If These Résumés Could Talk is a new Wall Street Journal feature in which recruiters, headhunters and hiring managers share their wildest and most interesting stories. Previous installments of the series are here.
Q: What’s an instance where a job candidate made an unusual dress-code blunder?
Prescription for disaster
I sent a candidate into a major food manufacturer for a maintenance manager position, and I happened to take their director of HR to lunch that day at the exact time as his interview.
While we were at lunch, she got a call on her cellphone. I heard her say to the person on the other end, “What? He’s wearing what?” I’m thinking, Oh, this does not sound good. This has to be about my candidate. She hung up, and said, “You’re not going to believe what this guy wore to the interview.”
He was wearing a Nascar racing jacket with the name of the sponsor—Viagra—in big letters. Apparently he was a Nascar fan, and so he was proud of it!
I was dumbfounded. I had spent 30 minutes telling this guy what to wear. I didn’t know what else to say, so I said, “Well he just wanted to prove he was up for the job!” And I promised her that if she gave him another chance, he would be in a suit the next time.
All the way home from lunch, I was on the phone with this guy: “Do you realize what you just did?” He told me he didn’t have a suit. I told him to go get one.
The client invited him back a few days later, he wore a suit, and he got the job—pending a background check and drug screen.
The guy didn’t pass the drug test. When she told me, I asked the HR director, “You mean he took that much Viagra?” She said, “No it was something else.”
—Al Polson, The Colonial Group
The world’s a stage
Years ago, I worked as a consultant for a professional membership organization in New Jersey, and I was screening job candidates for an executive administrative-assistant position.
One of the candidates was a fairly recent Harvard grad with a terrific resume. The day of her interview she showed up wearing a full Elizabethan theatrical outfit, including makeup.
I was a little daunted. But I focused on the task at hand and conducted the interview. She was very interested in the job, and she mentioned that the reason why she came in like this is because she wanted anyone who hired her to know that her first love is really for the theater. I had the sense that she had a lot of these outfits. She could probably quote Shakespeare chapter and verse.
I thought this was interesting: she wanted to convey what was really important to her. But I think that was something that needed a feather, not a mallet. If she was hired and she came in to work like that, it would be highly problematic. So I did not recommend her for the job.
—Jonathan Schiff, Fairleigh Dickinson University
We had a candidate who was interviewing for a mobile developer position at a large retailer in Atlanta. This was prepandemic, and our practice was to go to the employer to meet with the job candidates before their interviews, make sure they have their résumés printed out, go over any questions, stuff like that.
My business partner actually handled this walk-in for me, since he was going to be over there that day to meet with clients anyways. But he called me, and he said, “Hey man, you just handed me a grenade without a pin in it.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
“So-and-So just showed up and his tie was tied in a literal knot.”
My business partner retied it for him, so he walked into his interview with a normal tie. And believe it or not, he ended up getting the job! Sometimes you gotta save the candidates from themselves.
—Phil Muldoon, Hirewell
We had a candidate that we didn’t even send to the interview. He didn’t get his suit tailored; instead he stapled the cuffs at the bottom of his suit pants. He hemmed it himself, in other words. Dress code was very important to that client, so we knew that they would not have been happy with us if we sent him.
We did continue to work with the candidate and had a conversation with him. But you have to ask yourself: if they’re making that kind of faux pas, what other mistakes could they make?
—Anthony Fanzo, The Bachrach Group
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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