Skills, experience, fit & fashion…

Published: 5 September 2016

Last week both the FT and the BBC carried a story about investment banks selecting not to hire perfectly capable candidates who were sporting brown shoes and less than conservative ties. As you can no doubt imagine this provoked quite a mixed response; extremes of horror, moral outrage and huge amusement. But then I suspect that it was written to do just that. 

The key issue here is that simply being good enough is not sufficient to land positions in highly ‘in demand’ environments. It never has been, and is unlikely to ever be so. Skills and experience, conveyed in an impactful and articulate manner get you into the room. How you package that knowledge and experience, interact with your environment, your colleagues and customers is what comes next. Often the difference between a good hire and a great hire is simply down to ‘fit’.

In preparing for interview smart candidates ask about everything, and this almost always includes dress code & office environment. As a simple rule it is quite difficult to be over-dressed for an interview. It is really rather easy to be under-dressed.  With so much communication being non-verbal the choice of smart black Oxfords, over tan loafers, could be more influential than you might think. Looking & feeling right for a firm is a key part of fitting the culture. Further, it instantly elevates an interview into the more critical stuff. If the ability to express your personality through your choice of rakish neckwear is important to you, then some environments are going to suit you better than others.  

I started my working life at Harrods where there was a distinct and clear dress policy. Did it make me a better Ops Manager, or did we sell more Teddy Bears because of my dark navy suit, black laced shoes (not boots!), white shirt and dark toned tie? Unlikely.  But what each and every customer got was a unified customer experience throughout the store. Image plays a huge role in customer service and customer experience. It’s that experience that will define whether a customer makes a purchase, makes a return trip, or goes down the road to Harvey Nicks. 

Harrods has moved on in so many ways since, and their dress code with it. But as a candidate wanting to join a firm with a clear corporate identity why fight the battle from the outside? Manifestly the choice of a black, not brown, shoe will not influence the capital markets, but if there is a customer expectation of a certain experience from a specific firm vs that of a competitor, these finer details have to be valid. So, your commercial success vs your sartorial choices…? Obvious priority, right?

Recruiting candidates that ‘fit’ sustains the organisational culture. But let us not forget that fit is a two-way street, what works for the employer must also work for the employee. There will always be opportunities to hire candidates that challenge and stretch a corporate culture, and similarly for employees to shape culture from within. Invest time in finding the right place, as well as the right role. Influence from the inside, and make your wardrobe choices count when it matters most!

Matt Cockbill, Managing Partner at Berwick Partners, generally wears black shoes for work…

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