Do You “Make the Cut?”

“American Idol” returned to U.S. airwaves several weeks ago with a fresh new crop of singing wannabes trying to impress the judges. Some could carry a tune, a handful sang like angels, but the vast majority looked and sounded exactly like alley cats. They made you want to a launch a tin can in their direction to get them to close their mouths.

Now obviously, these audition shows are done as such because it’s a great ratings booster. However mean-spirited it may be, it’s still sort of fun to watch people who think they’re “all that” be given a slice of humble pie before they’re shown the door. It suddenly makes perfect sense why of all the people who flock to the big show biz capitols of the world in search of fame, only a handful make the cut.

As I watched some of the atrocious auditions, it occurred to me that the interview process for “Idol” is pretty much like the interview process for any industry: those who look good, sound good, and know their business are passed through to the next round; those who don’t, aren’t. There’s not a lot of mystery involved here. Either you know what’s expected of the position, or you don’t.

Yet I see people miss opportunities again and again because they either haven’t done the necessary research or they think their talent is so immense that the rules just don’t apply to them. Then, when they don’t get hired, promoted, elected, or whatever, they start pointing fingers at others – when the real culprit is often themselves.

The problems are really easy to see in others, like when watching “American Idol.” You can see the crazy clothes, discern the lack of talent, and recognize the diva attitude. But it’s not so easy to evaluate ourselves. We know we work hard and know our stuff, so why, oh why, aren’t the doors opening wide?

Having been on both sides of the hiring table in my career, I can tell all sorts of wild stories as to why people were not hired or promoted. Some of them are Oscar-worthy. But by and large, there are five common reasons people are passed over for hire or promotion. See if you recognize anyone you know in this list:

1. All Flash, No Substance

They look good and their resumes look good. Everyone’s happy – until they open their mouth and fully demonstrate just how little they know. Image ISN’T everything; it’s only part of the equation. How you look may get you in the door; what you know will keep you in the room.

REMEDY: If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve felt like you were in “over your head,” chances are very good that you were – and others knew it as well. Take classes to upgrade your skills and keep abreast of what’s happening in your industry. Match your skills to your image to become an irresistible candidate.

All Flash

2. Status Sally

She has the handbags, the shoes, or the logos. She also has a meager income that couldn’t begin to pay for any of it. She’s not fooling anyone; no one thinks she’s a wealthy person in disguise, because if she HAD any kind of money, she wouldn’t be working or looking for work here. What she IS doing is demonstrating just what a spendthrift she can be, thus preventing her from ever being hired or promoted to any position that requires fiscal responsibility.

REMEDY: Put away the status symbols, get hired or promoted, and THEN wear them — IF your new income warrants such a display.

3. Style-less Sue

She has top-notch skills but bargain-basement style. She has the brains to go the distance, but no one wants to take her anywhere because she doesn’t know how to dress. She thinks talent is far more important than clothes; her superiors think she’s not serious about her career, because if she was, she’d dress appropriately.

REMEDY: If you want to advance, dress one level above your current position so that your superiors can easily see you in that role.

4. Debbie Does Decolletage

She’s got great body parts (or so she thinks) and wants everyone to know it, so she wears hems up to there, necklines down to there, or clothes so tight that you know what she had for lunch. If anyone dares to criticize her, she says they’re jealous. If anyone dares to hire or promote her, they’re accused of hanky-panky. So they don’t.

REMEDY: Unless you’re a lifeguard or a stripper, large displays of skin are totally inappropriate at work. Keep covered and get promoted for your brains, not your body.

5. Gossip Gertie

She knows her business and everyone else’s, too. She doesn’t have a life, so she entertains herself by talking about everyone else’s. She’s THE person to go to for the latest “dirt.” But don’t share any secrets with her, and for heaven’s sake, don’t put her in any position that requires her to use discretion or be a confidant, because she doesn’t know the meanings of the words. No, general or low-level positions are best for her.

REMEDY: Don’t gossip – even if it’s juicy. Knowing when to be quiet is every bit as important as knowing when to speak up in business or other responsible positions. Prove that you’re trustworthy by knowing when to hold your tongue.


Sometimes, it’s really easy to see why others don’t advance, like when watching the “Idol” auditions. It’s not so easy to turn the spotlight on ourselves to see our own shortcomings. If you’re looking for a new job, a promotion, or other position of responsibility (or you know someone who is), start by taking a good, honest look at yourself (or have them look at themselves).

Do you have the look? The talent? The right attitude? If so, you’ll probably make the cut. If not, work on those trouble spots and try again when they’re fixed. Once you advance to the next level, keep honing your work skills, your people skills, and your look. Before you know it, you could be the “star” in your office or industry.

Need some more help on determining the best look for your position and industry? Then download a copy of Business Wear Magic to see how easy dressing appropriately for work can be. Business Wear Magic


  • lisa

    Reply Reply March 13, 2010

    Please can yu give us some advice about how to dres well for business but bearing in mind that lots of women really can’t stand wearing stocking or tights.

    thank you

  • Liz

    Reply Reply March 15, 2010

    Response to Lisa: maybe you don’t like wearing stockings or tights, but in the business world it is equivalent to spelling properly. Wearing no stockings–like “txt-splng”–is appropriate for your private life, not your professional/business life.

  • Shel

    Reply Reply March 19, 2010

    Agreed. Seeing people’s gangly toes and bare legs at the office is truly disgusting, and people (especially most male counterparts) simply won’t take a female worker very seriously. Leg covering is part of the uniform in most cases. Sorry. I personally remedy it by wearing lots of pants outfits with trouser socks.

  • Claudia

    Reply Reply November 5, 2010

    I think that the bare legs-trend will go into fashion history as one of the more ridiculous and unflattering things, and women with pale, dry, bare knees under a dark suit will be shown along with giant sideburns, afros, loaf-sized shoulder pads and other things that make us laugh today. But fortunately clothing is really getting better every year. I remember when I was a kid (in the 70s) there were no waterproof jackets besides vinyl, shoes had to be broken in before they stopped hurting your feet, athletic wear became wet with sweat and pantyhose was fragile, nasty, difficult to put on and had a narrow, mean and ultra-tight waist band. Try on one of the new microfiber tights, they are as comfortable as a pajama bottom. And buy a big enough size: They will not be baggy, even if they are not pulled so tight as a sailship’s ropes.

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field

Security Code: