The Recruiter's Soapbox


Casual Dress, Casual Attitude?

Over recent years I have seen a move in the recruitment world towards more of a casual dress policy and I am unsure what I think about this.  It seems that I am not alone in the confusion because people seem to be polarized on the topic.  Every client I have spoken to is adamant that their view is correct but from what I can see, it’s not clear cut.  Even speaking to my own team at Barton Mills, I was surprised to discover that internally we have very different views on this.  We don’t currently have a clear policy on our dress code other than it is taken as a given that we are “suited and booted” for external meetings.  But the question is should we have a clear policy for when we are working but not necessarily in the public eye?

A certain Director of our business (who shall remain nameless) admits that he is a “scruff pot” but believes it does not affect his work.  However, I did get him to grudgingly admit that on the rare occasion that he dons a suit he does feel “in business mode” and that it gives him “the extra 10%, eye of the tiger stuff”.  Another Senior member of my team fully endorses casual dress in the office.  He believes that he is self motivated and professional enough that what he is wearing doesn’t impact on his performance.  The rest of the team disagree and are pro corporate clothes, at least Monday – Thursday with a dress down option on Friday.

Half of the recruiters I have spoken to were adamant that being dressed in casual attire doesn’t mean that their performance is affected in any way whereas the other half were as convinced that with casual dress came a marked decline in attitude and hence performance.  Who is right?

On the one hand studies show that there are many benefits to wearing casual clothes in the work place such as good morale and open communication but on the other hand research has shown that the way you look directly affects the way you think, feel and act.  When you dress down, you sit down – the couch potato trend.  Research psychologist, Jeffery Magee states “Continually relaxed dress leads to relaxed manners, relaxed morals and relaxed productivity”.

In the pro camp the justifications include:

  • More comfortable, happier staff, high office morale.
  • Clients and candidates perceive you as different to other recruiters and a “real” person rather than just a suit.
  • If you have a “sporty office” it really helps people save on time if they are riding bikes or running to work.  For those consultants looking for work life balance, they see it as a big benefit.
  • Cost effective – more casual clothes tend to be cheaper so more cost effective for staff.
  • Clients tell me that they are seeing a huge increase in the number of clients dressing down to a more smart casual code.  The performance of these businesses have not deteriorated on the basis of what they wear to work, it’s down to the individual to achieve the results they need to – is the recruitment industry any different?


In the against camp:

  • People can have trouble deciding what to wear.  I had a candidate who accepted a role with a very funky, Surry hills based agency and he ended up spending $1K before his start date just because he was embarrassed by his wardrobe and felt under pressure to fit in.
  • Each person’s fashion sense can come under increased scrutiny
  • Even companies that promote a casual dress policy do admit that their teams are very experienced and mature and they would be nervous about implementing such a policy with a junior team.
  • You might have a policy of suits in front of clients, but what about the client that sees you across the street when you are jumping out of the office for a coffee wearing your board shorts and thongs?
  • One client even gave me some stats to back up his non casual policy.  They went as far as stopping casual Friday as they had noticed no client visits being booked on this day.  When they changed their policy to corporate attire all week, revenue immediately went up 2% and client visits and interviews went through the roof.


Everyone agrees that dressing formally has its place and it is important for any recruiter to match the corporate culture of their client base.  As Allen Russell – MD of Xpand says “Going to Macquarie Bank wearing jeans is probably not going to win you any favours, conversely if you walk into Google in a suit there will be 100 people thinking that the lawyers are in.”

Is there a middle ground to be had?  I agree with Allen Russell when he says you can generally “spot a corporate recruiter walking down the street; pin striped suit, tie with a full Windsor knot, the customary compendium, well groomed hair with lots of product”  I have to admit I regularly walk down George St playing the game – how many recruiters can I spot today?  I have to admit that it’s very easy to pick us out of a crowd– I think it’s the black folder that tends to do it!

Some thoughts to leave you with:  In determining your dress policy it is key to ask yourself a few questions first:

  • It’s a tough market – extremely competitive, if donning a suit can give you that extra 10% in terms of productivity, feeling in the zone etc – couldn’t we all currently benefit from any advantage we can get?
  • Do your clients expect a smart, corporate consultant?
  • Are your consultants mature enough to not abuse your policy?
  • Are you hitting your numbers? Will a policy like this effect productivity?


Is there a one size fits all answer to this?  I suspect it probably depends on the individual rather than the group which means for me that while some in your business may cope admirably with a casual dress policy, others might not.  If this is the case, shouldn’t we air on the side of caution and go corporate just to be on the safe side?