Top job candidate was sloppy, didn't hew to gender norms, during the interview. Now what?
March 23, 2011 8:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm having a hard time sussing out whether a recent job candidate's informality (and non-adherence to gender norms) should be a major warning sign, eye-rollingly insignificant, or somewhere in between.

This candidate has proven her ability to do the job through her past experience and her demonstrated accomplishments. I also like her, as a person, from what I know about her. Her interests and personality seem different than those of most of the people on my team, and I think that's a good thing - I want to diversify the way we think and approach our jobs.

But when she showed up for the interview I was surprised by how she presented herself. She slouched, was laid back. She wore slacks, a blouse and combat boots - attire that would be OK for every day office wear, but is much more casual than I've seen any female interviewee wear. (Men have successfully interviewed in pressed slacks, a nice button down, and comfortable black shoes.) She answered most of my questions thoughtfully, but didn't try to sell herself. On some questions, like "describe a time you've had a conflict in the office and how you handled it," she seemed stumped and didn't stretch very hard to come up with an answer when it didn't bubble to the top of her mind. Another person who also interviewed this candidate asked about her attitudes about appropriate attendance, and the candidate laughed and said, "Are you kidding? I'm a grown up" - something I might have thought, but that my inner filter would have prevented me from saying in a job interview.

Other people who are evaluating her as a candidate see her casualness as a major warning sign. One fears it might suggest a lack of respect for authority and that I might have to deal with constant challenges and insubordination if I hire her. Another just fears that she's a slob and that if she wears combat boots to a job interview she may wind up wearing sweats and slippers when it's time to come to work. Everyone is harping on the combat boots.

I still like her, and I can't help but think that a lot of these complaints are because she didn't hew to gender norms. She may well be straight, bi or asexual, but I think I picked up butch vibes, which might explain how she dressed. Even if she's not a lesbian, I'm bothered by how much her failure to present as feminine seems to be affecting how she's viewed by others in my office.

At the same time, I do wonder about her judgement when she opted not to play the game. She didn't just wear combat boots - she slouched, she scoffed at questions, she didn't try to sell us on her candidacy. My colleagues whose alarm bells are ringing have a lot more experience with hiring than I do, and I respect their concerns even as I question them. I wonder if I should spend some more time examining my second-tier candidates for somebody who might play the game better or demonstrate a better cultural fit, even if their demonstrated work history is not as strong.

Can you help me interpret this situation? I'd love examples of times when these kinds of issues affected your own hiring decisions, and what happened as a result. Or references to any research or analysis of interview presentation and how it correlates with on-the-job ability. Or explanations of why you might have come across sloppy in an interview.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (84 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
First thing that comes to my mind is references... My brother-in-law had a similar situation with someone he was interviewing, but when he called the guy's 2-3 references, everyone said "yeah, that's bill.... He'll be the best worker you've ever had though.." and it turned out to be true, my brother-in-law couldn't be happier, and if it wasn't for the references, he definitely wouldn't have hired the guy based on his interview.
posted by Glendale at 9:03 AM on March 23, 2011 [27 favorites]

I wish I knew exactly what you meant by combat boots. Like, did she wear a pair of clean Doc Martens, or did she show up in actual paramilitary gear?

Anyhow, I suspect you would do well to defer to your more experienced colleagues' alarm bells -- not because they're right, but because if she's hired and does poorly, the credibility of your opinion will be shot. Worth sticking your own neck out over?
posted by hermitosis at 9:08 AM on March 23, 2011

I can't help but think that a lot of these complaints are because she didn't hew to gender norms

Look, people who don't hew to gender norms have a rough time of it.

But it's not your job to hire someone just because he or she has a hard time getting by in life. Your job is to hire the best candidate for the job, and it sounds as if certain aspects of her personality give you pause.

Were I in your shoes that would be reason enough not to hire her.
posted by dfriedman at 9:08 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree. Check references.

You could be describing me in this - heck, I'm wearing slacks and combat boots right now. She may have good reason not to wear dressy shoes - bad ankles for example in my case. Slouching may be back pain or poor muscle tone in her back, not informality. She may be uncomfortable being more dressed, or not be able to find dress clothes that fit that she can afford.

Scoffing at questions - her answers that you cited don't seem scoffing to me, but rather direct, and to the point answers. Attendance - she is an adult and KNOWS to show up at the office, and is slightly offended that someone would even ask that. If she can't think of an answer, she may not want to fake an answer, for fear you'd think she was lying.

Appearance at an interview isn't everything, and you shouldn't be evaluating her on her appearance if its not an appearance focused job. Would her attitude mesh well with the team? You have her references to check for that.
posted by strixus at 9:09 AM on March 23, 2011 [18 favorites]

I think that as a person who sometimes hasn't "played the game" that this is part of the reason, good or ill. Am I getting hired to do the job or because of a cultural norm? If it's cultural norms you want, look elsewhere.

That being said, perhaps keeping things copacetic is more important, and no shame in that.
posted by josher71 at 9:10 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the references are a good call. I'm a butch lesbian, I generally wear slacks and a button-down to interviews (and either motorcycle boots or my nicer leather Vibrams - I don't own dress shoes.) I slouch like nobody's business. However, I generally seem to interview well, and while the slouching and not being femme isn't going to change if you hire me, the rest of the interview should generally be the tipoff. (And if you don't hire me because I have a buzzcut and questionable taste in footwear, then I don't want to work for you.)

I've got a dear friend and former coworker who, by all appearances, is terrible at interviews. She's gotten feedback from multiple people about this, and has a bitch of a time finding work for people who don't already know her. But the thing is, she's FABULOUS at her job. Everyone who has worked with her would hire her in a heartbeat. People who pass over her in interviews are seriously missing out.

So yeah, ask for - and call - references. Try to get some people who will do more than verify her employment. If you can find an informal reference - an acquaintance who works at one of her prior jobs, but not one she necessarily gave you - that's sometimes even better.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:10 AM on March 23, 2011 [18 favorites]

A woman's ability to know what to wear does not necessarily indicate anything about her work ethic. In fact, a person not interested in such trappings might be more apt to focus on important things, like doing one's job.

What kind of field are we talking about? This wouldn't be at all out of place in some tech interviews I've been involved in. In fact, I've seen straight-shooting ("Are you kidding? I'm a grown up") brought up as a good trait, as it could indicate that the candidate isn't going to beat around the bush.

Check references, of course, but I don't think it's as clear cut as many people might assume.
posted by theraflu at 9:11 AM on March 23, 2011 [12 favorites]

I’m confused about where gender norms come into this. Could you elaborate more?

A man wearing combat boots would also have been inappropriate. Scoffing at questions and slouching from a man would also have been questionable behavior.

I’m assuming all the women you interviewed didn’t twirl their hair their hair and giggle while pondering difficult questions, and show up pink tweed skirt suits and heels.

Is it just the fact that your gaydar is going off? That should not factor into your hiring decision (my opinion, I suppose; laws vary).
posted by thebazilist at 9:11 AM on March 23, 2011 [16 favorites]

Interviews are like first dates, people are on their best behaviour. If she acted like this at an interview I would be worried that she is going to be difficult to handle as an employee as she doesn't appear to fit your corporate culture. This has nothing to do with gender norms and everything to do with avoiding a possibly sloppy employee with attendance problems and a disregard for authority. Its hard to imagine its worth the hassle even if you like her.
posted by saradarlin at 9:12 AM on March 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

The first date analogy is a good one - some people are awful at those too, and it's not a good indication of what actually dating them would be like. If this person is your top candidate, it's worth it to do a little more digging.

(And again, if the butch dyke thing is going to be a problem in your office, then the problem is with your office. I can't stress that enough.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:16 AM on March 23, 2011 [11 favorites]

If she doesn't fit into the corporate culture she won't be a "team player" (even if she is!) and the myriad of other corporatese people use to make the workplace worse than high school. If you're not in a position where you can influence the corporate culture, and it sounds like you're not, I'd go with someone else.

I mean if she had been Reece Witherspoon in her best Martha Stewart outfit coyly answering, "Well I'm an adult, aren't I?" you probably wouldn't interpret that scoffing or subversion. The fact that the rest of the hiring team is so quick to jump on this means that everything she does, if you hire her, will be viewed as if she's some sort punk-anarchist bent on destroying the company from within.
posted by geoff. at 9:19 AM on March 23, 2011 [11 favorites]

I am a butch/genderqueerish woman. If I could afford an alternative I would not wear combat boots to an interview, but ...the interview behavior is probably more the issue than the shoes; she may not have had better shoes and figured that black, polishable leather boots whose tops would be covered by pants were her best option. She might have had men's shoes (like, wingtips, which would have been my choice if I had no loafers) but thought they'd be worse.

References are the answer. Call several; ask detailed questions about her work ethic and ability to get along with others.

It is absolutely 100% true that women who do not gender-conform are often pre-emptively labeled as having "problems with authority" because femininity is read as submissive/pliant/tractable etc. Our unwillingness to dress to be sexually attractive to straight men/sexually similar to feminine women gets read as a challenge, disrespect or a sign of instability. Thank you for considering this in more depth.
posted by Frowner at 9:19 AM on March 23, 2011 [97 favorites]

she slouched, she scoffed at questions, she didn't try to sell us on her candidacy.

So apparently she's not very invested in getting the job. What you're describing is disrespectful behaviour.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:20 AM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Some people would think her approach is more honest and truthful; when asked if she had good attendance, rather than being a total fake suck-up, "oh yes, sir, dutifully report on time every day, sir," she laughed at the semi-silly question and said "Of course, I'm a grown-up!" And... combat boots under slacks? Unless you're hiring for a specific kind of footwear model, that sounds like a plus to me - why are heels or strange dress shoes better under black slacks? And do you even know how hard it is for non-feminine women to find clothes to fit? She probably doesn't wear heels or ballet flats, and women's loafers are ridiculously proportioned. She probably thought that her polished black tie-up boots, under pants, were more appropriate than anything else. Questions like these make me so so so thankful for the generally amazing environment of my workplace.
posted by barnone at 9:22 AM on March 23, 2011 [12 favorites]

At my last job, the entire team interviewed new members, because we all had to work together. We interviewed a woman who had a stellar, stellar resume - had worked in some places that had been industry-leading at the times she'd been there.

What she chose to wear to the interview is pretty eerily similar to what you're describing - a loose, floppy top, pants that are of the dress variety but were ill-fitting, and heavy black shoes. She was offputting to some people because she seemed - for lack of a better word - spastic and awkward, and she was sloppily dressed. But she was enthusiastic and had an amazing work history and her references all said, when called, "Yes, that's Jane. She interviews so poorly, but she's awesome. You should hire her."

References are the only thing you have to go on here, because people's opinions based on a one-time interaction in a high stress situation (interviews are, IMHO by definition high-stress) isn't really enough when people are busy NOT unpacking their invisible backpacks, if you will.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:26 AM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me like she was comfortable with you, knew that you were aware of her accomplishments and capabilities (and thus suitability for the job) and may have taken that comfort a little too far. If she is the right candidate for the job based on skills/prior work/references/etc, hire her. Perhaps mention that her interview gave you pause but because you know her you were willing to extend some leeway. But it won't happen again.

You do say she is the top candidate. So hire the top candidate.

Also, wearing pants and a blouse is not "failing to adhere to gender norms" - I have gone to many interviews in pants! I am a lady! I wouldn't worry so much about her attire.
posted by hepta at 9:27 AM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would be much more concerned about what Dipsomaniac described as disrespectful behaviour than about anything to do with "gender norms" here. However, I have hired candidates who didn't present well in interviews and turned out to be great employees. I agree with those above who suggested careful checking of references.
posted by smilingtiger at 9:28 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nothing you've described sounds remotely sexist. And even if some of it were a bit sexist, there are still plenty of other negatives you've picked up from her that have nothing to do with gender. There's sexism all over the place -- I assume just about everyone is sexist, and this is a huge problem -- but you still have to make decisions in life.

This website is generally very receptive to allegations of misogyny, so if you want positive reinforcement that you're perceiving sexism, you can probably get it here. But the serious question you're facing isn't whether you're exquisitely attuned to subtle sexism that may or may not be going on in job interviews. The blunt, yes-or-no question is: should you hire this candidate?

None of us answering your question were in the room. We are not competent to judge the candidate. I would defer to the judgment of you and everyone else in the room who were able to get a sense of her in person (which is what an interview is for, right?) and who are familiar with all the relevant pros and cons.
posted by John Cohen at 9:30 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Check her references, see if she really knows her stuff, and if you find that she does, I would hire her. Lots of people could use better interviewing and people skills, but are quite good at their jobs.

Also, I don't know what kind of job this is, but I have seen studies that suggest that people in certain technical or creative job roles (designers, engineering fields come to mind) often have mild or undiagnosed issues along the autism spectrum, like Asperger's. Please understand, I am NOT diagnosing her! I'm just tossing out that the kind of job opportunity for which you are hiring may be directly related to the kinds of applicants you will be seeing.

Slouching, attitude, combat boots may just be the protective shield she uses in uncomfortable situations. As she said, "I'm a grown up." If she is, she'll do the job she's hired for to the best of her ability.

Check those references, see if she knows her stuff, and then make the call based on her qualifications, not her posture or wardrobe.
posted by misha at 9:34 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a pretty eccentric and informal person with pretty strange taste in clothes, but when I go into a job interview, I own it. It's like dressing in drag -- you know what the expectation is, and you perform it, knowing full well that no one is going to expect you to look like that every day. Sure you can radiate your own personality, but the ritual of the interview is essentially about communicating to your prospective employer: "I am aware of the signifiers which represent success and ability in this field, and I am able to demonstrate them on cue."

This was her cue. She chose to send a different message. Not a fatal flaw, but it sounds like the people you work with are convinced it's not a good fit. I know you want to introduce change and diversity, but people will be more likely to embrace it if it comes in the form of a person whom they can respect, who also seems to respect them.
posted by hermitosis at 9:35 AM on March 23, 2011 [22 favorites]

Personally, I don't think of job interviews as the place to let my individuality shine. It is the place to make my accomplishments and skills glow, and to use questions (even silly ones) as opportunities to demonstrate why I'm a great candidate and invested in the job interview.

Even if I'm not particularly interested in the job, I always prepare for the interview (do research on the company/position/hiring manager), and take the interview itself very seriously. If nothing else, it is great experience!

Which is why clothes matter. Though my background includes some extremely physical jobs, I wouldn't dream of wearing anything other than professional shoes to an interview. On the list of shoes I wouldn't wear (in addition to combat boots) I'd include:
-peep toe toes
-sling-backs or mules (showing my heels)
-anything that is too flashy or a really bright color.

This is not because I don't like wearing boots, peep toe shoes, or sling-backs. I just wouldn't dream of wearing them to an interview. And part (a BIG part) of every interview is being judged on how well you understand and prepare for the interview. Dressing appropriately is part of that evaluation.

Also, the dismissive/disrespectful comments would give me pause, but before making a final decision I would talk to references.
posted by arnicae at 9:36 AM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Please read this comment 10x over.
It is absolutely 100% true that women who do not gender-conform are often pre-emptively labeled as having "problems with authority" because femininity is read as submissive/pliant/tractable etc. Our unwillingness to dress to be sexually attractive to straight men/sexually similar to feminine women gets read as a challenge, disrespect or a sign of instability. Thank you for considering this in more depth.

Even women wearing PANTS on an interview is often considered unfeminine. In 2011.
posted by barnone at 9:36 AM on March 23, 2011 [42 favorites]

It is interesting that people think the pants are part of it. I don't, and I don't think OP was including the slacks as part of the issue. Personally, I ALWAYS wear pants suits to interviews. They are attractive, well-tailored, and look good on me. I wouldn't wear a skirt suit because a skirt introduces more potential problems than it is worth.

What if the hem is too long/traditional for the hiring manager? Or, conversely, if the hiring manager finds it too short? But mostly it is because there is a decent chance I'll snag something on my car door and end up presenting a less professional appearance than I otherwise would. So though I wear skirts (and pants) to the office, I've never worn a skirt to an interview.
posted by arnicae at 9:40 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been sitting here trying to think of how to respond, being a butch woman, who at a younger age, may have thought that wearing something like Doc Marten's under pants would be a fine choice for a job interview. Coming from this perspective, I can't think of a better response than Frowner's comment.

As a butch woman, I learned a lot time ago that my manner of dress can be a significant issue for other people. But for me? It's so normal that I rarely think about it. The thought that I'm somehow challenging authority? Or that this is some indication that I wouldn't fit in a professional office? Ridiculous. If your coworkers think this is the case, or are harping on her shoes rather than her qualifications, then it's discrimination based on gender nonconformity, plain and simple.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 9:40 AM on March 23, 2011 [16 favorites]

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
"I was once interviewing a woman similar to the person you describe and was similarly hesitant. Everyone of her references spoke highly of her, so I hired her. She DID question workflow and authority at times, but in the end, she did have many useful and intelligent points to make and was an a strong asset to the department. I'd hire her again in a heartbeat.
posted by jessamyn at 9:43 AM on March 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

"attitudes about appropriate attendance" ?

I'm not sure what this means. If asked about this, I'd probably assume it meant something other than "will you try to show up to work regularly" and ask further, unless the person asking it seemed to be taking himself way more seriously than I expected.

Based on what you've written, I like her too.
posted by amtho at 9:43 AM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Let's leave out the clothing issue here for a second. Here's what we know:

* she has great credentials.
* she didn't try to sell herself -- this can be a sign of confidence! It could also be attributable to poor interview skills, or to internalized gender sterotypes (women shouldn't be aggressive, etc.)
* she punted on the question about office conflict. could be poor interviewing skills.
* she laughed in response to the question about office attendence. Well, you weren't there for that, so you don't know what her response actually was. Could have been more surprised/awkward than scoffing. And honestly, a question about attendence is kind of silly for a professional office, unless you have unusual attendance requirements. Again, could be poor interviewing skills.
* she slouched.

None of these things are really terrible, in my opinion, and could be easily outweighed by other factors. Does she have good references? Did you like her otherwise? Etc.

And now here's the important part: What if she had done all of this but was characteristically feminine?
posted by yarly at 9:46 AM on March 23, 2011 [14 favorites]

what matters is if she can do the job well. you seems to think so, and references will back that up or change your view of the situation. as someone who is gender queer and wears ties and vests with pants and boots, instead of clothing that "women" are "supposed" to wear, i appreciate your being more proactive on checking the potential bias of your colleagues.
posted by anya32 at 9:46 AM on March 23, 2011

I just reread your post and it looks like you will be her direct supervisor? In that case, I wouldn't put so much stock in what your colleagues say. Use your own instincts. Check her references and bring her back for a second interview. It would be really silly to forgo the best candidate just because she slouched and wore boots and had poor interview skills, unless you're working in a fashion-forward field or in a job that requires glad-handing and glibness.
posted by yarly at 9:51 AM on March 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

I wore boots to an interview once. This was back when I'd had a lot of more casual or work-at-home jobs and the black boots were literally my nicest shoes. I'd been living on about 15K a year and didn't want to go shopping for a job I wasn't sure I'd get. At the second interview they specifically asked me about the fact that I was dressed casually since I'd be in a public-facing librarian postion. I answered truthfully that I didn't have a lot of "dress up" clothes and that my idea of public library work involved climbing under desks as well as working the reference desk but if the workplace environment was less causual, I could shop an adapt.

That said, I got the job. THAT said, I was sort of miserable there not because of how I dressed but because the work environment was one in which commenting on people's outfits and how they dressed and all manner of public-facing stuff and how it did or did not adhere to social norms was what people talked about a lot. So, the fact that I was casually dressed was a thing. This didn't bother me, but it definitely set my role in the workplace in a way that was okay but weird to me. I can be a little clueless about social norms especially dress-based ones and the weird fit was just that, a weird fit. I was good at my job by most accounts.

So, I hear what you're saying but my read is that you may be reading a little more into the gender aspects of this and ignoring the other warning signs that your team is feeling. Agreeing with other people, check references and if there's a second interview, just ask her. And think before you ask how much of this is because you're truly curious and how much of it is because you think adhering to gender norms is actually something that she'd need to be cognizant of in your workplace. I mean I know you can't say "Hey the women dress like ladies here" but you might want to think about what the existing culture is and how much being outside of it is likely to be a problem in whatever position you're interviewing her for.
posted by jessamyn at 9:53 AM on March 23, 2011 [9 favorites]

At the same time, I do wonder about her judgement when she opted not to play the game.

She's kind of my hero with that response to the attendance question. What an insulting interview question; it's like saying, "Are you too stupid to know that you should tell me you'll come to work on time?"

But I have had the unfortunate experience of working in an environment where "playing the game" occupied the majority of everyone's time. Tactfully responding to passive-aggressive emails, having meetings about perceived insubordination of paranoid supervisors, etc. If this describes your workplace, and I hope for everyone's sake it doesn't, maybe she's not the best candidate.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:59 AM on March 23, 2011 [9 favorites]

So I find this question kind of funny. I work with people here who do everything your candidate did but 10x over.

The real question is what is your workplace like?

I see no problem with her working where I work, but at the same time, I see a lot of problems at all sorts of workplaces.

So really, this question has nothing to do with her and everything to do with your workplace which you've told us nothing about.
posted by GuyZero at 10:00 AM on March 23, 2011

What an insulting interview question

But this is part of interviewing. Be glad that you haven't experienced a so-called "stress interview". I have, and they can be pretty scary unless and until you figure out what game the interviewer is playing.

You can say that it would be fairest to all parties to just ask the questions you want answered and take the interviewee at their word, but frankly, interviewing new people is expensive and it is important to increase your chances of choosing a candidate that will work out. Companies do whatever they think will be effective to try to increase their chances of success, and that often means puzzling, insulting, or flat-out stupid questions.

Maybe part of what they're trying to gauge is how you respond when a customer/client asks you something that you deem insulting. If you get insulted and blow them off, or make fun of the question, it gives them a good gauge for how you'd behave with a real client.
posted by arnicae at 10:04 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I mean I know you can't say "Hey the women dress like ladies here" but you might want to think about what the existing culture is and how much being outside of it is likely to be a problem in whatever position you're interviewing her for.

I really think "existing culture" gets used to cover up (at best) people's personal non-work-related discomfort around social, racial and cultural minorities. So your office has a "culture" in which "women" are supposed to appear conventionally feminine and will not be perceived as team players if they don't, no matter how nice they are or what their track record is. Is that a point of pride for the company or something that is a bit embarrassing?

If your company needs formality, there are many ways for genderqueer folks, butch women and so on to be formal (a nice silk collared shirt and dress pants with calf chelsea boots, for example). We are a normal part of the human race, and many of us have been dressing up for work and play for years.
posted by Frowner at 10:05 AM on March 23, 2011 [19 favorites]

Even if she's not a lesbian, I'm bothered by how much her failure to present as feminine seems to be affecting how she's viewed by others in my office.

This seems to be a problem with others in your office, not with this interviewee.

I think you should separate "not acting in a ladylike manner" with "seeming lack of interest in the position". The former should not matter; the latter, perhaps.
posted by amicamentis at 10:12 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

But this is part of interviewing. Be glad that you haven't experienced a so-called "stress interview". I have, and they can be pretty scary unless and until you figure out what game the interviewer is playing.

I have experienced this as well, and in fact I turned down a second-round interview at that place afterward. I think it's also insulting to be treated this way. I'm coming in for a job interview, not a psych experiment, and guess what, the candidate gets to assess the employer too. This is kind of my point; clearly her response to the interview question says something about her personality. The issues are 1) what exactly does it say, and 2) is that incompatible with what a) this organization is looking for in a candidate for b) this position.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:13 AM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Is that a point of pride for the company or something that is a bit embarrassing?

This is maybe the larger point for exploration here. At my workplace where I felt like a weirdo for not wearing girly shoes, I also felt like a weirdo for not celebrating Christmas, for not wanting to attend after-work holiday parties, and for bringing hummus to a potluck ["What IS that??" was what most people said]. So as part of your larger thinking process, be aware of how much you'd be willing to go to bat for your non-adhering colleague as her superior personally. My issue wasn't so much the not fitting in as much as it was that everyone including my superiors thought it was okay to give me a subtle hard time about this sort of thing. If it was a more hands-off workplace this would not have been a thing. As it was, it was a thing. As her superior, you might have to combat this issue with other co-workers.

Currently I have a job where I wear basically what I want as long as it's clean. One of the IT people I work with is a very butch-presenting woman. No one says anything about it, no one makes comments, no one CARES including her superiors and the people she works with at the school most of whom are more traditional along the spectrum of gender presentation. She does a good job and that's all that matters.

So, there's some larger scale thinking that has to happen possibly. Not only will this woman do a good job in the workplace, but if she's someone who doesn't fit into existing culture [which I agree, can be a bit of a code word for people to be judgey and discriminatory sometimes] is it the culture that will need to change, or her, or something in-between? These are larger meta issues certainly but as someone who is aware of the whole playing field, something you can think about as you proceed.
posted by jessamyn at 10:15 AM on March 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

This could almost be me, minus the combat boots. I'm very relaxed in most interviews, and people who don't get my sense of humor might think I'm flip. (You'd think I'd curb this, but sometimes it slips out.) If she's older than you are, she might have been through these sessions 10,000x before. If you're going to hire her, and supervise her, you'll probably find yourself biting your tongue. Personally, I wouldn't care about any of it, but in certain situations/settings you might have to remind her to act professionally around the grown-ups. Ditto check references.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:17 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Will the people she has to work with welcome her if she presents on the job as she did in the interview? I think that needs to be factored into your decision-making.
posted by Ys at 10:21 AM on March 23, 2011

I wouldn't care about the boots or about the gender norms. However, I would care if a candidate arrived for an interview and didn't seem engaged or show enthusiasm for working with my group. I don't care how qualified someone is, if they don't want to be there it won't matter.
posted by Silvertree at 10:23 AM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

This candidate has proven her ability to do the job through her past experience and her demonstrated accomplishments.
This is the pertinent section, I'd say. As others are saying, I would verify the applicant's resume with references, but the straightforward answer would seem to be going with the applicant who is best suited to the duties of the position. Is the social structure of your office a significant enough factor in the work process that it would override her competency? That's a question no one on here will be able to answer for you - but if coloring outside the lines is going to disrupt your office to the point of affecting productivity, then it's probably the best choice for both you and her to pass her over.

If you do, though, I would personally question the effectiveness of an office culture that requires sacrificing performance for presentation.
posted by ggypsy at 10:25 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Another person who also interviewed this candidate asked about her attitudes about appropriate attendance, and the candidate laughed and said, "Are you kidding? I'm a grown up" - something I might have thought, but that my inner filter would have prevented me from saying in a job interview.

Your inner filter would have prevented you from saying that, because not only is it disrespectful to the point of rudeness, it's ambiguous. Everyone seems to be reading this as "As a grown up, of course I know that I have to be present and on time." Based on everything else you've said, I wouldn't be surprised if she meant, "I am not a schoolchild, and I'm not going to worry about being there 8 to 5 every weekday if I get my work done. Hell, I might miss a day here and there if I feel like it."
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 10:28 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is absolutely why there are second interviews. See if she presents the same way, ask some follow up questions to understand how her personality will fit with the team dynamic.
posted by freshwater at 10:37 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

"Other people who are evaluating her as a candidate see her casualness as a major warning sign. One fears it might suggest a lack of respect for authority and that I might have to deal with constant challenges and insubordination if I hire her. Another just fears that she's a slob and that if she wears combat boots to a job interview she may wind up wearing sweats and slippers when it's time to come to work. Everyone is harping on the combat boots."

Do you work in a place where people are interested in building excellence, in creating amazing solutions to problems, where great ideas are celebrated no matter where they come from, and the goal is to ship amazing products?

Or do you work in a place where the goal is to kowtow to hierarchy, to march in step with tradition, and to color within the lines.

'Cause I've gotta tell you, if I came out of an interview evaluation meeting having heard those sorts of comments, I'd be back in my office updating my résumé; it'd be a wake-up call that I'd missed the earlier warning signs about the death of mission and purpose in my job and it was time to actually go do something again.

Or, in other words: I've worked at places that you'd recognize for their technical excellence. Sweats and slippers, or the guy in the office down the hall wearing a dress, was part of the environment. So far as I can tell, "eccentricity" is an integral part of working with truly excellent engineers, and you'll probably find it even in the research labs at IBM, but definitely at any dynamic sub-200 person company that's really going places.

If your company isn't exhibiting features like that, the heck with worrying about one interviewee, for the sake of your career you might want to move on.
posted by straw at 10:39 AM on March 23, 2011 [12 favorites]

References. Most everyone has beat that drum here. You need to talk to people she's done work for.

Second, call her back for another interview. The main concern is; does she want the job?

Tell her straight up that people got the feeling from her casualness towards questions they found important gave them the impression she wasn't really interested in working there.

There could be a few reasons for her casualness. Maybe she's just been on so many interviews, and given the hiring climate, getting nothing out of them, so she's become somewhat immune to the process.

then again, maybe she's just not interested. Or she's a slacker.

So references, and pull her back for another interview and focus on the important question - does she want the job?
posted by rich at 10:46 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing references.

For fun, try to imagine a man coming in and giving the same interview. Would he seem confident or rude?
posted by vitabellosi at 10:47 AM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

You might also want to consider whether you're a good judge of people or not.

I suck at it. I really wish that weren't true, but it is. I am often wrong in my assessments of people, and have learned who is actually good at it, and to seek the opinions those people when I need to make decisions like you're describing.

If you feel like historically, you're a pretty good judge, that's one thing. If, like me, you've got a long history of being dead wrong, you might want to give your colleagues' opinions more weight.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:51 AM on March 23, 2011

"describe a time you've had a conflict in the office and how you handled it,"

This is a stupid question. She should have expected it, I suppose (everyone ought to be prepared with a quaint little story).

asked about her attitudes about appropriate attendance

Has this ever worked? Has a worker with attendance problems ever said in an interview that she will rarely work a 5 day week and will always have some excuse or other? She is right to think it's a ridiculous question.

If playing along with bullshit is important in the job (and it is sometimes: consider someone who regularly deals with an overbearing HR department), maybe she will not get along well. If not, and having someone who WILL cut through crap would be a benefit to your team, maybe she's the one to pick.
posted by fritley at 11:02 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just want to point out that while considering whether you candidate fits into "office culture" can be important, deciding not to hire her on the basis that her appearance does not fit into gender stereotypes may well be illegal. You should consult your HR people/general counsel about this.
posted by yarly at 11:06 AM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

try to imagine a man coming in and giving the same interview. Would he seem confident or rude?

I think the answer is obvious: we just wouldn't be having this conversation if this were a man. And beyond that, I'm troubled by your description: it sounds like it's coded toward a disapproval of this candidate's physical attractiveness more than her abilities to do a good job. Who knows, maybe the candidate is a pretty young skinny blond woman, and I'm completely wrong, but it sounds like this person on paper better than in person for really shallow reasons.

Frankly, if I were this candidate, and someone sent me a link to this askmefi, I would turn down this job flat out and be thankful to have avoided such a stodgy, misogynist work environment.
posted by eggyolk at 11:12 AM on March 23, 2011 [19 favorites]

Another just fears that she's a slob and that if she wears combat boots to a job interview she may wind up wearing sweats and slippers when it's time to come to work.

Things we don't know: Is this a client-facing position? Or is this someone who's just expected to work well with everyone on the team while getting her work done? And does your office have a dress code, or set of expected dress norms, to which you're comparing her attire? If so, does she know about this? How do people generally dress for this position or similar ones across your industry? And how important is "playing the game," and have you thought critically about what constitutes "the game" in your office?

Also, did you or anyone else ask her if she had any specific questions about the organization? How did she respond? What have people told her about the organization's culture and norms already? Do you have any sort of informational packet you give out to candidates?
posted by limeonaire at 11:45 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and why did your colleague ask about attitudes toward "appropriate attendance"? Is this a particular hangup that this person has, or is the job particularly time-sensitive, or is this person tasked with tracking attendance in some way, or has the organization had attendance problems in the past?

That such a question topic was even brought up reminds me of a time when a team I was on was doing a group interview with a candidate, and at the time, the team happened to be running late on a few deadlines, and when a candidate asked whether there was any sort of flex or work-from-home time available, one of my colleagues burst in with a borderline-inappropriate rant about how "We just really like it when people get their work done." Could something like that have been influencing your colleague's question?
posted by limeonaire at 11:55 AM on March 23, 2011

I must admit to some consternation about parts of your question. Specifically, the role of her sexuality or (slight? more pronounced?) gender nonconformity. It's perhaps unfortunate that you mix in conjecture regarding her sexuality with comments about the interview process... it's unclear, then, to what extent your or your coworkers' perceptions on the one bias your perceptions of the other. I worry, as many have, whether a "feminine" woman or a man would be receiving this same treatment from your co-workers. As @eggyolk says above, I'm concerned with how many of your co-worker's gossipy complaints are simply code for prejudices.

Is your question in part about the possible homophobia of your office, and whether it should play a role in your hiring decision, pragmatically speaking? Obviously, this dynamic is playing out a lot in these comments. Specifically, I look to the line: "Even if she's not a lesbian, I'm bothered by how much her failure to present as feminine seems to be affecting how she's viewed by others in my office." The ultimate question you pose, whether you realize it or not, isn't about her competence, or whether she has a good work ethic, or whether she'd be uselessly contrarian or anything substantive regarding her-with-herself. It's whether you should find "somebody who might play the game better or demonstrate a better cultural fit." I think you really need to think about whether that's the question you actually think you're seeking answers to here.

If her references check out fine—and, I suspect they will if she's your top candidate—it's really a matter of whether you want to be the kind of manager who meta-games hires according to the catty (& discriminatory?) whims of their office, IMHO. Personally, I would find that crass.

On the other hand, if I ever saw this AskMeFi, I would not want to work at this office knowing that people were more concerned with the shoes I was wearing than my (apparently impressive) credentials. And—if this were to be the case—I would never want to work in an office filled with homophobes.
posted by Keter at 11:58 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

What often is ignored in the interview process is that as much as you are decided whether or not to hire someone, they are deciding wether or not they want to work for you.

A large part of that process is that both sides have a duty to honesty, in order to their best interests to be preserved. There is nothing that gives me buyers remorse quite like interviewing someone who is all spit an polished and then a month and a half later all of the warts come out. Granted, the culture at my office is very different from most, but if someone came to me like this I would consider their appearance and demeanor as expressing a level of candor and honesty that our culture embraces. That said, I always check references.

I have a strong hunch that a company that won't hire her because of how she dresses and behaves is a company that she does not want to work at, nor will excel at.

To be perfectly honest with you, if you decide that demeanor and appearance trump other considerations in a candidate, that might be the best outcome for both of you.
posted by Freen at 12:10 PM on March 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
More information on this job and the hiring process:
This is a creative, brain-oriented job, but one that also involves a huge amount of interaction with the public. That interaction can be relatively informal - her interview attire was appropriate for coming to work, but it was much more casual than I expect when somebody is dressing up for an interview. We do have gay and lesbian colleagues here, and I think this is a (relatively) welcoming work place.

I am the ultimate decision maker with this hire, but I've got very little hiring experience and the two colleagues who are issuing warnings have a lot of experience with this stuff. So I guess I need help with understanding how valid their warnings are, and how much these warnings may be colored by perceptions that don't relate to this person's ability to do the job.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:35 PM on March 23, 2011

Frankly, if I were this candidate, and someone sent me a link to this askmefi, I would turn down this job flat out and be thankful to have avoided such a stodgy, misogynist work environment.

Oh, now, someone in this company is considering going to bat for this interviewee. It may or may not ultimately work out, it might be messy, there might even be people in the workplace who have some unaddressed prejudices, but this is what change looks like from the middle of it: messy and confusing.
posted by amtho at 12:50 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I got my current (beloved, sadly soon to be defunded) job by being about 75% of what they wanted plus fairly intelligent. Luckily, my boss decided that I was smart enough to pick up the things I didn't know, and that it was easier to tip me off about how to handle some things than to work with someone who was 100% on paper but had less education and had held fewer learn-on-the-job positions.

If you say to this person, "you need to dress at your current level of formality for this job, not sloppier", will she do it? If she will, problem solved. I've never understood why bosses get so knotted up about telling people that they need to dress a little nicer--it's an easy fix, and almost everyone would rather dress up a bit than lose out on a job. (If you're saying "go from jeans to suits", that's such a change/expense that it might be overwhelming, but saying "you need to go from tee shirts to button-downs" or something--whyever not?)
posted by Frowner at 12:53 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

her interview attire was appropriate for coming to work, but it was much more casual than I expect when somebody is dressing up for an interview.

I understand that this is a pretty common double standard, but it is still a double standard. Maybe most people "dress to impress" during interviews, but the fact that she didn't do so isn't necessarily some sort of sign she's going to wear slippers to the office, especially if you make clear to her what your office's expectations are in terms of attire. This should go for everyone you are in charge of or are considering hiring: Don't expect them to read your mind or automatically just "know" certain things. "Just knowing" the "thing to do" is often a class indicator; maybe she's from a different class or a different subset of the population than most of your hires are.

The information we have from you thus far about her attire is that she wore slacks, a blouse, and combat boots. I'm trying to imagine how that could seem so wrong to people in your office. Unless you tell us otherwise via a mod, slacks and a blouse sound pretty normal for a job interview, unless by "slacks" you mean something other than "dress pants." Was her blouse loose or something, rather than fitted? if so, that's actually what some websites recommend that women wear to job interviews, so as not to come across as overly sexualized. And then, about the combat boots, I'll echo what others have asked above: What was it about the boots that made them overly casual or inappropriate? Were they dirty and/or scuffed? Was she wearing brown combat boots with black slacks or something? Or were they polished, but just happened to be combat boots, and that's skeeving people out?
posted by limeonaire at 1:03 PM on March 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

Is there any reason you can't do a 2nd interview? I think you are uncomfortable with the lack of traditional interview attire and affect. If dress is not an issue at work, do a 2nd round of interview w/ top candidates. Score on interview answers, resume, and references, and hire the top score.
posted by theora55 at 3:12 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

She sounds like you think she's qualified based on her experience and record. What else do you want?

Look, part of it was probably her interviewing you. I would never want to work for a company that judged me on really much of anything beyond my actual *work.* I don't have the patience for silly, boilerplate interview questions, or going through the motions of feigning interest when I'm not, or dressing how I think they want me too. I care about one thing: do you want my skills and do I want to give them to you?

I don't think you did anything wrong or are being misogynist or whatever, but I do agree that if I were the candidate and I knew how much my attire and attitude were bothering you, I would probably assume the company was stodgy and a little old-school for me and try to find a place for my talents elsewhere.

All of that said, you've got to be really good at what you do to get away with having this attitude. So that either makes her your strongest candidate or your weakest, depending.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:46 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: knock it right off with the name calling. Answer the question helpfully or keep on moving please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:48 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

So I guess I need help with understanding how valid their warnings are, and how much these warnings may be colored by perceptions that don't relate to this person's ability to do the job.

Yes, you've gotten to the crux of it right there. Look: I wore Crocs to my interview, my cell phone went off in the middle, I wear clean and neat but not 'nice, professional' attire to work. But I'm great at what I do and I expect to be judged by that metric. I think my company (which did hire me) is happy to now have me, despite my fuck the man attitudes and behaviors.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:49 PM on March 23, 2011

I'm confused. Is there an interview dress code exemption for lesbians?

He said he thought she was dressed a little too casually for an interview. I don't see what that has to do with sexual orientation.

Casual is casual. Combat boots are casual.
posted by Pademelon at 3:55 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

(1) You should avoid expecting this person to live up to your gender-norms. You should also be glad you posted this anonymously, since this sort of reasoning in a hiring process is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

(2) This person didn't live up to terribly contrived interview-norms? Um... stop the presses. You might have an incredibly intelligent and productive employee who just isn't all that interested in regurgitating the usual canned responses you'd hear in response to "questions, like 'describe a time you've had a conflict in the office and how you handled it'" [which isn't actually a question, mind you]. These requests are 96% fluff and everyone knows it; they are pretty much equivalent to asking "How well can you bullshit on command?"

(3) Have a second interview, ask whether she'd be comfortable having to wear appropriate office-wear, as well as other substantive questions than the above. In other words: get to the point.
posted by astrochimp at 4:41 PM on March 23, 2011

Mod note: Seriously, knock it off. Go to metatalk if you have to.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:55 PM on March 23, 2011

One other thought: there's slouching i.e., pointedly leaning back (to perform confidence? to display attitude?) and then there's slouching, i.e., not holding your body extremely upright and contained, in that prim and proper, feminine way. I'm wondering if the others perceived butchness as slouching?
posted by ravioli at 5:02 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Over almost a couple of decades of interviewing (and I'm currently in Yet Another Round) I've come to the staggering conclusion that, apart from some fringe cases, how people perform in interviews gives you every idea about their ability to perform against a perceived stereotype in interviews and absolutely no idea whatsoever about their performance in the workplace. Like their written app, it can only give you pointers to things you should hammer their referees about. Even then, it's a crap shoot. If she has the skills, answered your questions and was wearing appropriate workplace attire, hire her.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:04 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Some reasons someone might wear that outfit to a job interview:

* genderqueer / butch;
* poor / didn't have anything else to wear;
* Asperger's / not aware of social norms;
* health issues - eg, needed the ankle support because of hyperflexible ankles.

Don't judge her on her gender presentation, or her fashion sense.

Judge her only on her job references, her resume, her answers to the interview questions.

Do you want the person who can do the job best?

Or would you rather have someone who dresses very prettily/femininely, but who isn't the best candidate for the job?
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 5:11 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Once upon a time the company I used to work for was looking to bring on another software engineer. One guy who came in for an interview showed up wearing nylon track pants and a mesh workout shirt (sans undershirt). His resume listed his skills not by proficiency or by date of last use, but alphabetically, and the section describing his work history was a list of company logos. I was the only one out of six interviewers who voted not to hire him, so we ended up bringing him on. Sure enough, his output and his work ethic were just as sloppy as his interview.

It's been said by others above, but yeah - if someone can't show to you that they want the job then you don't want to give them that job.
posted by xbonesgt at 5:55 PM on March 23, 2011

He said he thought she was dressed a little too casually for an interview. I don't see what that has to do with sexual orientation.

He also said that people at his office were taking issue not just with the casual shoes, but with the fact that these casual shoes weren't appropriately feminine. If a man had been wearing boots under his slacks, people in the office wouldn't be "harping" on it. Nor if she were wearing some open toed sandals.

And xbonesgt, I'm sorry about your idiot coworkers, but what you describe and what the poster described are completely different situations. She's their top candidate and wore slightly casual shoes. It's not like she walked into his office in sneakers or crocs. And certainly not in an entire nylon track pant outfit, with a crappy resume in hand.

And as I said above, be careful ascribing motivation or personal characteristics to her outfit. It's a big deal to you, and to other gender normative people, but it's not a "statement" to her. It's just who she is. She's not trying to assert her independence, or deliberately present some side of herself to you all.

I'm 95% sure (because, again, this sounds a lot like me) that she just doesn't think much about her clothes, and probably didn't think you all would either. She probably thought, "Hey, these boots are leather, and they'd look like regular shoes underneath these slacks, no one will notice." She probably thought that you all would judge her based on her qualifications and not her shoes.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 6:24 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Do you have another candidate in mind who has all the qualities you're looking for, who seems to be a better fit with the team? If so, hire them. If not, bring her back for a second interview, be honest about what impressed you about her, and what your concerns are (not being able to answer the conflict question, the 'are you kidding, I'm a grown up' statement, and the not necessarily making it clear why she wants the job). And then give her a chance to address your concerns. If she can, hire her. If she can't, and you find another candidate who has the skills, hire them.

Questions like "tell me about a time you had a conflict and how you handled it' are not stupid. If your staff person works in a team, there is going to be conflict, and either she will clean it up or you will. Part of the question is whether or not she realizes there will be conflict, and will handle it in a way you agree with. When an interviewee tries to punt the question, I point blank tell them that this is the reason why I'm asking, and give them another chance to respond. If they still can't - then I can't hire them. For the same reason that when I hire a project manager, I need them to be able to walk me through their experience, abilities and shortcomings about what they can do and can't do in that role. People who can't communicate situations clearly - regardless of how intelligent or stupid they think the situation is - are problems when you need information and advice to make informed decisions. Specifically in regards to conflict: depending on her role, interpersonal skills matter.

Also, answers like "I'm a grown up" don't cut it either, because it assumes that there is a common understanding around how 'grown-ups' behave, at work and otherwise. And that's just not true. Part of an interview, and interview questions, is that the employer is setting expectations. So the answer to "are you kidding", is "no. I'm not. But let me tell you why I'm asking the question. We've unfortunately had situations where people have repeatedly come in late, or not shown up - and when they don't, they don't check in. That hurts the team. It's important that every expectation I have for you is clear - from the most basic to the most complex, because it isn't fair for me to hold you to an standard that I haven't shared with you. You aren't a mind reader."

It's the interpersonal interactions that are a little concerning. But she deserves a chance to actually address your concerns, rather than just being judged on them. Invite her back. Have her meet the team again. Be candid. Check her references. Figure out if she will solve your problems and not cause new ones.

And she really should be able to explain how she's going to solve your problems and why she wants the job.
posted by anitanita at 6:31 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

From my perspective, the clothing, the slouching, and the non-careful answers are all part of a pattern of not taking the interview seriously and not caring about the job. I would be worried about that attitude carrying over into actual job performance. I'm not saying this would be a deal-breaker, but it would be a big minus to me.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:01 PM on March 23, 2011

These requests are 96% fluff and everyone knows it; they are pretty much equivalent to asking "How well can you bullshit on command?"

Seconding this. You have described a person who:

Isn't "dressing up for an interview"
"didn't try to sell us on her candidacy"
And refused to bullshit you when fed stupid questions.

This isn't disrespect, it's honesty and a refusal to toady or play games. If she is qualified, then your concerns are "eye-rollingly insignificant".

And really, since when is "she may wind up wearing sweats and slippers" a reason not to hire a good candidate? Dress-code expectations should be covered during induction - unless the new hire is completely uninterested in working for you, that should cover it.

Really it seems line >50% of the respondents here EXPECT to be fed bullshit during an interview.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:07 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

More info from the OP (who MeMailed me and said it was OK to repost):
Honestly, I don't remember the details of what she wore. Her clothes struck me as notably casual but not a big deal. An HR honcho and a manager who ranks higher than me both said that she looked sloppy (so did somebody else who spoke with her, but I'm more concerned about the views of people who have hiring experience). Perhaps she had cat hair on her shirt or wrinkled pants or muddy boots, perhaps not. I don't remember. ...

My motives are this: I like this person. I kind of want to hire her. People who know more about this than me are saying that I should be careful. I want to know if they might be on to something that I don't know, in which case I should listen to them, or if they might be judging this woman unfairly because of sexist double standards that they may not be aware of, in which case I'm going to offer her the job.

I don't think it's inherently sexist to wonder why a person wore office casual clothes to an interview, when nearly every other candidate wore a suit or suit-like outfit. We do have a dress code, and we do interact with the public fairly often in my line of work. And dress codes and public interaction are fairly standard - though not universal - within my industry.

I also think it's reasonable to consider attire when other aspects of her interview were a little worrying. At this time of abnormally high unemployment - above 13 percent where I am located - it's odd to have an out-of-work job candidate who doesn't seem to want to sell herself as a candidate, and who doesn't seem to take the interview process seriously.

Yes, aspects of interviewing are BS. Yes, HR folks ask stupid questions sometimes - some that came out of a "Questions you should ask" book, some crafted because they're trying to avoid problems that past hires have posed, some that make sense for other jobs in my organization - not this one - but that are asked of all potential hires. Coming across as uninterested in the questions could be a sign that this woman is a critical thinker who rejects stupid questions (and isn't good at playing along with stupid stuff), or it could be a sign that she doesn't give a damn about the job.

Hiring is a time-consuming and difficult process, and I want to get this right. I need help understanding which of my colleagues' concerns are legitimate and which are not. Do people who dress casually and don't sell themselves generally then underperform in a creative office environment? Or are they just like everyone else, except for an absence of social skills/know-how that would help them get the job? Or does it depend on the situation to such a degree that it's a crap shoot no matter what?
From my response, given that information:

Re: your motives, I could tell that you like this person, but that you want to make sure there isn't something to your coworkers' hesitation—and that's smart. I think the thing you need to figure out at this point is whether you can trust your coworkers' assessments, or if some of those assessments should get more weight than others. Is everyone on your team giving this person a fair shake? Can you meet with each evaluator individually and ask questions to get a more nuanced take on their opinions? It's always tough, trying to weigh a half-dozen or more opinions in a hiring process, especially if you have a big meeting in a room with everyone after an interview round concludes (don't know if you did that—we've definitely done that, and it hasn't necessarily been that productive), and even then, sometimes there are unknowns that mean you don't get it right.

As others in the thread have noted, and per your worries that this candidate seems like they could go one of two ways (uncaring potential problematic hire or smart hire who's willing to be outspoken), I think you need to have a second interview round—and maybe as you're outlining in your email or phone call to the candidates what the round will be all about, say that it's a little more high-level and that you're asking all candidates coming back for this round to make sure they adhere to [specific office dress code, in detail]. Since you have a dress code, I would definitely make that known to the candidates, if you haven't already. And during the second interview, I would make sure to ask this candidate for thoughts on what she thinks the organization could do better, what her pet peeves are, what she can't deal with in a work environment (people will be surprisingly candid on this), and especially, whether she has any questions for you or things she's unsure about with regard to the position or your workplace's culture. Prompt her if need be—ask her what sense she's gotten of the organization so far, and if there are any things you can flesh out for her. While I wouldn't necessarily hold it against a candidate for coming in wearing slightly more casual than usual attire, I would definitely get a weird feeling if the candidate didn't display any curiosity or evidence of serious thoughts about the organization and her potential role there.
posted by limeonaire at 8:23 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

My reading of the interview: She's bright, she has all the qualifications and experience to do the job, she knew it, and she intuited that she would turn out to be your top candidate. That gave her a lot of confidence, and her answers, boots, and slouches merely reflected that confidence. She was supremely confident with good reason.

The remaining question is about her personal style. If there are doubts about whether she would fit into the work group, you could schedule another interview in which she meets each group member individually and chats for, oh, ten or fifteen minutes. After she leaves, you privately ask each group member to give you their opinion of her capabilities and what she would be like to work with.

My guess: She's a highly intelligent and motivated worker who is more interested in the project and getting it done, and done well, than in silly things like shoes. Talk with her references to verify. Finally, ask yourself whether you'd like to manage a non-traditional employee who is very intelligent, strongly motivated, and very productive, but has disdain and zero patience with irrelevant questions or endless, pointless meetings.

And please post back to let us know how this turned out!
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:04 PM on March 23, 2011

In no particular order, from my hiring manager experience ...

Don't put much stock in references. Lots of motives to shade the truth positively, or even lie, no upside in saying anything bad. If you want to verify claims of past performance, use compensation history, or (if coming out of an organization with a disciplined promotion process), rank history. Better yet -- test your candidates with performance exercises, IQ assessments, etc., -- anything to move into the realm of objectivity.

You always have to wonder about good qualities visible in the interview transfering from interview to job performance. You never have to worry about bad qualities. They will be in your face, or if not, the lack of self-control which permitted them to manifest when supposed to be on best behavior will find its way to mess with you.

Don't be talked into thinking militant non-conformity is a virtue. Style and assertiveness are, of course, but, a place of work requires conforming yourself to other people's expectations and experiences constantly. Even the biggest star (unless brought in to be CEO, etc.) has a poor chance to succeed if she has trouble spending her on-boarding in a modest, open-minded, learning mode, with a goal of conforming to the new workplace's basic structure, before starting to modify it to her approach and vision.

I do appreciate giving the candidate dress code advice on round two. Enough employers have none, or even have an anti-dress code ("never hire someone who shows up in a suit"), that your candidate might reasonably have not given thought to the outfit.
posted by MattD at 9:14 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've spent time drafting interview processes and questions for hiring youth and transition workers, I've sat on those interview panels and I did a little time as a career counselor for disadvantaged youth. As such, I've had a lot of discussions about where to have benefit of a doubt and where not to. Cultural fit is a big, big deal. Enthusiasm is a big deal. Ability to recognize and manage conflict is a big, big deal and you've already got a conflict with regards to this individual and other employees right now. In my experience, red flags only get redder. Regardless of whether or not unfair gender roles are at play, you will have to address these red flags and the sooner the better. Is the candidate so much significantly better than other candidates that you can invest the time in putting down these red flags? Would the opportunity cost be better spent starting a new search? How about a second round interview? She might be worth the trouble, but you haven't said one good specific thing about her as an individual.

That all being said, if she dressed up to the standards of a day at the workplace, then attire is a red herring. The reason you over dress for an interview is to erase the chace that you'll underdress. Some candidates stress out about overdressing, too. There are enough content questions with regards to interview answers that dress is not the biggest red flag here.
posted by Skwirl at 9:25 PM on March 23, 2011

she didn't try to sell us on her candidacy

Are these things important to the job? It seems to me that what matters is whether she can accomplish the goals of the position. I'd focus your analysis there. Did you, as her supervisor-to-be, gain confidence that if you asked her to go meet with clients on a creative project, that she'd have what it took to do it well? That would include the ability to dress appropriately, a good rapport with you, the necessary creative skills, and the necessary client conversation skills. An analysis like this is what's needed.

I Nth the idea of a second round of interviews, including role playing a client visit (fun to be an obnoxious client yourself!) and other tests of relevant skills.
posted by salvia at 11:53 PM on March 23, 2011

sounds to me like you're spending too much time being afraid of making a mistake and possibly being told 'i told you so' by your co-workers rather than figuring out if she can adapt to your work environment and do her job properly. people are not an exact science and you will always make mistakes when trying to figure them out. just ask her up front if when dealing with external clients or the public she would have a problem wearing something less casual. if she's as straightforward as you seem to think then she will tell you her position on this issue.

as a previous poster said, an interview is a two way street. she's probably evaluating you while you're evaluating her. for me, wearing a suit to work is a deal-breaker. i will not do it and i have been in the position of being asked during an interview if i would mind wearing a suit and told the interviewer, perhaps a bit too sarcastically, that yes, i would mind. i was happy that i was asked the question because i wouldn't have wanted to work for that company if that was what was expected of me.
posted by canned polar bear at 3:02 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I once hired someone that wore jeans to an interview thinking it was no big deal. Later, this person refused to dress up for client meetings. I think if you have qualms at all don't hire her.
posted by xammerboy at 7:03 AM on March 24, 2011

Is she local or is she from another part of the country?

The East Coast and the West have different definitions of formality in my experience, and if you're coming from one and going to the other, you have to remember to code-switch. If it's been a while, and you've gotten used to one definition, it can be easy to make mistakes, like thinking that you're maybe on the boundary of acceptable formality but not unusually so, while everyone around you thinks you're too casual.

My family's in the East, but I've lived primarily in the West as an adult. I make these mistakes so frequently that I've started putting post-it notes on my luggage to remind myself. From my own experience, I've concluded that Easterners care a lot more about shoes, and Westerners think you're a snob if you never wear jeans.
posted by colfax at 10:33 AM on March 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm a bit torn, just based on your descriptions and the follow ups. Two, possibly contrary, hiring stories of mine:

- I once hired someone who was my second choice. Just adored the first choice, who seemed to exude all those great interview traits. Seriously, if I wanted to hire someone to play the part of a job candidate, they'd be great.

And of course they turned me down. Hired this second choice candidate, who had the wrong degree, dressed a bit oddly (which wasn't a bit deal because they were expected to work in working/casual clothes, but was off-putting), and had this dead-pan personality. That's what resonates most as a similarity to your situation. Just hard to tell if they weren't interested or just not good at/not very willing to play the f'ing stupid interview question game that I felt (at the time) obliged to play.

You know where this is going. Second choice candidate is still with me and is the best damn employee I've ever hired.

- I once DIDN'T hire someone who expressed some interest in a position of mine I wanted to fill but the situation just kept not gelling. A personal acquaintance; it went from "hey, come talk to me sometime" when I'd come in the store they worked at to a casual interview when I thought I almost had the position "funded," so to speak, to a more serious interview when I actually did have the job nailed down for someone to fill. And because it took so long, thank God, I got a chance to see them more over time and seriously consider them.

And the evidence started stacking up against them. The way they dressed (which wasn't the way I'd seen them at work), the sometimes-zany-sometimes-angry way they communicated (think Flo in the insurance commercials, except off her meds), and best of all, the stories they told about arguments they'd had with their bosses made me realize they weren't a good fit. So it was awkward, but I made my excuses and am very glad I did. They're still an acquaintance, and basically a good person, but not someone I want working for me, and it took a few interviews to realize it.

So the takeaways, if any:

- some people don't interview well, so
- do as many interviews as you can and
- don't let your personal liking of a person push you too much one way or another.

My gut feel about your candidate? Sounds like someone I'd like, anyway, or at least would want to interview again. One thing I thought was "maybe she doesn't need the damn job bad enough to suck up for it. Maybe she's willling to look, but not all that worried whether she gets it." Such candidates are often well worth seeking.

If I were in such a position, I might well answer similarly to your question about attendance. The correct answer is obvious, therefore it's a waste of time asking it, except perhaps as a way to screen total idiots if you're a fast food hiring manager.

If the job is public facing, perhaps you do have a legit concern about personality and dress. Here's a crazy idea - get a second interview and ASK HER. Really. Deal with it head on. Another poster mentioned flat out poverty - I've been in similar situations. I've also wound up 500 miles from home wearing dress pants and dorky New Balance suede slip-ons because I forgot my dress shoes. Shit happens.

Oh, and Nthing - references.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:12 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

One final comment on the subject of footwear:

Multiple posters have commented that perhaps the interviewee didn't have the resources to buy a new pair of shoes, or didn't think the interview was a likely enough prospect to invest in them. A couple also mentioned the possibility of having forgotten the interview shoes across town, or across the country.

Goodwill pretty frequently has decent looking, very simple heels for .99-3.99. In a similar situation, I once bought a pair that were a size too small. So I wore my casual shoes to the office, then changed in the bathroom. Instant dressy shoes, for the bargain price of $1.62, including tax.

No Goodwill (or other thrift store) nearby? Payless shoes has cheap dress shoes that start at $6.99.

Not choosing appropriate footwear to me says carelessness rather than an absence of resources.
posted by arnicae at 3:20 PM on March 26, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks for the thoughtful insight from folks who've hired candidates in the past or who've presented themselves poorly at their own job interviews. I'm amused, and somewhat disturbed, about the assumptions some other posters made about me, my gender, and my motives in asking this question.

Based on my own uncertainty and the advice I received here, I arranged a second interview with this candidate. I asked her to discuss my areas of concern, and came to the conclusion that she was a bit naive and was coming from a casual cultural background, but that she seems capable of adapting to my more formal office. I still do think a gendered double standard is one reason that some of my colleagues' alarm bells sounded. Though some who advised me on my hiring decision still had reservations about her, the choice was mine. I offered her the job and she accepted.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:08 AM on April 1, 2011 [14 favorites]

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