What I Ditched for the Pitch

Guest post by Mary-Margaret Bennett, Agency Growth Specialist at Vendasta.

“…I asked my supervisor if they had noticed my dirty boots the day we met, and he said that he did, but that it did not matter, what mattered was the fact I gave a good interview.”

When it comes to interviews and networking, first impressions are everything. Through my Bachelors of Management Degree, I was taught how to give confident, firm handshakes, how to show you are actively listening, how to read body language and so on and so forth. I remember the posters on the walls in the classrooms, showing examples of proper and poor dressing habits for interviews. Men in dark suits with neatly fitted ties, women in neutrals with heels and jewelry with big smiles and a confident posture. On the other side of these posters were people in jeans, t-shirts and sneakers, they looked bored, unhappy and slouched over. It makes sense, if you show up to an interview not looking your best, they will think you are not serious about the position and not consider you. In the corporate world I am sure immaculate dress is still the case, but just like how paper posters are moving towards digital media, I believe that this perception of interview attire is begining to change.

Heels of Any Kind

It is often said in the business world that “time is money”. While a lot of work places are becoming more progressive, and recognize the adverse effects heels have on human health, it is still commonplace to hear the “click clop” of this kind of footwear in banks, offices and restaurants; places where time is monitored the most. I used to enjoy wearing heels, they made me stand a little taller, feel a bit more confident, and that trademark sound demanded attention from every passerby. While I felt confident and collected, it took me more time that I would like to admit to realize that heels were actually holding me back from what I wanted to accomplish.

When I was traveling to attend an interview, I had to allot an extra fifteen minutes to my commute because this style of footwear was slowing me down. Every curb, stair and crack in the pavement made the brisk walk an obstacle course. My ankles would dreadfully ache at the end of the day, and I am not be the only person whose toes would bleed, am I?

If timeliness, professionalism and productivity are desirable traits to carry, I cannot help but profess that because of heels I have in the past been unwillingly late to work, failed at hiding my foot discomfort, and spent time away from my desk to tend a wound too visible to simply clench my teeth and ignore.

I still remember my very first interview, it was raining so instead of wearing my heels to the office, I carried them in my purse and wore my most beat-up combat boots to keep my feet dry. When I hailed the elevator, it opened to reveal a small group of young professionals, dressed to the nines in suits, designer brands, and the most expensive smelling perfumes. They looked me up and down and then continued on their conversation. I slumped myself into the back corner, praying that they were not getting off on the 21st floor. As the little number boxes went by, I remember biting my lip hard and holding my breath 19…20…21 *Ding* the elevator popped open and the group filed out, barrelling into the door of the company I was interviewing with. I slipped from the elevator and made my way down the corridor, then hid in the bathroom to touch up my hair and practice my pitch.

It was not until ten minutes until my interview that I entered the office, I was asked to sit down and looked around to make sure that the other candidates had already come and left. I looked away from the clock on the wall to discover I was still clad in my mud-caked boots. Before I could excuse myself, the interviewer called for me. A week later I received an email thanking me for my time, and an offer to work at their company. Later on I asked my supervisor if they had noticed my dirty boots the day we met, and he said that he did, but that it did not matter, what mattered was the fact I gave a good interview.

Thick Makeup & Accessories

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“In my efforts to appear professional … my approach lead to friction rather than collaboration”

I have had a complicated relationship with my complexion. The acne scars and redness that plague my face have always been an insecurity of mine. Until recently I would apply thick make-up every single day to hide my imperfections. I hid behind a painted face, and felt that I could never give up my true identity for fear of being judged as unprofessional. I felt from my constant touch-ups that people around me thought that I was obsessed with my appearance, that I was shallow and materialistic. Because of this I received negative comments over the years from people who judged me this way, and made me feel like all I was was a pretty face, nothing more. In my efforts to appear professional in the workplace, my approach lead to unwarranted friction rather than collaboration.

For the health of my complexion, and to be more confident in my own appearance, I have moved to light make-up, if not completely bare-faced, for the majority of my networking interactions.

Stiff & Uncomfortable Corporate Clothing

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“I noticed that the people I interviewed or networked with often were wearing less formal attire than me, this made me feel in a way “over-dressed” for the occasion.”

For a similar reason to pinch-y high heels, I have given up corporate garb all-together. The constant pulling and tugging became a frustration that distracted me from my focus. When giving an interview you need to be calm, friendly and collected, and do your best to be comfortable, but when your skirt is riding up or you can barely extend your arms because of a tight blazer, your ability to express yourself (in my experience) has been greatly diminished. I noticed that the people I interviewed or networked with often were wearing less formal attire than me, this made me feel in a way “over-dressed” for the occasion.

One time during an office meeting, we met with a very important vendor for a software product negotiation. When the well dressed men from this company sat down, one of them made fun of the other for missing his cuff links. The man’s face reddened slightly in embarrassment and he shyly apologized to us, trying his best to laugh off the other man’s joke. I strongly feel that one’s capabilities and expertise is what they should be bringing to the table for an important discussion, the group’s mind should shy away from having their attention wavered by a stray lock of hair, or someone’s missing cufflinks. It made me happy to hear my supervisor say to the man; “Don’t apologize, no one is going to judge you here over some cufflinks.”

The Take Away

While every organization has different expectations of its candidates, and not all networking events are created equal, I have over the years came to the conclusion that in order to put your best foot forward, you need to be true to yourself. Show your flaws right away, celebrate and appreciate your quirks, and allow others to see the value in your character, not just your appearance. Only when I became comfortable in my own skin did I start to let my imposter syndrome drift away. I did not nail the interview because of my perfectly curled hair, I did so because of my own capabilities and merit. I still carry the scars on my face, and heels from the scores of hours I dedicated to cramming myself into a standard mould of expectation, but only from obtaining these wounds did I realize what is truly important in the grand scheme of things, being an individual.