What Al Pacino Taught Me About Corporate Culture

I interviewed three people during the week. All were well-educated, articulate, and qualified.
But something was eating at me.
If you (20-something) are coming to an interview with me (45 year old) remember…

Creative Commons License photo credit: Chris Barber
‘Don’t wear jeans. You’re not going to a rodeo.’ Al Pacino give snitching Johnny Depp a lesson in dress code.
In Donnie Brasco, Pacino is an aging mafioso wise-guy who takes Depp under his wing. Like any rookie coming into an organization, he needs to teach him the ropes. And this kid knows nothing.
Lose the mustache. Ditch the wallet. Wise guys keep dollar bills in a tight roll so they can peel them out.
and no Jeans…
The Mafia has it’s own dress code. Dress for business because the street is your shop floor. So, all the wise-guys look like businessmen.

Where Smart Casual Goes Wrong

This brings us nicely to smart casual. Or ‘smart caj’ as they say.
I interviewed three people during the week. All were well-educated, articulate, and qualified.
But something was eating at me.
If you (20-something) are coming to an interview with me (45 year old) remember…

  • This is a business meeting.
  • Don’t get too familiar too fast. – you can call me Ivan if you want. But a Mr or Sir never hurt.
  • Sneakers – You can wear sneakers. But dress shoes would be better. Oh yeah, if they are snickers, make sure they’re clean, with laces, and the laces are tied.
  • Beer – we met on Friday. I knew the second guy was out drinking the night before. That’s fine but… I don’t want to share that stale odor at 10 am on a Friday.
  • Be clean – remember to wash. I’ll say it again. Remember to wash.
  • Cut your nails. I’ll only say it once.
  • Be on time – don’t look desperate by arriving an hour early. Arrive 5 minutes early and we’re ready to start. You can freshen up in the restrooms if you want. Give yourself some extra time if the place is new to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions.
  • Ask questions – I want to learn what you’re made of. The questions you ask tells me  about your hopes, interests, fears, ambitions… why you’re here.
  • Curveballs – Get ready to answer them. Get ready for the standard questions and then assume I’ll throw some curve balls. ‘That’s not fair’. Maybe not, but life’s not fair. Get used to it and learn to deal with the unexpected.
    Why? How you cope with the unexpected is something I can’t see on your CV. It show me how you copy with stress and will handle difficult clients.
  • Samples – you know I want to see your work, right? Bring the best samples, print them out and walk me through what makes these special. You want your work to stand out otherwise…
  • Respect – Don’t diss your ex-employee. I don’t expect you to work with me forever. When you move on, I want you to have enjoyed working together and say nice things about me to other clients.
  • Listen as much as you talk – I know you’re nervous. You want the job. I have the job. But don’t let your nerves tangle you in knots. Remember to breath. Stay calm. Sip your water. Give others space to talk. Listen. Make notes. Ask sensible questions.
  • Bring a pen, make notes. Don’t rely on the laptop. One guy’s died during the interview. He also couldn’t look at me when typing as he kept correcting his typo mistakes. Use a pad, makes short notes. Look interested.

Take the Long View With Relationships

See this as first of many meetings. If things go well, we’ll meet again. And, even if we don’t assume that we’ll meet again.
It happens all the time in business. So, turn up on time, be clean, listen as much as you talk and remember to smile.
One final thing about interviews.
Always follow-up. Leave a nice message the next day thanking the person for taking the time to meet you. Others won’t.
What have I missed?
What mistakes do people make during interviews? What do you do before interviews that I haven’t covered here?

3 thoughts on “What Al Pacino Taught Me About Corporate Culture”

  1. Excellent tips that I do so hope many will read and actually act on. It is unfortunate that so many have been brought up so poorly that they do not know very much about cleanliness, politeness, how to act or how to dress.

    Any time I think of interviews I remember a young man who walked into my ISP and asked for a job. He was wearing shorts, sandals and a backpack. He had – I kid you not – a 10 penny nail in each ear. I most likely cringed visibly as the thought “that has to hurt” went through my mind. He did not know a thing about computers or the Internet so there was no job for him there.

    I was leaving for lunch and saw him walking down the street. He was a sweet person, fairly intelligent, very polite and well-spoken and clean-cut other than the nails so I pulled over to talk to him. I asked him if he really wanted a job. When he said yes I told him that styles change and the nails in his ears made me cringe – and most people my age would have the same reaction. He felt them with his hands and said he forgot he even had them in. I also suggested he dress up when asking for work.

    I went on to where I was eating lunch and would you believe he was working there behind the counter? Without the nails I had not even recognized him even though I ate there frequently and he had been working there for some time.

    This message is for anyone who has tattoos, piercings, unusual hair colors or clothes, or heavy makeup – goth or what you perceive as “normal”. What is “normal” for you is NOT normal for everyone. As much as it may pain you, to work somewhere it is usually necessary to meet their expectations for standard appearance.

    That is NOT only because they just don't like your style. If you will be working with the public it is best for the customers and where you work if you not scare people away or cause them to be verbally abusive. Many people have closed minds and are set in their ways and do not easily accept what is strange and different to them.

    Even though I have an open mind and no desire to change you, I have to tell you that piercings still make me cringe and what is socially acceptable attire now would have only been seen in an adult peep show when I was younger. I wish everyone could see the perspective age gives those who think so you would know how what you wear and how you act reflects what you think of yourself and what you want others to think about you.

    1. Those are all good points. Part of the problems for graduates is that unless they've done some job experience they may not know what's expected of them onsite.

      For example, chewing gum was another issue.

      It's ok in the street but not in the boardroom 🙂

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