Elizabeth Bentivegna, a senior at Oberlin College, was invited for an interview for a summer job at a Cleveland software company. Although she had alerted them that she would be late for her 4:00pm interview and in fact did arrive about 20 minutes after, she felt the interview went really well and so she was devastated when she was turned down.
What angered her was the reason for the rejection given by the recruiter, who according to Bentivegna, “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 felt that this focus on her appearance demonstrated sexist attitudes.
So, as is often the case these days, when people get angry she vented her feelings on social media, in this case Facebook, and as the news report says, “Before long, Bentivegna became the focus of intense debate about the male-dominated computer programming field and whether women are subjected to different standards of appearance than men.” The story was picked up by other outlets and generated a lot of mixed comments here and here.
However, one thing that the rejection did not do is put a dent in her self-esteem, because she ends the Facebook post with the following message to her once would-be employers.
“You clearly are too stupid to realize who you just turned down. You clearly don’t understand that I am going to change the world, and I’ll be damned if I let you stop me. Now get the hell out of my way while I find somebody worthy of my time and abilities.”
I have no idea what is the appropriate attire for a job interview in the tech sector where dress codes are reportedly much more casual than elsewhere or whether she was dressed appropriately (the newspaper article has a photo) or how much gender bias was involved in her rejection. It is also the case that what one wears after one is hired and has shown that one is a valuable employee, and what one wears before being hired are two different things.
I was talking with someone who advises graduates of high schools in Cleveland about getting jobs and she conducts mock interviews with them to help them prepare. She says that she is shocked by how unaware they are about the factors that go towards making a positive impression on interviewers. She says that some of them have no idea about how to dress, walk in, greet the interviewer, sit, respond to questions, and all the other factors that can impress or put off potential employers. Her job is to coach them on these things because whether we like it or not, in a job interview, it is the employer who holds all the power and on average they tend to be more conservative than the general public.
Bentivegna’s rant on Facebook shows the danger of instant access to social media. In the past, in the heat of her anger, she would have vented to friends and family and that would be the end of it. But by putting her message out far and wide, she has created a permanent record of one aspect of her personality. Nowadays many employers look at your social media profile and it is not clear that hers will help her in the future. With those who like brash self-assurance, it may help. But for those who seek a little humility, they may well think twice.