I have been interviewing for various professional positions at my company and 80% of the applicants come in dressed in casual clothes like shorts, t-shirts and ball caps.

Can I decline to interview a potential new hire when they show up looking unprofessional and in casual dress?

Everyone employed at my company dresses professionally in shirts, ties and business suits.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Philip Kendall, Dukeling, gnat, Fattie, Dmitry Grigoryev Jul 14 at 15:09

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    What country are you in? – Tony Ennis Jul 12 at 14:39
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    @David Do you explicitly communicate the dress code to the candidate for the interview? – Long Jul 12 at 14:45
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    Providing more information such as what industry and jobs these candidates are applying for would help with answers. I would also point out that dress codes can vary drastically for the same job in different companies where at one place shorts and a tee-shirt are normal and another a suit and tie are but the person has the same duties. – Joe W Jul 12 at 21:14
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    Please define "various professional positions." Where are you finding these candidates? People who already have professional jobs aren't going to wear a baseball cap or shorts to an interview, most certainly not 80% of them. Surely you are leaving out some useful information. – ExactaBox Jul 13 at 3:07
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    What's your industry? If you're hiring developers, we usually have a very relaxed work culture that's reflected in our dress. When I interview for developer positions, I dress down. I don't want to work somewhere where I can't work in a t-shirt and flip flops if I so choose. And when I'm hiring, and an interviewee comes in a shirt and tie, my first assumption is that he hasn't been in the industry long. – SethWhite Jul 13 at 14:16

14 Answers 14

If 80% of the applicants are not dressed as you want to require for the interview, you have a communication problem. Your interview invitations are failing to specify the interview dress code clearly enough.

There is a separate question of whether you should have an interview dress code at all. For someone who is not well fitted by mass produced or rented clothing, a business suit is a substantial expense. It is one that would be worth paying if they get a professional job that requires it, but should they be required to pay it on the chance of getting a job that requires it? They may end up in a job that favors more casual clothing, and never wear a suit on the job.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jul 14 at 3:31

Can I decline to interview a potential new hire when they show up looking unprofessional and in casual dress?

If you are in charge of recruiting you can do whatever you want. Just, be careful of ditching your ace candidate just because he was unaware of the existence of a dress code for interviews.

If dress code was part of the requirements for the interview then it makes sense to reject them for something that was clearly indicated.

Perhaps there is a dress code in your company, but most likely it applies for current employees, and not interviewees. If candidates are to be expected to present themselves dressed by some code to the interview that should be indicated to them.

On a more personal note, I do believe that one should try to dress semi-formal to formal when going for an interview (white collar job, that is), and the fact that a candidate arrives well-dressed and cleansed is part of the first impressions.

However, the fact that someone is well-dressed or not is completely different to the fact that the candidate is fit for the job, or that he has the skills necessary for it. I'd suggest you focus on finding about those things before using dressing as a hiring factor.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jul 12 at 17:00
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    I do have to say... after 20 years in IT, I have to admit that some of the most intelligent, skilled people I've ever seen dressed like absolute bums. You raise a very good point about merit vs. appearance. – Omegacron Jul 13 at 19:31

If 80% of people are not meeting your expectations then your expectations are not aligned with what is normal in your your industry and location.

You have to decide if you want prospective employees to comply with your expectations or change your expectations to fit what is normal. If you have reasons for wanting people to dress up for interviews then you should tell them about this before the interviews. Remember that imposing a dress code will send a message to prospective employees about what you value so make sure something you truly think is important and be willing to be passed over by some talented people because of it.

If you have an obsession with suits, then I suspect your boss will not be happy missing out on 80% of the available talent. If you find 80% of candidates as unsuitable without even talking to them, then maybe you are not suitable for your position, suit or not.

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    He might not know whether they are unsuitable, but he definitely sees that they are unsuited. :) – simbabque Jul 12 at 13:24
  • Well, if he considers "wearing a business suit" part of the job, then it kind of becomes a required skill :) – rackandboneman Jul 13 at 21:10

Your problem comes down to two questions:

  • Can I decline to interview a candidate who is dressed too casually?
  • Is that a good policy for the company as a whole?

Can I decline to interview a candidate who is dressed too casually?

Yes, of course you can, but whether you are allowed to depends on your company's policy. In some companies, the future manager of a new hire can take the hire/no hire decision alone, in others it's decided by a committee, by HR or by the future manager and their superior. Find out what the policy is at your company.

Also, when multiple people are involved in a hiring decision, most companies have criteria for immediate rejection in case a candidate is obviously unsuitable. This usually applies in cases like not meeting certain minimum education requirements or deception - find out whether dressing too casually is enough for an immediate rejection or whether you still should go through the usual decision process.

Is that a good policy for the company as a whole?

As others pointed out, if 80% show up not meeting your expectations, then most probably your expectations have not been communicated successfully. You should discuss with your boss and or HR how to handle this:

  • How important is dress code for your company? Do you have a written dress code? If not, should there be one?
  • If there is a dress code, how can it be communicated to candidates? In the job ad? During the phone screen?
  • If a candidate still shows up too casually, how serious is that?

You should carefully weigh the different requirements. On the one hand, a dress code can be beneficial if there are existing expectations around dress, such as from colleagues or customers (the typical example would be customer-facing positions in a bank or hotel). On the other hand, a dress code could scare off otherwise suitable candidates who find it too restrictive. Decide where on that scale you want to be.

  • I like this answer mainly because it doesn't immediately blame the interviewer for not bringing up the dress code ahead of time. A savvy candidate will find out before the interview either by directly asking, doing some research, or making a safe judgement. I was taught to dress a notch or two higher than what I thought the everyday expectations might be. Interviews usually include various kinds of hidden assessments, such as body language and speaking skills. I think you can tell a lot about someone's judgement skills by how they prepare without being prompted. – GuitarPicker Jul 14 at 14:06

Can I decline to interview a candidate that is not dressed for an interview?

Sure, if you think that dressing formally is a valuable trait and is one of the job requirements.

Should you decline though? Probably not.

I presume that the candidates meet your requirements on paper, right?

So if you have two stellar interviewees and are torn between choosing the right candidate but object literal coin tosses for whatever reason then you can choose to hire the guy that wore an untucked collared shirt with jeans instead of the guy that wore cargo shorts, camo shirt, and ball cap.

In any case if you do choose to hire someone that didn't meet your "dress code" then make sure to formally make them aware that there is a dress code and provide the relevant company documents which outline what is and is not acceptable. If you have no company document then your question as a whole is a moot point.

If you choose to immediately decline an interview due to their clothes then you had better have one heck of an explanation which does not open the doors to being sued for racism/sexism/ageism/suit-ism/whatever-ism.

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    It's not usually recommended, or at least not practiced, to tell recruits why they were declined or rejected, as that could trigger the recruiter to pursue legal recourse. Telling them why can be easily misinterpreted, and in this case telling them they were rejected for their clothing would fall into class or economic discrimination ( suit-ism in this case :) – DarkCygnus Jul 12 at 17:52
  • @DarkCygnus Excellent points. I've update my closing statement. Thanks! – MonkeyZeus Jul 12 at 18:24
  • I think a bigger problem is explaining to your boss why you rejected several candidates without even talking to them. – gnasher729 Jul 12 at 20:26
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    This answer seems to repeat the points already mentioned in the previous answers. Would you mind explaining how it is different? – Masked Man Jul 13 at 4:01

You do not say what field you are in so it can be almost impossible to say.

For example, retail and manufacturing would not necessarily require more formal dress whereas IT should. Even then each employer could vary for example Google versus IBM.

Since you tagged this question as professionalism, I will assume business casual is the minimum daily dress.

I must say I am old school. My recommendation for anyone is to dress to impress. Do not wear a bankers suit to Walmart for a stocking poistion, but also do not dress as if stocking a shelf for a professional position. Even entry level retail sales positions require something more than shorts and a tee shirt. The advice is still the same. If you want the job, look like you want the job.

If someone is asking for a level of responsibility they should dress to reflect they are responsible. Walking in the door is the first major test. First impressions are important. Should you immediately reject someone who does not dress appropriately? That is up to your level of authority and policies in place.

As for not communicating expactions. Most of this is not rocket science. I wouldn't suggest explaining dress codes for job interviews. This is the responsibility of the applicant to either know or ask. You are not their nanny.

However, there may be another problem, where and how the position is posted. To take an extreme example, a position for a CFO should not be posted in Craigslist. I find that expectations are largely gleened when an applicant screens a job posting. No need to include professional attire in the job posting if the posting is clear about the position. Also consider the practice of not putting a company name in the posting. For example, Bob's Bedding Barn may have different expectations than IBM.

There are too many possibilities to know where to draw the line. I go back to whether you have the authority, what any policies say about interviews, and whether kicking them to the curb is something that legal can stomach. The 80% number is the fault of HR or whoever is posting open positions. It is the posting that sets the tone. You should not have to say professional attire for a professional position. If they ask, then tell them! And do not hold it against them for asking. One company told prospects not to wear ties or suits. Why? Because the interview process is stressful enough. Give them something to relax about.

Remember it is the responsibility of the applicant to land the job and not your responsibility to hold their hand if they cannot grasp the basics of landing a job. There is far too much help for them for that. Glassdoor and the like. Your job is simply to see if they measure up to expectations. Remember this is a test.

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    "whereas IT should" Ironically, IT personnel are some of the most likely to be wearing jeans and T-shirts in practice. – jpmc26 Jul 12 at 22:48
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    @jpmc26 Yes, (while laughing) today, you are right. Most employers still want reasonable, button down shirts, long pants, shoes but not tennis shoes. Admittedly, I semi-retired some time ago, but still you should look professional, ie. they do pay you, you give a damn, you are not panhandling, etc. especially for front office stuff. We hire the homeless to meet with customers does not always make a good statement. Depending on where you are. Cheers!! – closetnoc Jul 13 at 0:08
  • Oh, I agree, personally. (I do wear tennis shoes, but that's only because of medical problems with my feet that wearing nice shoes every day would aggravate.) I wouldn't dare go to an interview for an IT position in anything less than a full blown dress suit, and I dress slightly below that for everyday work attire. Sadly for professionalism, it's the norm to work in jeans for many IT shops. – jpmc26 Jul 13 at 0:27
  • @jpmc26 I had a friend I worked with who was a huge guy, not overweight, just huge. He had to wear tennis shoes for similar reasons. You have my empathy. I have old foot injuries that makes walking very painful most days. Some sites allow fresh jeans while others limit colors and style of jeans. All fine with me. My attitude is this, Make it look like you give a damn. After that, the rest is optional. Cheers mate!! – closetnoc Jul 13 at 0:42
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    Funny you should mention IBM. Walk into one of their research labs, say Watson or Almaden, and you aren't going to see many people in suits. – jamesqf Jul 14 at 5:22

It's entirely up to you, but you have to communicate it to your interviewees ahead of time, as other answers stated.

Personally, I've stayed in business casual for my current job, then changed a few items to "up my game". Throwing on some shined shoes, a blazer/sports jacket, and a tie is usually "dressed up" enough for most interviews. It takes only a few minutes to do this in your car in the parking lot. Even if you swap your tan khakis for dark/black slacks in a gas station bathroom, it's still just a few minutes for a "make-over".

Even women can throw on a jacket over their dress, add a little makeup, spruce up their hair, change shoes, and throw on a necklace or earrings in a few minutes. Except for the makeup, it's also easy to change back for the current job afterwards. A little cold cream and a few more minutes in front of a mirror can deal with most of the makeup.

It's not totally unreasonable, but unless they are completely out of sorts (rips, stains, dirty, smelly) you should probably mostly ignore it. They may have a valid answer, like having to work construction (to pay the bills) until they get the job they went to college for.

I've been there, and people in that kind of situation usually can't afford to take even half a day off to suit up for an interview. They may even be embarrassed about their lack of choice, so please try to be kind.

If you have a multiple rounds of interviews, make sure you mention the dress code and see if they make a change. Sometimes a first round interview is taken as a "see what's out there", so it's not taken as seriously as later rounds. Then again, I usually slightly dress down for a 2nd round interview, by wearing a humorous tie, but that also depends on the atmosphere during the first round.

Someone in a less than desirable current job may decide that the 2nd interview is much more important, since you mentioned the dress code, and risk taking the half day off to dress up. Getting into a 2nd round interview often means much more, since the interviewee pool should have shrunk considerably and everything matters more. I use the humorous tie to bring out my personality more, since my resume and how I talk still says I'm a professional that really does know what I'm expected to know.

Then again, until recently, I only had two ties and I didn't want the interviewers thinking I had to re-wear the same exact "interviewing costume."

Also, don't forget Will Smith's character in "The Pursuit of Happyness". He showed up to an interview with paint in his hair, a "wife beater" T-shirt, and after a night in jail, and still managed to get an internship at a prestigious firm. When asked about what he would think of someone appearing at an interview with his appearance, he responded with, "He must have had on some really nice pants." Even though it was a film, it was based on a real life person, Chris Gardner.

https://sites.google.com/site/mencionticinglesheredia/scene-the-pursuit-of-happiness-transcript

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Gardner

  • "Then again, until recently, I only had two ties" Thankfully, ties are relatively cheap. It's not that expensive to get four or five different ties, allowing for both personal choice and variation. At least here, it's a lot more expensive to get even two different full suits, even if you were to reuse the same tie for both! It's even practical to stop by somewhere on the way to an interview and buy a tie. – Michael Kjörling Jul 13 at 11:12

If the job posting doesn't say anything about clothes requirement and the position on other companies don't usually have an strict clothes guidelines the problem lies there, you need to put that in the job posting if its such a big deal.

Personally I only went to interviews with nice clothes when I didn't had a job, and since then I went with what ever I usually wear where I work currently after all if I suddenly appeared at my current job with a suit people will start thinking that I have a job interview and that I want to get out of there.

If the person is destitute, I would interview them as is, and make it clear what the expected dress code is for employees. In the future, make it clear what you expect candidates to wear at an interview.

That said, even as a teenager, who grew up in a lower middle class home, I had the sense to ware business casual clothes while interviewing at Target just to get a job stocking shelves.

If your company has a dress code, it probably has other expectations, and informing prospective hires of those is courteous and useful. Depending on the size of the company, you might do this by an information leaflet, or a paragraph in the letter invitating them to interview.

If they've been informed that the company has a dress code and chose to ingore that, it may influence your decision (I'd still suggest interviewing).

There are fields in which there's normally no dress code but occasions for smart dress. For example I work in academia, where a suit and tie means you're attending a graduation, on the receiving end of a viva, or being interviewed. Only in the first case is the dress code mandatory or universally followed; it's clearly stated then.

  • I showed up to an academic interview in a suit once and my interviewer told me "oh, we meant to tell you, no need to be formal". Apparently the other candidate had shown up in a suit a few days before. (This was in mathematics, in upstate New York; results may vary by geography and subject.) – Michael Lugo Jul 12 at 20:00
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    @MichaelLugo still better that the the other way round – Chris H Jul 12 at 21:04

If the candidate’s attire doesn’t fit your “culture,” but they otherwise seem like a valuable addition to your team, then give them a little tour, allowing them to see (without you actually mentioning it) how most people are dressed. Then if they show up “underdressed” for the second interview, ask yourself which is more important: the work they can do, or their social awareness.

The detail in question I miss is: What is the usual and general dress code for the position the interview is organised?

Extreme case #1: CEO

In that case one shall expect that bussiness suit is unspoken mandatory code. In that case, interviewee dressed informally doesn't meet expectable criteria for the position.

Extreme case #2: Garage staff

In that case, on the other hand, the key criteria are interviewee's skills and their ability to repair cars. Informal clothes are expected and bussiness dress code is understood as overkill.

Truth surely lies somewhere in between. If the dress code is Mandatory to your workplace then decline them as you wish. Same if the First Image is that significant to you.

If the dress code is not that strict in the industry and the targetted position rank you should be more tolerant at interviews but state your policies clearly.

It really comes down to what the job is. If you're interviewing for a janitor then having people suit up (regardless of your companies dress culture) is pointless. But if you're interviewing for an engineer job then it would make sense to the applicant to suit up. And if they are interviewing for an educated job and rock up in a tee and a ballcap then you probably can dismiss them as too arrogant thinking they are the next Steve Jobs and rules dont apply to them or they are basement dwellers with no idea how society works.

In the end it is about respect to the process and the interviewer.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jul 14 at 3:34

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