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An Oberlin College senior named Elizabeth Bentivegna recently vented in a Facebook post about being rejected for a programming job at a Cleveland software company. Specifically, she was outraged by what she feels is sexism in the tech industry, and her post has sparked fierce debate online about whether there are different standards for men and women and just what is appropriate conduct during and after a job interview.
As reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Bentivegna said that a recruiter contacted her for the position, and after she interviewed with the tech company, passed along the feedback that she didn’t appear “put-together.”
“She said they’d love to hire me based on my technical ability and my personality, but were not going to because A: I looked like I was about to go clubbing and not be on an interview, B: I had a huge run in my tights and C: I was late. And I told them I was going to be late,” Bentivegna told the Plain Dealer.
The company said in prepared statement that Bentivegna was passed over for the job because they had more qualified applicants, not because of her appearance.
Regardless of gender—or your opinion on Bentivegna’s choice of interview outfit—there are a couple things every young person entering the job market can learn from this incident, says New York career coach Roy Cohen. Here are some takeaways.
1. Plan Your Outfit Carefully
Rather than going with your gut or an outfit that has worked for previous summer job interviews, research what type of interview attire is considered standard for the industry you’re looking to break into. Even if you know your industry or this company is more jeans and T-shirt than suit and tie, err on the conservative side with your fashion picks.
If you are working with a recruiter, ask for her advice. “Say: ‘I’m excited for the chance to interview and want to make the best possible impression, do you have any recommendations on interview attire?'” Cohen suggests. Alternatively, you can always seek guidance from your college’s career services center on how to prepare. You can even wear the outfit you’ve got in mind to your meeting with career services as a way of vetting it beforehand.
(For more tips on how to avoid making work-wear mistakes, see our summertime office ensemble guide.)
2. Be On Time
Just because a recruiter or company suggests an interview time does not mean you are beholden to it. If other engagements, say class or another job, conflict or overlap with the time they’ve slotted, simply explain why that time will not work and suggest an alternate time during typical business hours, Cohen recommends. Don’t hurt your prospects unnecessarily by scheduling the interview too closely to other engagements either. Give yourself space to deal with a traffic jam or whatever else life may throw at you.
3. Stay Off Social Media
It’s OK to post in celebration of landing a new gig. But ranting about a rejection or unfairness could lead you to make a career-destroying blunder as these social media users did.
If an interview experience goes poorly or you receive criticism from an employer or recruiter, keep your venting offline. Tell it to a friend. Write it in a journal. “No matter how the interview goes, if you post about an organization, you need to keep it positive. If you have nothing nice to say, it’s better to say nothing at all,” says Cohen. “Venting in that kind of public way could easily tarnish your reputation and raises issues concerning your temper, judgment, and loyalty in the eyes of future employers who fear a similar treatment.”
If you’ve already posted such a rant, purge it from your history. Hiring managers and the Internet have a way of uncovering your entire online identity, even those stupid offhand comments you may have made six years ago. If you don’t remember whether your web history includes such a venting session or something more offensive, a new app called Clear promises to search your social media accounts and flag anything questionable, then delete it.
4. Bounce Back from Rejection
“Feedback is always valuable. We can use it to become smarter interviewers and gain insight into how we are being perceived,” says Cohen. “We can’t personalize every rejection, it would distort our own value. After all, companies have to reject someone.”
But if you do feel the company misjudged you, maybe because of an outfit or a timing issue beyond your control, respond by sending the appropriate person at the company a thoughtful note expressing your disappointment at not being selected. Don’t challenge them on the reasons they or the recruiter might have given for the decision. Instead, outline the value you can add to the company once more and request another interview opportunity. You can also always ask to be kept in mind for any future openings.
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