Suit Required: How Dress Codes May Affect the Quantity or Quality of Interested Candidates

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Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.  A fantastic rule of thumb for up and comers in Corporate America 10, 20, even 50 years ago.  However, a new generation of office professionals have been unleashed into the workforce general population.  With an ideal job spanning the likes of “video game tester”, “dotcom billionaire”, or “Facebook inventor”, dressing for the job you want no longer includes a suit and tie, or even slacks for that matter.

I had a candidate for an engineering position recently.  The business casual dress policy was explained and typical male attire was described as “slacks and a collared shirt”.  The response?  What are slacks exactly?  Another candidate, when told the policy was “business casual”, responded with “so, like, jeans and t-shirts then?”  Times, they are a-changing.  The term “business casual” has been morphed, perhaps revolutionized, throughout the years so much so that it can now be interpreted as more casual…not so much business.

Articles detailing the Best Companies to Work For do not help the idealistic fantasies of the youthful recruits, nor do they aid the more traditional companies model of a higher standard in professional dress.  With many employers now willing to allow the option to work from home, the thought of “dressing up” for work each day can sway candidates away from becoming your next new hire.

Our company sees its share of dress code violators as drafters file in with their jeans, flip flops, and Mr. Men vintage tees.  Our company culture is that of a particularly conventional nature and the perception, rightfully so, is that at any given time, each employee during work hours is a direct reflection of the business they are employed by.  When a customer visits the building and sees a staff member in a t-shirt from a recent rock concert, it doesn’t convey the level of professionalism a business owner might appreciate.

Even the White House is mentioned in the New York Times, recognizing the “downsized” dress since President Obama took office.  Perhaps this is a sign of a newly relaxed America, a step in the right direction, the start down a path to a United States that prioritizes the work-life balance.

Attend a local career fair and you’ll find even the job seeker attire has become laid-back.  Potential candidates use words to describe ideal employers like “flexible”, “relaxed”, “social atmosphere”, and “not stuffy”.  All these could be code for, “Does your company consider wearing jeans on a daily basis acceptable?”  Unless the other perks or benefits outweigh your competitor, vying for that stellar new graduate might mean loosening the belt.  Companies like SAS and Zappos have already done just that.

Whether business professional or casual, the bottom line is to be sure your company has a policy in place.  A well written dress code policy can protect an organization from potential lawsuits.  It can also provide a sense of uniformity within the office while decreasing the probability of the appearance of inappropriate attire and requiring an uncomfortable conversation with an employee.  If you are a member of the Society for Human Resource Management, a very basic, sample dress code policy is available for use.

Traci K. is an HR Professional and freelance writer based in the Midwest, specializing in recruitment and immigration.  When she’s not improving unemployment, she keeps busy with her husband and four children.

1 Comment

  1. Clinton Pope on December 5, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Dress codes should be explained well in the company policies. Formulating them to reflect the times we are in and the current culture vibe. keeping them in line with the company’s future vision as well might be needed. As a Human Resource Management Officer would you choose a person in line with the company dress norms with good credentials or a t-shirt and jeans guy or gal with excellent credentials?

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