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Yes, you can judge a book it’s cover

A job rejection has gone viral over the last few days.  A college senior has complained that she was turned down for a job because of her attire.  Elizabeth Bentivegna is graduating from Oberlin College later this year with a degree in Computer Science.  She had contacted by a recruiter to apply for a position at OnShift.

By Bentivegna’s account, the interview went well and she expected to receive a job offer from OnShift. Instead the recruiter told her that she was rejected because she didn’t look “put together and professional” enough. Bentivegna had worn a black t-shirt, red skirt, black tights, and a black cardigan.

Bentivegna then vented about not getting the job on her Facebook account. Her opinion is that OnShift had made a mistake and she was being held to a different standard because she is female. She has a friend that works for Buzzfeed, Alanna Bennett, who tweeted a picture of Bentivegna’s Facebook post with the text “So my friend got rejected from a programming job today because she was wearing too much makeup.”

So my friend got rejected from a programming job today because she was wearing too much makeup.
So my friend got rejected from a programming job today because she was wearing too much makeup.

 

First, the recruiter never said anything about the makeup, just a comment about not looking professional enough.  There was probably more to this than just the clothing, but that was the information that the recruiter shared with Bentivegna.  While the developers may wear t-shirts and jeans at work, I doubt that’s what they wore to to their interview.

Let’s take a look at prospective employer.  OnShift offers workforce management software targeted for the health care industry. Their customers are retirement communities, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health agencies. They are doing line of business (LOB) apps for a conservative market.  if Bentivegna had done a little research, she would have looked at the OnShift Management Team page.

A third of the management team is female.  Each person on the team has a corporate head shot.  And they all dressed in professional business attire.  That should have been Bentivegna’s styling cue for her interview.

They say that you can’t judge a  book by it’s cover.  Wrong, you do judge a book by it’s cover.  That’s why they have covers in the first place.  For a job interview, you are selling your self. You want to use every tool at your disposal and that includes your attire.

If you are in the video game industry, then it’s appropriate or even expected to show up in jeans and t-shirt.  Just about everywhere else, it’s professional business attire.  It doesn’t matter if you like those rules or not, it’s how the game works.

Without knowing any of the details, but having been on both sides of the interview, I have a pretty good guess of what could of happened.  Bentivegna may have had a good technical interview.  But perhaps she didn’t click with the development or management teams on a personal level.  That is actually much more important that the technical skills.  A company can train a new developer on their tool stack, that’s easy.  Bu they can’t fix a personality that doesn’t mesh with the team.

It’s also possible that that company had interviewed multiple candidates and found someone that was a better fit.  Which is actually the official statement from OnShift.

Interviewing is a learned skill and Bentivegna was new at this.  In all fairness to Elizabeth Bentivegna, the recruiter should have prepared her for the interview and that includes discussing her choice of clothing.  When you make a mistake, you try to learn from that mistake and move on.  She was lucky to get some feedback for not getting the job.  Usually, you just hear that the employer went with another candidate.  Afterwards, the recruiter did suggest that Bentivegna purchase clothes for future interviews.

Michael K. McIntyre’s article on cleveland.com has an interesting quote from Bentivegna:

“I don’t see how my outfit could have been judged unprofessional, but I also think it’s silly that someone who is perfectly qualified and skilled and wants the job still can’t do it based on some arbitrary criteria,” she said. “Everyone has a different definition of what it means to look professional. I don’t think a male person would have had the same problem getting a job as I would.”

Elizabeth Bentivegna completely missed the lesson.  What a 21 year senior viewed as appropriate is not going to be the same as what the person with 30+ years of experience who interviewed her would viewed as appropriate.

You dress up for interviews.  You want the employer to know that you are taking the interview seriously.  It shows that you have attention to detail and that you are showing respect to people conducting the interview process.  Once you are on-board, you can follow the accepted dress code for the office, but until then you dress for success.

Publicly slamming the prospective employer was a dumb move. There is an expression that I heard once from a HR manager, “Sour Grapes equals Bad Apples”.    Her friend Bennett didn’t help her by sharing it with the world.  Bentivegna has demonstrated that she does not yet have the skills to handle rejection.  When she applies elsewhere, this incident is going to be the first thing that an employer is going to see.  That’s unfortunate, on paper she seems like a bright and capable candidate for an entry level web developer position.