Finding Cheap Charlie to Help You Land the Job

By: Karen Barnett, Senior Director, Consulting Services

Often in life, I find myself categorizing everyday professional and personal situations into two camps:  ‘Cheap Charlie’, where a little money can go a long way, or ‘Richie Rich’, where you need to spend more serious money to get results.

Often times when speaking with potential consultants, I apply these two camps provide advice and assist our candidates with ‘landing the job’   which prompted me to write this blog about finding your Cheap Charlie throughout an accounting, finance or IT job search. Authors and career consultants constantly publish articles conveying the importance of appearance during a job interview. Although this advice appears straightforward, some job seekers may not see the value of appearance. With the perfect technical background, can’t an employer see beyond the facade of a new suit and shined shoes? Unfortunately, no. Appearance plays a huge factor in making an impression with a potential employer.

When recently working with a client in the Bay Area, we had found the ‘perfect’ candidate. Their resume matched perfectly with the technical skill set our client was looking for, they interviewed well with our internal recruiters, and they had a great personality! The day of the interview we eagerly awaited the go ahead from our client to bring this individual on board. We were that confident. The phone rang and what we anticipated to be great news turned into bad news. The client was not moving forward with hiring the candidate. When asked why, they answered, “We are passing on your candidate - You should know the candidate’s clothes and hair were not clean.”

If this candidate lived in the world of Richie Rich, it would have been easy for her to look her best.  The best products, clothes, and products money could buy.  But that is not where she, and majority of us frankly, live.

Luckily, our friend Charlie can help us find many ways to present ourselves well, and still look and feel great!  I’ve listed my best tips below with this in mind:

  1. Clean and pressed clothes that fit – I would have two to three outfits that fit well, and you feel good in.   Even if you do not have a huge budget, you can get a personal shopper from Nordstrom or Macy’s and they do not charge for their service.  Let them know you need a business casual outfit and they will fill a room with ideas.  It is nice to buy at least one piece, but there is nothing stopping you from finding an outfit you like, taking a picture, and finding very similar clothes at a less expensive store.I have used a personal shopper in the past and this strategy worked out well.  The shopper and I decided to keep the pants and jewelry I had, but buy a great pair of shoes and a shirt to make a much better outfit for a lower cost.Also, most dry cleaners are very professional and turn out a great press or clean on clothes for very little money.  Unless you are a talented and experienced with an iron, this is money well spent.
  2. Smelling great – Smell is probably the next important thing, after clean clothes, that makes your good first impression.  And is not expensive to have. Deodorant too is a cornerstone, but good breath is also very key.  Always use a mint right before your meeting.There are pluses and minuses to cologne or perfume, so I would not use it, since your interviewer may be allergic.  If you must, go VERY light on scents.
  3. Mirrors are your friends  - It is a great idea to look at your teeth, eyes, mouth, nose, etc. with a hand mirror right before you go into the interview.  Gunk in your eyes and nose is the easiest thing for you to spot on yourself, and the most distracting and off-putting thing a prospective employer would be looking at on your face during your meeting.A full-length mirror is also great to look at your outfit before you leave the house.  For the ladies, please make sure your outfit is professional and you cannot see your bra or too much cleavage, and skirts are a good length when you are sitting down.
  4. Hair management  -  A fresh haircut and shave are key, especially for the guys.  I would also brush and smooth out your hair right before the interview.  If your hair can unruly, many inexpensive products can help smooth out your hair to present a more polished look.
  5. Good Nails help make a good handshake - Clean and trimmed nails for men and women are important.  Ladies, you don’t need polish, but clean, neat nails are a must!
  6. Putting your best face forward - For the ladies, makeup can help or hurt you.  I would try to be “in the middle” with just enough, but not too much.  Department stores can help you with good tips also in this area.For those who wear glasses, a quick clean before the meeting means you are seeing and looking your best.
  7. Enlist a friend – For any of the above categories you feel unsure about, enlist a friend for advice.  Breath, clothes hair – all much easier for others to see in you than for you to see in yourself.
  8. Smile!  - One of the best FREE things you can use to your advantage is your smile!  You want to be genuine, but a warm smile is a great asset and part of an overall great attitude.  You want to present yourself as someone who is confident (not cocky) and who always gets the job. It is also good to show that you are interested in the job, but not desperate.One candidate shared with me that they liked to channel the behavior of a TV character they were familiar with. This person was confident and successful, and this made her feel more confident in herself, and portray that in the interview.
  9. Punctuality – Being on time is the easiest “free” thing any candidate can do to be successful. I would plan to be at least a half hour early to the site, and go up to the lobby ten minutes before. It is key to be there early, so you can do final preparation and not be stressed out from being late. 
  10. Portfolio with pen and paper – Bring a portfolio, pen, and two resumes just in case you need to take notes and the interviewer needs a copy of your resume.  If you don’t have a printer, pay a few dollars at Kinko’s to print it there.I recognize that paper is somewhat “old school”, but we recently had a Director of Finance candidate not bring anything with him to an interview and the client rejected based on this. This is a terrible way to lose a position, and it is so easy (and inexpensive) for candidates to do.

We here at DeWinter are always here to help you in your search.  While most of our work is focused on the job itself, we are always happy to help give you feedback and advice on your physical presentation.

Many of our clients have what they call “the Starbucks test,” which is basically “would I hang out with this person at a Starbucks?”  Sadly, in the case of our recent candidate mentioned before, the answer was no and this cost them a chance at the job.  Since we often spend more waking hours at work than home, it seems fair that clients hire people they are comfortable with and enjoy being around. And being that Starbucks kind person does not have to be expensive:  If Charlie can do it, we all can!


About the Author

Karen, a native Californian, is based in our Silicon Valley office. A licensed CPA, she started her career in audit/assurance at KPMG and worked in Corporate Finance and Accounting for SGI and Exodus Communications after 5 years in Public Accounting. Karen first showed an interest in recruitment at KPMG and for over 12 years has been recruiting and placing finance and accounting professionals throughout the Bay Area. Karen was a top producer and multiple award winner at Accountants Inc. and transitioned to boutique Finance and Accounting recruitment in 2007. Karen joined the DeWinter Group in 2012 and is committed to placing top, high-level consulting candidates throughout the Bay Area. Karen holds a BA degree in Economics/Accounting from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and an MBA in Entrepreneurship/Finance from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, Bloomington.