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Help me pick out "business casual" attire for an upcoming interview.
June 7, 2011 7:05 PM   Subscribe

I have an interview coming up with a startup and was advised not to dress up and that "polished business casual is just fine." What should I wear?

I have an interview coming up for a software dev position on Friday with a video-game related startup in San Francisco. During a phone interview with one of the lead developers, I was told that they would make fun of me if I came in wearing a suit and tie. Noted. I was also advised by another person in the company that "polished business casual is just fine." I am a 23-year-old male.

I'm thinking of wearing some khaki pants, brown leather shoes, brown belt, and a semi-casual long-sleeved solid button down shirt. Does this seem like my best bet? Any specific ideas? Thanks everyone!
posted by mrbob14 to Work & Money (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
That is pretty standard interview attire at video game places I've been to. No prints, no t-shirts, no jeans, but also definitely no tie or jacket for development positions.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:07 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's fine.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:08 PM on June 7, 2011


Suit minus tie?
posted by wilful at 7:09 PM on June 7, 2011


Go with some dressy jeans and a button up or polo tucked in with a belt and some nice shoes (non sneakers).

A buddy of mine just had a bunch of programming interviews in the bay area and all were business casual- this worked perfectly for him.

Jeans should be fine as long as they are more of the dressy jeans.

Just look put together and somewhat stylish (but not flamboyant) and you should be fine.
posted by TheBones at 7:12 PM on June 7, 2011


Tuck the shirt in.
posted by mhoye at 7:14 PM on June 7, 2011


Also, avoid the jeans/dress-shirt/jacket combination. People are starting to call that the "Silicon Valley Mullet".
posted by mhoye at 7:15 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do all my interviews in t-shirt and cargo pants.

I'd still try to do a layering thing, emulating the effect of the jacket without wearing one. Perhaps a t-shirt with a collared shirt unbuttoned over it?

A lot of the young programmers I interview wind up looking like they're attending a middle school dance. Khakis + buttoned/tucked dress shirt = nervous 13 year old. And for the love of god, do not wear a tie with that combo--that fucking seals the deal.

Basically, I would just wear something totally non-controversial, tasteful, but that you feel totally comfortable in.
posted by Netzapper at 7:20 PM on June 7, 2011


I work for an informal software startup. I wore almost the same clothes you suggested, but with a jacket (no tie), and I think it was entirely appropriate, even though now I can wear shorts to work. I think that in an interview you're expected to be a bit overdressed.

This is on the east coast, not San Francisco. Here, at least, dressing up a little certainly does not equal "nervous 13 year old." But if the interviewers are any good, they won't really care what you're wearing anyway.
posted by Chicken Boolean at 7:29 PM on June 7, 2011


I meant to say that's what I wore when I interviewed.
posted by Chicken Boolean at 7:29 PM on June 7, 2011


The OP's proposed clothing choices are good. Seconding the suggestion to tuck the shirt in. Agreed on no jeans/no jacket.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:30 PM on June 7, 2011


A stylish sweater (not hipster-ironic, not cardigan) in a dark color could work in lieu of a jacket. Black is always the dressiest color.
posted by smirkette at 7:35 PM on June 7, 2011


Just a data point, but I wore jeans and a full-sleeve button down shirt, untucked, formal shoes, no jacket, and got the job. I should mention that they also asked me questions about, like, software and stuff.
posted by yaymukund at 7:36 PM on June 7, 2011


I agree with yaymukund based on what I've seen people wear in NYC, so it might not apply to San Francisco.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:52 PM on June 7, 2011


But if the interviewers are any good, they won't really care what you're wearing anyway.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I still think giving a damn about your appearance at a job interview maps well to giving a damn about the quality of your work. Slovenly people do slovenly work.
posted by mhoye at 8:13 PM on June 7, 2011


San Francisco is super-casual about interviews, but your outfit will be fine. I think if you're young the long sleeves will be a nice touch. That said, I worked for a non-profit startup in 2005 and we were interviewing Perl developers. One of them stood out particularly because he showed up wearing cargo shorts and a holey t-shirt inside out. He also dropped a few f-bombs while we talked to him. Though I have no doubt that he was a competent Perl programmer, none of us interviewing him were very impressed. He didn't get the job.
posted by bendy at 8:36 PM on June 7, 2011


Thanks for all the suggestions everyone. I think I've got a good idea on what to wear now. Tie is out, as well as probably the "Silicon Valley Mullet." Ha!
posted by mrbob14 at 9:22 PM on June 7, 2011


My husband wore basically the same thing to his interviews for engineering in silicon valley and did fine
posted by bananafish at 12:01 AM on June 8, 2011


I have performed about 50 interviews for software development positions while working for Apple in Cupertino. I could not describe for you the clothes of any candidate. I might be more fashion-blind than most, though.
posted by ryanrs at 3:45 AM on June 8, 2011


(Also, if another interviewer mentioned a candidate's clothes, I would tease that interviewer mercilessly.)
posted by ryanrs at 3:47 AM on June 8, 2011


I've always wore suits to interviews. Yes, I've been ribbed a few times and my typical attire is shorts and a t-shirt, but I always felt it was better to err on the side of caution.

If I wore a suit, but was passionate and knowledgable about software, the interviewer would overlook the tie. If I look scruffy and did the same otherwise, the interviewer might not take me too seriously. For right or wrong. It's better to dress nicely and show you are taking the interview seriously.

Now, that said, the one time I didn't wear a suit was while interviewing for a game company. I did wear a Bugs Bunny tie and got grief for that. So for a game company you sound fine. Maybe even a sports jacket if the weather is cool.

I think your attitude would be more important. Be positive and enthusiastic. Don't slam competitors, previously employers, or even tools or operating systems. Talk about what you can do to be a contributor to the company. For example, if they ask about your favorite OS and you want to say Linux, talk about how much you like Linux and why from a technical standpoint, don't just talk about how much you hate "Windoze".

Also, one piece of good advice I've received recently was to adjust your approach based on the interviewer. If they are enthusiastic and you are more quiet, try to pump it up a bit. If they are quiet and methodical and you are very enthusiastic, try to tone it down notch.
posted by beowulf573 at 5:56 AM on June 8, 2011


I wasn't arguing that "dressed up" == "nervous 13 year old".

But, there is a specific uniform shared by modern door-to-door salesmen and nervous 13 year olds: khakis, dress shoes, leather belt, and long-sleeved dress shirt. It is basically the cheapest way you can get "dressed up" in the US. But, that particular uniform carries with it a tragic dose of unfashionableness because of its perceived cheapness.

All I suggested is that he wear the same *exact* thing that the OP was proposing, but wear the shirt unbuttoned and untucked and wear a worksafe, printed t-shirt underneath. This works just fine in New York or Seattle for startup interviews.

Because you are dressed in stylish but casual manner, your choice in clothing will simply disappear into the background at any software startup I have ever visited or worked (n > 5).
posted by Netzapper at 6:15 AM on June 8, 2011


Go nuts. Wear a three piece suit or a tuxedo. If you are asked about it, say that you knew that you would be made fun of so you decided to make the most of the opportunity.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I usually wear black slip-on shoes (loafers?), a pair of black slacks, a blue long-sleeved button-up shirt. I'm a woman though. But I think your plan sounds fine too.
posted by brainwane at 11:04 AM on June 8, 2011


But, there is a specific uniform shared by modern door-to-door salesmen and nervous 13 year olds: khakis, dress shoes, leather belt, and long-sleeved dress shirt. It is basically the cheapest way you can get "dressed up" in the US. But, that particular uniform carries with it a tragic dose of unfashionableness because of its perceived cheapness.

Agreed. Two simple changes will take you from door-to-door salesman to confident professional:

(1) Instead of khakis, wear dark grey wool pants (something like this)
(2) Add a v-neck sweater on top of your long-sleeved dress shirt (something like this). I would tend to go with a button-down rather than a spread collar, but either is fine.
posted by ewiar at 2:18 PM on June 8, 2011


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