would be hard local news, parenting advice, spirituality, food, entertainment, relationships and fashion. It was the kind of content that was missing from our traditional newspaper, and would add some extra flavor for our younger readers who didn’t even know how to fold a newspaper into sections.
I was especially excited to meet one of our applicants, a young man from New Jersey who loved to cook. He had mouth-watering ideas to cover in our blog series, and I was ecstatic to hire him. Our president wanted to meet him before he was brought aboard. I already knew his writing was dope, so this hiring process would be a shoo-in. When the front desk receptionist called me to the front, all my teeth were showing as I marched out of my office to meet him. But slowly my smile fell, spying his white T-shirt, baggy jeans and gym shoes. He looked like he was headed to the grocery store, not a job interview.
I knew he could never meet the president dressed like this, specifically my president, who I’d never seen in the same suit twice for more than a year. Freshly tinted glasses. Occasional hats. Shiny shoes. I’d never even seen the man’s car be dirty in the middle of a Chicago winter. He was the kind of guy who you’d play the Isley Brothers to if he was in a movie scene.
But this food writer was good. By the end of the interview, he’d won me over with his personality. I knew the president was in the office that day, but I opted out of the two meeting. I asked the applicant to please go home and come back in office attire. He apologized, explaining since he thought it was a work-from-home job that his attire didn’t matter. I told him regardless of that, always come dressed like you want the job. Dress to impress. (I’d made this mistake, too, for a law firm job in my college years. In my defense, I warned the hiring manager that I was already downtown and wearing a Nautica tennis shorts set. She told me to come in anyway. After the first interview, she asked me to come back again for a follow-up just to make sure I had work attire. I got the job, and she wanted to re-hire me the next summer, too.)
A few days later, the food blogger came back at a time when I knew the president would be in again. I was startled when the president rushed past him and toward the door. There was a publishing issue he had to resolve. I mentioned that the applicant was there. The president doubled back, looked down at the applicant’s shoes all the way to his haircut, nodded at me and said, “OK.” Soon after, the food blogger was hired. The president never even asked his qualifications; he just asked me if I thought he could do the job. But I knew if he’d seen this young man dressed like he was headed to the corner store, he’d have escorted him to the door, never to enter again.