"Brown Shoes Don’t Make It"

I once made the terrible mistake of going to an interview for an IT job at the head office of a bank in London whilst improperly dressed.

I forget what the job was exactly; some IT management role that was customer-facing (in other words, it meant talking to people other than geeks)

I wore brown shoes. OK, laugh, readers, but how was I to know? What book, with a name, I imagine, like “Knock ’em Dead at Interview”, ever warns you never to wear brown shoes in front of Bankers. I suspect it is just too obvious to be stated amongst the cognoscenti

I was doing quite well, I thought. Dressed in my regulation pinstripe suit, white shirt (minor striping allowed) and sober tie, (slight hint at a good regiment) I was explaining the finer points of Catalyst or some other development methodology when I absent-mindedly crossed my legs, and, in consequence, swung a polished brown shoe into view. Two of the three interviewers saw the offending shoe and stared as if hypnotized. I suddenly detected that I’d lost my audience. All attention was focused on my well-polished brogues. One of the three interviewers still followed my splendid train of thought until nudged, by one of the others, into looking at the offensive footwear. After that, it was downhill all the way.

Afterwards, I left the building in a state of dejection, and the agent soon got the reproachful feedback about my unforgivable lapse in turnout. ‘if only he could have turned out properly, we would have considered him. But he has little or no idea of what is required of someone who will be customer-facing in this enterprise’.

 I sat miserably on a bench in a nearby park with the agent after the interview. She initially reproached me for my foolishness in failing to take enough care of my personal appearance by thoughtlessly wearing brown shoes rather than black. It was as if I’d attended the interview in a gorilla suit. I imagine the three interviewers shaking their heads in disbelief whilst debriefing themselves over a soothing cup of coffee.

I miserably cursed my foolishness in assuming that my abilities would shine through at interview. I must have looked even more dejected than I felt, because she suddenly stopped in mid-flow and promised to buy me a nice pair of regulation pattern black shoes for IT work in a bank. This she then did, explaining that she was only temporarily working as an agent, and hadn’t yet been infected with that callous indifference to their job candidates that so infects the profession.

I have to say that it worked like a charm: Within days I was ‘Aceing’ job interviews- “Knocking ’em dead”. I even occasionally deliberately crossed my legs so they could admire how closely my footwear conformed to the sartorial standard. ‘hmm – footwear good, must be sound:’ I could almost hear them think. ‘Shoes good must be a fine fellow.’ I still have them, a sentimental souvenir most of the time, but whenever I buy a new pair I take them with me and insist that the new pair are exactly like them.

In the city, there is much discussion about the type of shirt to wear at interview. I always advise white; you can’t really go wrong. However, there is some debate over the matter because the liberal wing will suggest rather recklessly that any shirt with sober vertical stripes will do. The suit should, it goes without saying, be charcoal gray, though you can try pinstipe for interviews for jobs of senior grade.

All this knowledge and expertise is nugatory when interviewing for Linux jobs. It is part of the exaggerated informality of organizations that operate a Linux policy that ties are symbols of the beast, and suits are the uniforms of the army of Baal. I once had the misfortune to turn up to an interview for a PostgresSQL job in such an organization, having come directly from an interview for a banking job. I was greeted by a Java programmer dressed in Gothic regalia, a full-length black cloak like a high-church rector, though the regalia of black skulls and deaths-head chain spoilt the effect, and I’m not sure if the church is supportive of platted hair in male priests. He was very charming, but I saw him glance enviously at my black shoes.

I surreptitiously took the tie off and slung the jacket over my shoulder. My interviewer and I stared at each other as a lobster and a squid might do, and decided instantly to keep the conversation on the common ground of creating distributed applications in J2EE. I suspect he had half his mind on the pleasures of chasing squealing elves through woodland at weekends, and he probably thought I was dreaming of blasting grouse out of the sky whilst sneering at the beaters. We cast our cultural differences to one side and basked in the shared excitement of nailing squealing EJBs and ‘stateful session beans’ as they ran for cover, chuckling over ‘thrash-tuning antipatterns’ and other oxymoronic neologisms.

I suspect they chuckled over my sartorial faux-pas after I’d left, but my interviewer must have wondered wistfully where I’d gotten those splendid shoes.

(in case the title is obscure, it comes from Frank Zappa’s song ‘Brown Shoes Don’t make it’ , an anthem from the 1960s, which goes on…

‘….Be a loyal plastic robot
For a world that doesn’t care
Smile at every ugly
Shine on your shoes and cut your hair
Be a jerk and go to work Be a jerk and go to work
Be a jerk and go to work Be a jerk and go to work
Do your job, and do it right
Life’s a ball! (TV tonight!)
Do you love it, do you hate it?
There it is, the way you made it (WOOOooow) ‘