Zoom Job Interviews: Dress to dodge a bullet

Zoom Job Interviews: Dress to dodge a bullet


What is the dress code for men on job interviews, whether live or Zoom? Some people say you can never go wrong overdressing, others say you don’t want to look stodgy. One friend always wears a sports jacket with a button down shirt, no tie.

Recent history: I had a Zoom interview with a manufacturing company and I dressed like my friend suggested. For a media firm where nobody on LinkedIn looked a day over 28, I wore a button down shirt, no jacket.

Tomorrow I have a 3rd interview with a large warehousing company (1st two were via phone) and want to get it right for this and other situations. Is a suit with a tie good? Sport jacket with a tie? Jacket but no tie? Looking for a default option. (Note: CEO of this company is wearing a suit on LinkedIn, other people are a mixture between suits and sport jackets with no tie.)

Thank you for any insights you can provide.

Nick’s Reply

zoom job interviewsHow you dress for a job interview in-person or online can have a big effect, though not just for the reasons you think. What you wear might help you dodge a bullet! But first let’s address the obvious: How to suss out the right way to dress.

Zoom job interviews

This is a tough question because there’s (1) little history about Zoom job interviews to go on and, (2) you have almost no idea how the interviewer will be dressed. So it’s a crapshoot!

You could check the interviewer’s LinkedIn photo prior to the meeting — if you can identify the interviewer in advance. Even so, I would not guess at the interviewer’s garb based on how they’re dressed in their LinkedIn photo. Many hire an “expert” to design their LinkedIn page and, if they’re execs, the expert tends to go high — suit and tie for men and suit or severe garb for women.

Not matter how you cut this, the fact is that we’re doing it online. Many people are working at home. Only the top half of both parties is visible, so for all either of you know, beneath the camera you’re both in your underwear. So the question is, what standard should you use to decide?

Ante up, raise the garb

My advice for in-person interviews is to ante up and raise the bet. That is, match, or dress half a notch above, the interviewer, mostly as a show of respect. They expect you to be putting your best foot forward. For a manager who seems to wear suits to work, I’d wear a suit. For a manager in a sport coat, I’d wear the same and perhaps add a tie. I’d one-up the manager in a well-pressed shirt by adding a low-key sport coat. Do they seem to wear t-shirts or sweats? Then show them a clean, collared shirt. If they’re out-and-out slobs, I’d dress down without sinking to their level.

In my experience, good managers expect job candidates to try and impress — not only with what they can do, but in how they look. (If the job is writing code alone under a naked lightbulb, all bets are off.)

Having said all that, never dress in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or not like yourself. More about this in a minute.


If the company is nearby, go visit the facility, if only to request some product literature. (Yes, companies still produce stuff in print!) Don’t laugh. I’ve seen this make a difference again and again. Linger if you can and look around without appearing suspicious. If you can’t get in, park yourself nearby and observe what people are wearing when they leave work. Yup, this involves a bit of reconnaissance. Find photos and videos online, perhaps of employee gatherings and events, and of managers giving talks or interviews. It’s amazing what you can turn up via Google. This will give you some basic ideas.

Does your garb really matter? It does. Like it or not, people judge books by their covers.

Zoom Interviews

For a Zoom call, I like to go to the middle, especially if your recon turned up nothing useful. For an office job, I’d wear a nice shirt (or blouse) in a solid color. Guys should pick shirts with a good collar. In Zoom we see only your top half. They know you’re at home, right? So even a stiff exec talking to you isn’t likely to expect you’ll be in a suit at home (I hope!). For other than an office job, wear a clean shirt of the type employees would wear on the job.

I’d never recommend a suit and tie or even a sports coat on a Zoom call, unless that’s really what you wear in your home office. Some interviewers might reject me, but I’d reject them first — they probably have a driver that takes them around the block and back home to work at their own house. I mean, anybody, and I mean anybody, that expects you to play dress-up at home is a weirdo.

A young interviewer, who may dress more casually, isn’t going to see you as stiff because you’re wearing a nice shirt. A manager in a suit or jacket and tie isn’t going to view you as underdressed at home. Make sense?

Dodge a bullet!

Now let’s talk about how your attire will help you dodge a bullet. Those clothes can keep you out of trouble!

If you’re in just a nice shirt and either a sartorially expert exec or a young interviewer in a t-shirt rejects you — well, it’s time to move on to the next employer. If that’s how they’re judging you, why would you want to work there? You may have just dodged a bullet!

If you try to be someone you’re not, they’re going to expect someone you’re not to show up to work every day — and you’ll be miserable. It is impossible to keep up a phony interview façade after you’re hired, whether it’s your attire or the “personality” you put on.

Get past the clothes

There’s only one best way to get the hiring manager past what you look like. Make sure your ability to demonstrate how you’ll drop more profit to the bottom line is so solid that they won’t even remember what you were wearing! I wouldn’t worry too much about suits, jackets and shirts if you’ve got your message down. This may help:  Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.

I wish you the best!

Do you dress for success? What do you wear for Zoom interviews? What’s your sartorial rule when you interview in person? Have Zoom interviews and work-at-home changed all job interviews?

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Are college degree requirements unreasonable?

Are college degree requirements unreasonable?

Special Video Edition

Do employers shoot themselves in the foot when they require college degrees, especially for jobs that don’t seem to warrant them? In today’s job market, is it reasonable for an employer to treat a college degree as an indicator of ability to do a job? Or is this people filter just an inadequate proxy for more effective candidate assessment methods?

I’d like to hear your thoughts on these questions. But first, a video to provoke you.

Do college degree requirements promote better hiring?

college degree requirementsWe’ve discussed the college degree requirement in hiring and getting a job many times in this column. Recently, my good buddy Paul Solman did a segment about the subject on PBS NewsHour: Jobs requiring college degrees disqualify most U.S. workers — especially workers of color. You can watch the segment below, or read the transcript. Yours truly appears briefly at around 3:40.

My contribution to Solman’s story is that perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into the keywords “college degree required.” In general — even if a job really would benefit from a degree — the degree requirement is often just another way for employers to filter what comes out of the digital fire hose of job applicants. In other words, if you don’t have the degree, ignore the requirement, because it serves more to reject you than to select viable candidates.

Pursue the opportunity anyway but, of course, use the methods we discuss here. That is, read the job posting, then don’t apply at all. Instead of meeting the keyword monster in the applicant tracking system (ATS), approach the hiring manager through a trusted contact. In spite of a degree requirement, the manager may conclude your abilities and acumen are sufficient to hire you. The keyword monster will merely spit you out.

In this segment Paul Solman takes another approach on the matter of college degree requirements. He asks, Do they unreasonably filter out good candidates? Do people seeking better-paying jobs really need a degree to get ahead?

Questions for you

I’d like to hear your thoughts and reactions on this NewsHour story.

  1. In today’s economy, when employers can’t fill jobs, would they do better to eliminate college degree requirements?
  2. Is vocational training or certification sufficient for an entire career?
  3. Will the people interviewed in the segment — who all work in computer software — eventually have to get degrees if they want to move up?
  4. Is Solman’s message valid for welders, pipe-fitters, baristas and bricklayers?
  5. Has the college degree become just another keyword to aid in rejecting job applicants?
  6. What do you make of the assertion that un-degreed workers earn 13% less over a lifetime, while those with a degree earn 13% more?
  7. For those that want to earn as much as degreed people without getting a degree, are there enough such jobs?
  8. What do you think of the comments about the value of college degrees offered by the philosopher toward the end of the segment?
  9. If you have a college degree and have been working for some time, do you think your degree has been essential to your career success and income?
  10. If you don’t have a degree but do have vocational training and are successful at work, do you think at some point your lack of a degree will hurt your career prospects and income?

Questions for employers

Another buddy of mine, Peter Cappelli, is a labor and employment researcher at the Wharton School. His research suggests one of the key reasons employers have difficulty filling jobs is that over the years they’ve dramatically reduced or stopped providing employee training and education.

  • If you’re an employer, how do you respond to Cappelli’s findings?
  • Can on-the-job training and development substitute for a college degree?

Where does this leave us? How does — or should — education fit into a successful career and earning a good salary? How many more questions like these could you possibly consider after reading this column?

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Why getting a job is all about “who you know”

Why getting a job is all about “who you know”


You preach that most jobs are found through personal contacts. There is no way to pursue as many job opportunities via contacts as by applying for jobs online. Maybe it takes a thousand applications on Indeed and LinkedIn, but that’s automation at work. Meanwhile, there’s no way to get 1,000 job opportunities through 1,000 contacts when you’re looking for a job. It’s an odds game any way you look at it. So deny that and tell me why I’m wrong, please.

Nick’s Reply

who you knowIn an economy where employers are struggling to find workers among millions in all the online databases, there’s a premium on automation. There are so many resumes, profiles and applications to sort through! When a task is as repetitive as reviewing job applications, especially when human time and effort are so expensive, it’s always better to let automation do the job. Isn’t it?

While “Automate it!” has become a business mantra in HR, not every business objective is served by automation. Just because databases can deliver more job listings and more job applicants doesn’t mean “more is better.” Some things require a personal approach.

We have long discussed the failure of automated tools for job hunting and hiring. It’s worth considering why personal contacts – which are the source of 40%-70% of new jobs and new hires – work so much better. It’s partly because less is better.

Personal contacts are active.

The job boards are passive and impersonal. One job hunter will wait until a database matches their “keywords” to a job description. Another – an active job hunter – won’t wait. They will use personal contacts to get introduced to a manager directly.

Guess who gets the manager’s attention first?

“Who you know” is a good filtering mechanism.

Job boards and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes) are lousy “people filters” because they’re bit buckets. That is, they sort ASCII characters, not character. Managers put a premium on the personal endorsement of a candidate by a professional friend or associate. Why?

It’s a matter of trust. The word of a professional contact is much more reliable than a resume that came from an impersonal database. Managers don’t like to take chances.

Personal contacts yield more highly motivated people.

It takes no motivation to apply for the nth job on a job board, and job boards don’t measure anyone’s interest in a particular job. (Wow — when will HR realize this while it advertises for truly motivated applicants?) Instead, these databases deliver all “matches.”

A candidate who makes the effort to develop a personal contact with the right manager is almost always more interested and motivated than most online applicants. Guess who is more likely to get an interview? (When will HR realize that a referral from a trusted contact saves time and cost — because it comes with a credible, built-in reference?)

Personal contacts anticipate job openings and good candidates.

By the time a job (or resume) is posted, the game is over. The only way to find out about a job before the teeming hordes apply for it is to have a good inside contact that tips you off before the job is advertised.

Likewise, the best way to hire a great candidate is to know about them before they start looking for a new job. Only personal contacts yield hidden opportunities. Well, headhunters do, too — for big, fat search fees.

Personal contacts can’t be automated. They require time and effort, personal attention, good judgment, motivation, and the ability to anticipate events before they happen. Who you know — and who knows you — matters. That’s why most jobs are filled through personal contacts.

How much time and effort do you invest in personal contacts? Do you agree that it’s all about “who you know?”

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Guess who can get you a job interview in just 20 minutes?

Guess who can get you a job interview in just 20 minutes?


This week’s question is not a question. It’s a lesson from a subscriber about getting a job interview, so I’m going to highlight it differently than normal. Hope you find this real-world “how to get in the door” approach helpful. I can attest that it works because I’ve coached many successful job seekers on how to use it. It’s so fundamental and powerful a social tool that I’ve also taught employers how to apply the same basic method when they are recruiting. But let’s let this subscriber explain it! – Nick

How I got in the door

I’ve learned that Ask The Headhunter is not a road map but a philosophy that helps you take the lead in the hiring process. The job hunter who is in control does not jump in and act presumptuously. Instead, he just takes the lead, allowing others to play their parts.

The path to the job interview

Below is an actual letter that I sent to a contact at a company where I’d like to work. I got this person’s name out of the local business fish wrap.

Dear Mr. Big (alias),

job interviewI’ve been following your company’s activities. I read the XXX article in YYY fish wrap weekly. I would like to learn more and I am contacting you because you were cited in the article.

Let me explain the purpose of this letter. I am currently talking to knowledgeable professionals like you to better understand how I might fit into your industry. Managing the day-to-day operations of a technical service organization such as yours is what I do best.

I would greatly appreciate 20 minutes of your time. Let me be perfectly clear that I do not expect you to have or know of any job openings. I am strictly on an information-gathering mission, talking with people who currently work in my target industry. I assure you that I will be prepared and take up no more than the 20 minutes I asked for.

I will call you Friday morning around 8:00 AM to set up an appointment at your convenience.

How to meet who owns the jobs

I sent this letter on Tuesday, called on Friday and got an appointment for the next week! I had my meeting. This particular individual was a sales manager for the region. But, I’m not interested in getting a job in sales. I’m a technical guy. I explained to the sales guy that I wanted to talk to him because “sales has the pulse of the entire organization.” Which is true, plus, people in sales love to talk. And talk he did.

The end result is that I ended up with referrals including the names and phone numbers of two IT managers and the regional director of operations.

How to do it painlessly

I learned that the keys to getting informational meetings are:

  1. Ask for information only!
  2. Tell people up front that you don’t expect them to have or know of any job openings.
  3. Ask for 20 minutes.
  4. Tell them you’ll be prepared. Remember axiom #1 of the Ask The Headhunter approach to job search: The best way to get a job is not to ask for one.
  5. You will turn up the names of managers to meet with through research, not by asking HR.

Start on the periphery of your list. Don’t approach the guy you actually want to work for too early. Use the “second stringers” to get information. When you do get to your target, you’ll be totally prepared to do The New Interview.

Nick’s Reply

Good stuff! I love to see the methods we discuss put to use. I tire of people that tell me they have no contacts at a company, or don’t know whom to call, or that HR is the only way in the door.

Your method of identifying an employee to call by reading business publications is one I’ve taught in workshops. It works!

Work your way toward the job interview

Perhaps one of the most important points you make is to start on the periphery – it’s the “second stringers” who give you the ammo you need when you get to the Big Boss. (I refer to this elsewhere as triangulating to get in the door.) That’s also where you can experiment a bit with your approach and tune your presentation, and – of course – learn a whole lot!

It seems you ferreted out the phone number of the person you wrote to. When you don’t have that number, you’d of course say instead, “If you will kindly provide a number and time when we can talk for 20 minutes, I’ll call you then.”

Who can get you in the door?

Your story also points out that patience is key. The person who can get you in the door is likely someone you don’t know yet. If you did anything unusual, it’s that you invested the time to identify a relevant person in the business press.

Job hunters who are always in a hurry won’t get this: there may be no job and no match at the end of this process at this company. But even so, you will make some excellent contacts who can help you with the next company you target. There is unfortunately a strong, almost uncontrollable tendency in most people to turn that meeting into a job interview – and that’s how they blow it.

Congrats on getting in the door. Double congrats for carefully picking your quarry, both the company and the person you called. And thanks again for sharing your story.

The lesson

To other subscribers, I think this reader’s experience teaches an important lesson, in the form of a question. Who can get you into a job interview in just 20 minutes? I believe getting a shot at the best job requires that you work out the answer to that question. In fact, I think that may be the single most important task in job hunting.

How do you get in the door in today’s insane job market, which is dominated by digital roadblocks and robotic HR screeners? Have you ever started at the periphery like this reader did? How do you identify the person you need to talk to?

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