I had an interview today at an engineering consultancy company. I was applying for a programming job. I was wearing a button shirt tucked into my jeans. Neat, but not too formal. (This type of informal clothing is very common in my field and country. Dressing up in suit and tie would seem very odd.) I also had a grey jacket with me. It was a grey, casual sporty sweater-jacket with zippers. Not a thick wintercoat or a raincoat. Because it was very hot, I had it laying next to me on the sofa, while waiting in the lounge for the interviewer to come and get me.

When he arrived and invited me to follow him, I stood up, picked up my jacket, cup of water and notebook and walked towards him. At that point, he was also getting himself a cup of water from the dispenser that was available in the lounge.

Now here's the thing... while his cup was filling, he looked at me and said "Oh, Is that jacket from brand... uhm... what was it again...?" (It seemed like he wanted me to help him fill in the blank) I answered "Uhm, I don't know. I don't care much about brands". (It was my SO that suggested that I bought this jacket. I'm a guy... I don't know anything about fashion, clothes or shopping...). I said "Would it be brand X?", he answered "No, not brand X. Isn't it from brand Y? I think I have the exact same one.". Then I answered that it might be possible, I just don't know. I could have checked the label ofcourse, but I thought it wasn't worth the hassle, since we were in the middle of walking to the interview room and it also didn't seem important to me.

I know recruiters have a lot of special tricks up their sleeves to get to know things about their candidates. (Watching body language, the way the candidate talks about former employers/colleagues, handwriting tests, etc.) So I was wondering... Was this question something psychological? Was there a purpose? Did he expect me to answer in a particular way, to be able to judge my personality on? Or was he just making small talk?

Not sure if it's related, but during the interview, my car was mentioned when he was asking about something I did recently. He asked what car I drove, and I also saw him write my answer down. I wonder... related to the jacket-question or not, why did he ask this? Was it purely out of interest? Or does this tell something about the candidate, whether he drives in a Lada or in a Lamborghini?

EDIT: a lot of answers/comments focus on the word "trick" I used, and I feel like it's misinterpreted. I didn't intend it as something bad, like they would "trick me into something". I meant a "trick", as in a technique to get some information of a candidate.

  • We can't guess why the recruiter was asking those questions. Whatever his reasoning, I'd say it's certainly odd and not something you should expect to encounter very often. – David K Mar 27 '19 at 15:46
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    @DavidK The only thing odd is this question. A lot of interviewers will want to know, can I have a beer with this person. Making small talk is just another way to find that out. – dan-klasson Mar 27 '19 at 15:48
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    @DavidK Aha, so maybe the small talk is the tactic in itself? That would make sense, yes! – Opifex Mar 27 '19 at 15:50
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    You're overthinking this. – rath Mar 27 '19 at 15:51
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    It was my SO that suggested that I bought this jacket. I'm a guy... I don't know anything about fashion, clothes or shopping. Just on a side note, since you are doing interviews, this kind of comment could be taken in a negative way by some interviewers, as it can be interpreted as gender bias. – Quaestor Lucem Mar 27 '19 at 17:13

It's conversational. Stop reading into it.

A company may try to probe for more information about you in an attempt to get a feel for the type of person you are, what your personality is, what your social and interpersonal skills are, but they aren't trying to trick you.

A trick is an attempt to get you to do or say something that is counter to your natural thoughts and actions, or it is an attempt to deceive or outwit you. A company that tries to trick the person being interviewed is doing it wrong.

They may pose challenging questions or scenarios and they may write down your answers to innocuous questions or make note of your speaking patterns and body language, but these aren't tricks.

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I do a lot of interviews at my job, and I will occasionally talk about things that aren't related to the job, like hobbies or video games. The reason I do this is because that's a thing I would do with any old person. It's a way to relieve tension a bit and break the ice, not stealthily get more information out of them. We're normal people too.

However, I've never felt the need to write down their answers. That is kind of weird. But on its own, not something to worry about.

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    Could be the recruiter is someone who just likes to write down details, whether they seem relevant or not. Maybe it helps them remember other details. Next time they meet, he'll look at his notes and say "oh yeah, the guy with the Honda, I remember what we talked about." – Seth R Mar 27 '19 at 18:30

A few answers here are saying that you're overthinking it, but I do think this is interesting:

He asked what car I drove, and I also saw him write my answer down.

If someone is taking notes on your car, it's not an enormous leap to think that they're using "small talk" as a pretense for evaluating you based on what you wear.

Forbes has an article on this as well, about business leaders and dress.

The article is geared towards women, however there's an interesting line in here:

The fit is so crucial. I gained a ton of confidence when I switched from Forever 21 blazers to structured J. Crew blazers.

A brand is explicitly mentioned here. Which means it's not unreasonable to think a recruiter or anyone for that matter might be making pre-judgements about you based on your clothes.

It's probably nothing, but... I don't think you're as off base as some of the responses imply you are. Perception is a big part of corporate culture, it's not a huge leap to assume what brands you wear will affect how people perceive you.

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  • "You're likely overreacting a tiny bit." Could you elaborate on why you think that I'm (over)reacting? Because I feel like most people read my post as if I were panicking, while in reality I was just curious on why he asked it, and if it might have had something to do with a recruitment tactic. Thanks for your answer btw.! It does give a very reasonable answer! – Opifex Mar 27 '19 at 17:33
  • @Opifex It's just me saying "It's probably nothing...", I'll edit my response. Because I honestly don't think you're overreacting... but your instinct is right to think about it. – ShinEmperor Mar 27 '19 at 18:05

I had an interview today at an engineering consultancy company.

I think that the fact that you were interviewing at a consultancy gives it away. I worked at a company where there are a lot of ex-consultants from big consulting firms like Bain, McKinsey, Accenture, etc. I was one of the few that came from a pure software engineering background.

My co-workers would frequently ask me about the brand of my clothing and I also reacted similarly that I didn't care much about brands. As it turns out my co-workers gossiped behind my back about my non-brand name clothes and the fact that I wore a t-shirt to work sometimes in the summer.

I think the exchange with the recruiter tells you a little about the company's culture or at the very least what the recruiter values.

Is this a little bit of a red flag? For me, yes. Is it a deal breaker? No. I would look at the people in the rest of the company and see how they are dressed. It's likely that a consultant will dress better on average than an engineer would anyway.

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  • I can only assume the down voters think your personal experience was a one off aberration and not indicative of how folks in big consulting firms think. I think that the question might indicate that they expect employees to dress nicer in general than what the OP is expecting is at least useful. – BSMP Mar 27 '19 at 17:31
  • I completely disagree. The companies these people came from were the top consulting firms and from offices all over the world. I've interviewed with other consulting firms too and I got the same impression. The general expectation is that consultants dress better and more formally than an engineer would. Engineering culture actually looks down on dressing up. Remember how surprised everyone was when Mark Zuckerberg got a suit? – jcmack Mar 27 '19 at 17:35
  • If that's not why they down voted then I have no other ideas. – BSMP Mar 27 '19 at 18:25

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