What to wear to a virtual job interview

I regularly hire people I’ve never met in real life. We cover international business, and we like having correspondents and editors around the world — and with today’s economy, we just don’t have the budget to fly out and meet everyone in person.

So we make do. We review resumes and writing samples, talk to them on the telephone, and do video Skype calls.

Since last summer, we’ve also been interviewing people in our virtual offices. This makes sense for two reasons. First, they get a sense of what we’re like as a company. Are our virtual offices stiff and formal? Or are they casual and relaxed? We like to think we’re somewhere in between — our virtual offices are in a converted house, on a virtual beach. There are formal conference room areas, and informal lounges. And there’s an open-air meeting area outside, for casual get-togethers.

Job applicants also get a chance to see how we dress. At our company, for example, our office dress code is “business casual.” One of my business partners always wears a virtual suit and tie, the rest of us are slightly less formal but still professional.

So our choices of virtual office, furnishings, and clothing say something about what we’re like as a company, so potential hires can get a gut sense of whether they’ll fit in or not.

Of course, we’re also checking them out.

So, the first thing we’re looking for is how comfortable they are with new technology. We do a lot of technology reporting. We don’t expect all our hires to be technology whiz kids — but we do expect them to be open to new platforms and tools, and have an inquisitive mind.

The first test, therefore, is whether they can get to our office. Are they able to follow the instructions, download the right software, create the avatar, and show up at the interview? It’s okay if there are hiccups, and they need to ask for help. But if something goes wrong at every single stage of the process, or they get frustrated and give up, then maybe working as a technology reporter isn’t the best path of them to take.

Dressing for success

We expect our job applicants to dress a little bit better than we do — after all, they’re coming to a job interview — and then relax a little bit after they’ve been hired and wear the same business casual clothing as the rest of us.

A suit and tie, therefore, are always appropriate. Unfortunately, the suits I’ve seen so far in Second Life and OpenSim are all skin-tight — but what can you do? I hear the situation will improve when we get meshes — I can’t wait.

Casual slacks and shirts, or skirts and blouses, are fine, especially given our tropical island setting. Intellectually we know that it’s not too hot in our virtual office, but with the sun shining down, and the palm trees — it’s easy to feel overdressed in a heavy suit and tie.

We definitely do not expect to see anyone show up in a role playing costume. Our company is not in the role playing industry or related fields. Most of what we do involves interviewing business executives in traditional fields.

The rule of thumb here is — dress for your target audience. If you’re applying for a job at a video game company, they’ll expect to see a different style of clothing than, say, a music production company, or a lingerie store, or a circus, or an insurance agency. Though of course there are significant variations as well — I’m sure there are some insurance companies that are very fashion-forward, and some music production firms that are very buttoned up. A little preliminary spying — I mean, industry research — can help a great deal here.

Keep in mind though, that job candidates are not usually rejected simply because they dress too formally for the job. So if you’re going to err, err on the side of caution.

And if you’re applying for a real job, it helps if you apply under your real name and gender. In OpenSim in particular, its easy to create an avatar with your real name. It’s the virtual world equivalent of having a professional email address rather than, say, [email protected]

You also want your employer to be able to connect your resume to your identity. If they’re interviewing a lot of people, you don’t want them to be thinking at the end of the day, “This resume looks good — but didn’t the guy show up as Thor Thunderhammer and flip everyone off? Or am I thinking of someone else? Just to be on the safe side — lets dump this one.”

And use your real gender and ethnicity. It’s fine if you spend your personal time as a leather-clad vampire of the opposite gender. But unless you’re actively transitioning your gender in real life, have your professional avatar match your real shape.

Again, some companies are more flexible on this than others, but when you’re dealing with a real-world company, that pays real-world money, and expects you to interact with real-world customers, its pays to err on the side of conservatism.

Age, weight and hair

Is it okay to come with a full head of hair if, say, in the real world you’re bald as a cue ball? What about taking a few years off your age — or a few pounds off your middle?

Fortunately, the virtual worlds are very lacking in bald, old, overweight avatars. So we all have to suffer with looking young and attractive.

Will your potential employer hold this against you? Chances are, they themselves had had some virtual cosmetic surgery done.

However, do prepare them for your real-life appearance for when they do follow-up interviews in person or over video conference.

Saying something like, “I love being in the virtual worlds — I wish I had this much hair in real life. For some reason, receding hairlines aren’t widely available in the stores here!” and follow that up with a self-deprecating chuckle will immunize your employer against your actual looks. Meanwhile, you’ll still be benefiting from the psychological advantage of looking young and well-haired.

The same goes for weight. My avatar on our company grid is significantly fitter than I am in real life. Now, it’s true, I can adjust the settings and give my avatar a copy of my real hips. Or I could plead ignorance, and claim that all the avatars available are all hot and skinny so what can I do? Obviously, I’m taking the second option. I don’t know how to use the sliders — I swear!

And, as an employer, at the end of the day, if my employees are happy in their avatar shapes, they’ll be more inclined to attend in-world meetings — and save us some travel money as a result.

Bring props

If an employees is coming to an interview in my real office, I expect them to bring copies of their resume and work samples.

They can do the same in the virtual worlds. For example, they can make a presentation stand, and upload images of their resume, photographs they’ve taken, copies of marketing materials they’ve produced, or recent articles. It doesn’t have to be fancy — a flattened box with the image on one side is good enough. Save them in your inventory under descriptive names so you can pull them out later. If you need to give them to the employer — if, say, you aren’t able to rezz objects in their office – make sure all the object titles include your name. For example, “John Smith – Resume,” “John Smith – Marketing Sample 1″ and “John Smith – Photo Gallery” are all nice, descriptive names that will help your employer find the materials in their inventory when they review your application at the end of the day — or the week, or the month.

By the way, it’s also a good idea never to email anyone a file titled simply “Resume.” Trust me, it will get lost immediately.

If you’re applying for an in-world development job, bring some stuff that you’ve designed.

You can even put an entire region up on the hypergrid, and take your prospective employer on a tour. If you’re worrying about losing content to copybotters, you can turn off hypergrid right after the visit.

But unless you’re very, very good and very much in-demand, don’t expect your employer to create a new account and log into a new grid just to see your work. I, for one, am all avatared-out. If it’s not on the hypergrid, I’m not visiting. There are just too many private grids out there to create an account on each one.

Fortunately, if you’re only expecting one or two visitors at the home, a free, home-based grid or a low-cost hosted region should work fine, unless your builds are extremely detailed and script-heavy. Except to pay between $10 and $25 for a light region, with low-traffic, and few scripts, and up to $90 a month for a heavy-use region similar in performance to one in Second Life.

As an employer, if I have to wait for your region to rezz, and walking is slowly and laggy, a simple explanation that the region is run on a home computer is enough. After all, I’m there to evaluate your design skills, not your hardware setup (unless I’m hiring you for your hardware skills, of course). Similarly, I don’t expect people’s online resumes to look like the latest fancy-pants Web 2.0 websites — unless they’re in the Web design business.

Preparation counts

Given the choice between two equally qualified employees — one of whom really wants the job a lot, and another who’s ambivalent, I’ll pick the motivated one every time. In fact, I’ll over pick a more motivated employee over a more qualified one. The motivated one will be more fun to work with, and will bring energy and enthusiasm for the job that will help them pick up the skills they need to match and even surpass those of the other candidate. And while you can teach an employee new skills, it’s very hard to get them to be more energetic.

The key is to show that you want the job in a productive, meaningful way.

So not sleeping the night before and throwing up your breakfast can be an indication of extreme interest, but I’d rather see that nervous energy channeled into researching my company, my industry, and in preparing a kick-ass presentation.

In real life, this might mean a dry run to the company’s offices, to make sure you know how to get there and how much time the trip takes. It also means picking out your interview suit ahead of time, and getting it cleaned if necessary — and buying matching shoes if needed. It means printing out a new resume and work samples. Maybe getting a haircut or a manicure, or doing a trial interview with a friend, to practice the points you want to make.

Put that same amount of preparation into a virtual interview.

That means doing a dry run getting to their virtual office. Don’t be embarrassed if they catch you teleporting in — just explain that you’re a careful type, and are testing out the technology to make sure it works, and that you’re looking forward to the interview tomorrow. Nobody is going to hold that against you unless they’re crazy. And if they’re crazy, you don’t want to work for them, anyway.

Pick our your outfit ahead of time. Check to make sure your microphone and speakers work.

If they already know you as a vampire/furry/woman/man/alien

If your potential employer invites you in for a job interview for a real-world company, where they will want to know your real identity, set the record straight as quickly as possible.

You don’t have to make a fuss about the fact that you’re a different person in real life. Anyone who’s been around virtual worlds — or night clubs — knows that people can look different at different times.

For example, you can break the news in the cover letters you attach to your resume.

Here’s a sample opening:

“Hi, this is John Smith. You know me as Imelda ShoeLover in Second Life. You recently asked me to come in for a job interview, and I would be more than happy to do so. In real life, as you can see from the attached resume, I also work in the shoe industry, and, in fact, have extensive experience in managing retail shoe operations…”

You don’t have to explain that you’re not a wolf, or vampire, or a hot pole dancer in real life. Trust me, they already know.

And they don’t care what personal issues or fantasies you are or are not exploring through your avatar. Really, it doesn’t matter. Don’t bring it up unless they ask.

For example, one potential applicant recently sent me an emotional, soulful essay about why he was a woman in Second Life. In fact, I hadn’t even noticed that he was — and if he did, I wouldn’t have cared. So he’s a girl — so what? I’m thin and young and, most days, I have better hair. Because I work from home and don’t bother with it and I could go on — but really, does anyone care about that? No.

You can also end the note with something like:

“My schedule is flexible. When would you like me to come in for an interview? If you need to contact me in-world with directions or times, my professional avatar is JohnSmith WorkingAvatar.”

If they want you to come to work as your furry, vampire or pole dancer self, they’ll let you know. And if they want to see you in a suit, now they won’t have to ask and risk potentially offending your furry, vampire or pole dancer sense of pride.

If being able to work in character is important to you, however, then let them know up front. This may be a deal-breaker for some companies — and just fine with others. The faster you know, the less time you’re both wasting and the quicker you can move on to more suitable options.

Resources

If you’re meeting is in Second Life, and you need professional clothing, then one of the default starting avatars should be fine with most real-world companies. You can modify that look quickly, however, by checking out some of the popular in-world shopping destinations — or by browsing online, onĀ  Xstreet.

If they’re specifically hiring you for your Second Life expertise, however, then you should be able to demonstrate that with more fashionable clothing, avatar shape and hair.

If you’re being hired by a very conservative company — and your avatar is normally very flamboyant, one option would be to find a middle ground. Just enough originality to prove that you know your way around the virtual world. But enough professionalism so that they’re comfortable that they can work with you. If you know Second Life, then you’ll know where to find everything you need.

In OpenSim, we recommend that job applicants who are new to virtual worlds get a free account on OSGrid. This is the largest of the OpenSim grids, has a very supportive community, and — like most OpenSim grids — allows you to use your real name for your avatar. One popular place to get new clothing there is the “Samsara” region.

Unfortunately, there’s a lack of business clothing throughout the virtual worlds — this is true in Second Life, but especially in OpenSim.

Just some of the avatars available on JokaydiaGrid. Also available -- a small selection of business suits, polo shirts, hair, ladies tops and shoes.

Currently, the best place to find a nice selection of professional clothing is the “Scooter” region on JokaydiaGrid.

To get there, start on any hypergrid-enabled region — such as “Samsara” on OSGrid — and jump to Gateway Upper at grid-ww.talentraspel.de:9005 then to Gateway Lower at 188.40.55.155:9004:Gateway%20Lower and finally to “Scooter” at jokaydia.metaverseworlds.com:9000:scooter.

The multiple steps are necessary because there’s a bug that only lets you jump no more than a certain number of regions in any direction. Don’t forget to set your home region before your first hypergrid jump.

maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

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  • http://www.twitter.com/IEEEVirtual IEEEVirtual

    "make sure you know how to get there and how much time the trick takes." — LOL.. I thought you guys didn't do that type of hiring. :P

  • Ener Hax

    interesting post and something i often think about and beyond virtual worlds. however, let me not go off on a tangent about real photos in LinkedIn and the prejudice of having photos attached to resumes in the '60s and '70s . . .

    so what to wear – i think the answer for me is probably obvious to someone like Maria and anyone else that knows me – pink parasol (i might detach when we meet so as not to poke you in the eye), my bikurri collar, Totoro tee, striped stockings, and motocross boots (oh and face piercings)

    i would want to be judged on what i have done and what i can bring to you. what i can bring to you is not based on what i look like, unless it is to be an avatar and clothing designer, neither of which i would interview for! =)

    the CV i present at the interview should form the basis upon which you can affirm if i am the right person for your job and not my pink hair. naive as my view is, it is nice to see that things like tattoos and piercings in real life are becoming less of an issue in job searching

    i think the depth and breadth of what a person has as online collateral to their stated skills and talents should weigh more than what they look like. this is somewhat specific to this post – some of us in our real lives may have paper and ink publications, real world print graphics, and other "tangible" things that speak as loudly as online materials

    but even those people can have an online presence (dare i say "brand") with a blog (or maybe several!) and other online material

    for example, let's say that you are a corporate social responsibility person (a "green" corporate title). you should be in LinkedIn and have an up-to-date resume but why not take an extra step and show your passion with a blog? and flickr pics and perhaps even videos? a video blog? with tips that can be implemented and affect ROI

    the power of this "online collateral" is evident and i would use Maria as an example

    who is Maria Korolov? i don't care if she is a blonde female, i care about her passion and abilities

    i don't even care what her name is, she could have this site as "Virtual Goddess" because the only thing "i know" about Maria is gleaned from this blog (and having met her twice in-world). maybe Maria is not her name (maybe she is a boy!) and maybe that's not even her picture! (imagine posting a fake picture online – inconceivable!) =p

    i know that Maria, the virtual Goddess, IS passionate and knowledgeable about virtual worlds. not because she says she is, but because she provides me with information that teaches me and allows me to make informed decisions. a lot of information! =)

    that is where the value in Maria as a possible employee (or partner) lies and not with her photo, name, or even avatar (she is way taller than me in-world, but i am shrimpy)

    this is a great post and if you don't have anything to back up what you are on paper, then i guess you better dress the part at the very least!

    lol, on another note, as often happens, i am going to take this comment to a post on my site to relay an incident from LinkedIn!

    great provocative post! thank you Virtual Goddess, err, i mean Maria! =)

  • http://www.hypergridbusiness.com Maria Korolov

    IEEE — LOL! Thanks for the correction! No, we definitely do not do that kind of hiring!

    Ener — Our employees, spend only a small percentage of their time in our virtual environment. The rest of the time, they do face-to-face meetings, attend conferences, etc… They also do telephone interviews, and work at home on their computers. Many of our new hires are fresh out of college, and dressing appropriately for the workplace is actually a crucial skill that they need to learn. You get a lot more respect at a financial conference — and better quotes — if you dress appropriately to the venue.

    For a business journalist, a suit projects an impression of reliability, responsibility, respect. I’m sure that the same is true in many other professions — but not all, of course.

    If I walk into an art studio, or a tatoo parlor or a funky startup ad agency, I would expect the employees there to be much more creative with their appearance than a bank, insurance company, or pension fund.

    Clothing is a language. It sends a message. It says, “I’m a pilot. I know what I’m doing. It’s safe to get on this plane.” Or, “I’m a doctor. I’ve done this before. You can trust me.” Or, “Yes, I’m a car mechanic. I know what’s making the knocking noise.”

    It’s a subconscious message, for the most part, but still powerful. I wouldn’t want to get a tatoo from someone in a clown outfit — or hire someone in a car mechanic’s overalls to entertain at my kids’ birthday party. Maybe their resumes can overcome that initial impression, but it will be a hard sell for them. We tend to put a lot of faith in what we see (not that this faith is always warranted!)

    Last year, my son was diagnosed with a mild case of Asperger syndrome. In retrospect, my ex probably has it, too. Both have a hard time understanding why clothes matter — they have difficulties decoding the unspoken language of clothing, just as they have difficulties decoding facial expressions.

    In the virtual environments, I’ve met quite a few people with Aspergers, who share the same sentiment — but who would make excellent employees (as long as their jobs don’t involve, say, frequent sales calls). And there are millions more who are used to the virtual worlds as places for play, so are more expressive with their outfits than they would be in real life. As a result of these two forces, I think over time we’ll be seeing a much more casual approach to dressing in virtual offices, even on the part of traditional companies.

    Until then, however, if someone is interviewing virtually for a job, I’d say that it’s best to err on the side of caution. The interviewer might be completely new to virtual worlds, and think that you dress the same way in real life, and make instant judgments because of that. In this economy, you want to have as few strikes against you as possible going in!

    — Maria