What to wear?
May 6, 2010 11:12 AM   Subscribe

I just received an invitation to interview at a large software company. The invitation specified a dress code, can you help me parse it?

The e-mail says that the dress code is casual and that jeans or khakis are the norm and then says, "so please dress accordingly." This is a large software company in the midwest. I'm female and will be interviewing for an administrative support position. I typically err on the side of dressing more formal for job interviews, but I'm wondering what the cultural expectations might be here because I've never been explicitly told how to dress for a job interview before, and I've never worked for a software company. Do they literally want me to show up in khakis and a sweater to a job interview? Or, should I still wear my formal business attire? Or, am I misreading this and it's just meant to set me at ease, as in, "you're welcome to dress accordingly" rather than "we expect you to dress accordingly"?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (38 answers total)
Plate, meet beans! Dress in khakis or jeans. Don't show up in formal business dress.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:14 AM on May 6, 2010 [10 favorites]

Normally, my immediate response for any job interview attire question is, basically: "Suit up!" However, it seems that in this case, you definitely want to jeans or khakis, since it seems like they are explicitly asking you to.
posted by Grither at 11:15 AM on May 6, 2010

They don't like it when people over dress. I've worked at companies where people freaked-out if they see someone in a suit. If you're dressed nicer than the person interviewing you they might tell you not to dress-up so much, or might turn you down on a whim.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:15 AM on May 6, 2010

They're saying that you don't need to wear a suit, but at the same time, don't wear mud-splattered overalls or artfully-revealing clubwear.

IMO, you should aim somewhere slightly above khakis and somewhere firmly below suit.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:16 AM on May 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

Put a "wear" up there between "to" and "jeans"...ugh.
posted by Grither at 11:16 AM on May 6, 2010

Something like this (minus the sultry askance look) would probably be appropriate.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:17 AM on May 6, 2010

If this were me, I would wear nice jeans with a blazer and nice shoes.
posted by politikitty at 11:18 AM on May 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

Sounds like business casual would be appropriate - as a guy, I'd wear khakis and a button-down, long sleeved shirt, no tie. Not sure what the corresponding female outfit would be, unfortunately.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:18 AM on May 6, 2010

I would wear the nicer end of their suggestion - khakis, nice shoes, with a sweater or blouse, some tasteful jewelry if you wear jewelry. All pressed, neat, etc. So that you're doing what they've requested and also looking well put-together.
posted by Sukey Says at 11:19 AM on May 6, 2010

Let me be the first to disagree. Since this is on the invitation, dress a little down from a full suit, but I would dress nicer than what is typically thought of as "work casual".

Something that can be dressed up or down easily by adding/removing accessories would be good.

I typically err on the side of dressing more formal for job interviews

This is good. I had a group interview, and was told to dress casually, so I went in a button up shirt, tie, and khakis (no jacket, not suit pants). Everyone else was in suits. I didn't get called back.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:20 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had these before (in the midwest). It's not too unusual. I've always split the difference: nice khakis or some of those super-dark denim trousers, with a sharp blazer. Shoes were pumps. That may be perfectly one step up from what they wear day-to-day in this office, which is what advice tends to be for interviews.

As for some unsolicited advice on your job interview: administrative support in software companies is really, really important work. You're working with folks daily who are geniuses in one realm of life and sometimes lacking in others. You have to keep an office together in an environment where it might be more challenging than other more formal offices. This is a really important job - don't go in there thinking you're just going to be another secretary. You can really wow them by demonstrating that you understand that your job encompasses not just managing an office, but managing expectations and personalities.
posted by juniperesque at 11:20 AM on May 6, 2010

khaki or brown slacks - sweater, button up, or polo - nice shoes
posted by nadawi at 11:20 AM on May 6, 2010

I'm a female who works at a large software development company. Most of my male co-workers wear jeans and t-shirts (ranging from surfer type stuff to unwashed industry-logo free schwag shirts). Many wear flip-flops and shorts. Perhaps your prospective company is a little dressier than mine, but my point is that you have to try really hard to under-dress :)

Wear a nice pair of jeans (or khakis) and dress them up a bit with a nice top. Imagine you were going out to a nice restaurant with friends. Nothing formal, but you want to present yourself well. A blouse or a pretty girly-type top would be fine. As a female you have more latitude with your interview attire in this case, because your interviewers won't be able to tell if this is you dressed up, or your normal girly-girl attire.
posted by Joh at 11:21 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

They're saying they expect you to dress according to their dress code, which is casual. I don't see what's confusing about that.

(That said, aim for the dressy end of casual, instead of the sloppy -- tidy khakis and a nice sweater, not ripped jeans and a hoodie.)
posted by ook at 11:21 AM on May 6, 2010

I'm a woman in a business casual environment, and when I have an in-house meeting (client visit = suit) I wear pressed slacks and a pressed button down shirt, tucked in. Nice shoes, but not fancy. No flip flops or sneakers. Good luck!
posted by hungrybruno at 11:24 AM on May 6, 2010

Based on what you've told us, I don't think I'd go all out in a suit (I try to avoid them myself because I'm uncomfortable in them), but I definitely wouldn't do jeans. Since you're female, what about going with a nice pair of khaki pants (or some cotton/twill type pants of a darker color...basically colored khakis) and a top that is NOT a polo or T shirt (one step up from that I guess). I lean toward a short sleeved sweater type, or a short sleeved button down that is made to not tuck in. Something like this (your style may vary). I also think the kind of shoes you wear with khakis dress them up or down, so think about the shoes you would wear (maybe not heels, but not super casual either).

That's just me though.
posted by MultiFaceted at 11:27 AM on May 6, 2010

I would dress per the recommendation. There are programmers in this world with a knee-jerk reaction against suits, and, as stupid as that is, there's no sense fighting it if they've spelled out that they don't expect a suit.
posted by Zed at 11:37 AM on May 6, 2010

I think they are trying to make you aware of the culture of the company. I would read it as a subtle indicator of what they feel is impressive. Job knowledge/competency, yes. Adherence to outdated interview protocol (for that field anyway), no.

To some extent, this is crap. We are impacted by first impressions. They matter. Especially in a context where the whole purpose is to judge you. It is rare that somebody looks too good.

Unless of course, they look inappropriate. My father, a product of 70's-80's corporate culture, recently wore a wore a suit to an interview, signaling all the ways he was a poor fit for the company interviewing him despite his being, in reality, over-qualified. His dress was indicative of a different set of values, and immediately spoke of a gulf between the culture he came from and the culture into which he was heading. It placed an immediate distance between he and his interviewers.

So, I would see the heads-up they gave you as a real positive. It prevented you from dressing the way you normally would (which is of course perfectly reasonable for many situations) and allows you to adjust to their stated workplace culture. That said, I still think you always want to dress to impress when making a first impression. I wouldn't "dress down" necessarily.

Tailored, simple, current. Confident. Good luck!
posted by nickjadlowe at 11:41 AM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

They're saying "suits aren't necessary" not "WE WILL NOT CONSIDER YOU IF YOU WEAR A SUIT". If you have a business casual outfit you are comfortable in, wear it. Otherwise, wear a suit.

If you were a dev interviewing for a dev spot, I would say : dress down. that said, anyone who was actually qualified who showed up in a suit didn't get a ding against them, just snarky comments made while enjoying our free pop.
posted by micawber at 11:41 AM on May 6, 2010

Yep, sounds like the kind of place where people would have a neutral to negative impression if you dressed formally. I'd say dress up from jeans and khakis by a notch. I don't know what the full range of female equivalent outfits is, but for a guy, in San Francisco, this would be a nice, new pair of jeans, a stylish button-up long-sleeve shirt, and a hip pair of shoes or sneakers, or something not-so-hip but still in good repair (not penny loafers or shoes with tassels).
posted by zippy at 11:41 AM on May 6, 2010

Denver Colorado here. Just recently left my position as VP at a web/tech firm. When we were interviewing people I made sure my assistant informed them that there was a good chance I would be in shorts and a t-shirt and that they should dress accordingly.

The people who still showed up in ties, suits or overly dressy attire both annoyed me and wound up with no job from me. Part of the deal is being able to navigate non-explicit instructions, which these are.

If it were me? A kick ass pair of jeans, a nice blouse/shirt, a pair of sunglasses and a wicked awesome pair of shoes.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:56 AM on May 6, 2010

If you're the skirt- or dress-wearing kind of girl, you should be able to come up with something pretty readily. Personally, I would go with a day dress, probably in a darker solid color, with a cropped cardigan on top and low heels. That sort of outfit is easy to put together, flattering to almost any female body type, and can be easily accessorized to look either casual or businesslike depending on what the interview actually turns out to be like (you could stash a couple different sets of jewelry/makeup in your purse in case the situation doesn't turn out to meet expectations).
posted by kataclysm at 12:03 PM on May 6, 2010

The e-mail says that the dress code is casual and that jeans or khakis are the norm and then says, "so please dress accordingly."

The key word is "accordingly." They didn't say, "Just to give you some info about the job, we wear business casual around here" (which would just be a nice thing to know); they said you should dress "accordingly" with their dress code at the interview. If you wore a normal suit, you wouldn't be doing that. Their explicit instructions (even open-ended ones) have to supersede the generic advice for interviews. When a prospective employer gives instructions at any point during the hiring process, you follow the instructions. But you also want to make a good impression, so wear the nicest possible outfit while still literally following their instructions -- as others have said, good shoes, a nice blouse, and khakis. Jeans still seems too casual.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:04 PM on May 6, 2010

On post-view, I like kataclysm's idea better than mine: wear a skirt that goes well with the rest of the outfit without looking like a "suit."
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:05 PM on May 6, 2010

Nthing everybody above. I've interviewed at quite a few software places, and have been told explicitly that they dress casually and casual attire is fine. My interviewers wore everything from jeans and ratty tshirts to hockey jerseys to khakis and a polo. Basically, I would rule out jeans and tshirts. Khakis and a sweater is perfect. Skirts are fine, but the suit... no. Overdress and you give the impression either that (a) you can't follow directions, (b) you don't understand the culture, or even both. You don't want to look out of place. Pretty it up with shoes and jewelery or whatever if thats who you are. The trick is to not look like you're at a interview, because you will be overdressed and will stick out like a sore thumb.
posted by cgg at 12:27 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that my perspective is from a female body shape that looks better in dresses and skirts than in pants. (Hourglass shape, which makes finding pants really problematic.)

While I don't wear suits to interviews, as a rule, I still "power-dress". Tailored dresses, or expensive shell/skirt combos. Even in the dot.com years, when I was working for stock options at start ups, I still work Ann Taylor to the interview. Mark Cuban told me that among the reasons they hired me away from Dell was because I was the only person who dressed like a grown-up and showed that I understood how business protocol *outside* of the software universe worked.

Were it me, I would go with the Ann Taylor / Jones New York look, rather than the vintage Bobby Brooks, but I'd still wear a dress and heels.
posted by dejah420 at 12:40 PM on May 6, 2010

Addendum: I'm probably 20 years older than you are, and interviewing at the director level...your mileage may vary.
posted by dejah420 at 12:42 PM on May 6, 2010

This reminds me of how a dress code can be harder to deal with than a uniform in school - a suit is a uniform, but dressing for an interview when you're expected to be business casual is more like meeting a dress code - you can't just put on the uniform, but you still have to meet a protocol. I know someone who works at a law firm which has "casual fridays" and he says that people spend as much on their jeans for friday as they do on their suits for other days of the week.

In other words: you should wear a nice outfit that is also stylish and "casual", but not actually personally casual in the sense of what you wear to hang out around the house. It should just be casual in the sense that you might wear it because it looks sharp and reflects your personality in some way. A suit is old school, the uniform, and will seem out of place if it's not what's expected.
posted by mdn at 12:56 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am a woman and work at a large tech company in software
Don't wear a suit.

I would suggest the appropriate thing to wear is slacks (khaki or other) or pencil type skirt and a nice blouse or shirt. (think club monaco, bananna republic) .
If you have appropriate very dark not too low-rise jeans, you can do that with a blazer and a nice blouse or shirt, but i think you're better of not doing jeans.
And then heels or flats, or retro sneakers(with jeans).

Pleated khakis and solid polyester shirts or golf shirts are par for the course for developers but you're not interviewing for that position and they don't look good on women anyway.
posted by captaincrouton at 1:31 PM on May 6, 2010

No suit. I've worked in software before, with the programmer types who would be freaked out by one.

However: CARDIGAN. The cardigan is your pal. It can tone down a white button down (which reads as too formal if you are not careful), it looks great with coordinating pants, skirt, whatever. Funky shoes are the girl equivalent of weird surfer shirts -- I recently bought these and would totally have worn them to an interview like this back in the day.

Black skirt, cardigan in a pretty color, funky shoes, ONE nice piece of jewelry, VERY simple hair. You can't miss with that.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:42 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

The people who still showed up in ties, suits or overly dressy attire both annoyed me and wound up with no job from me.

There was no explicit dress code mentioned in my last interview, so I decided to wear a suit. While I did up getting hired for the position, it was only after I promised them I would never wear a suit again.

Particularly in the software world, an explicitly non-strict dress code is usually a sign that you'll be dealing with people that are going to be uncomfortable with you wearing a suit.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:47 PM on May 6, 2010

I would proceed thusly: *Dark* coloured jeans in a conservative cut/style (not super tight and no weird details!), nice shoes (leather or similar, loafers or pumps) AND button-front shirt with casual blazer (i.e. corduroy or another low-key fabric) OR nice sweater (fitted and possibly cabled or ribbed). Simple jewelry and/or scarf. The letter did specifically say jeans or khakis (but honestly, I have yet to see anyone who looks anything other than fugly and dumpy in khakis).
posted by Kurichina at 1:51 PM on May 6, 2010

Dark, tailored jeans. Shoes that don't draw a lot of attention to themselves. A well-pressed white shirt. A blazer in maybe suede or leather (not denim), or with some cool details.

++ to Kurichina - khakis will probably make you look fugly and dumpy, because that's what they do to everyone else.
posted by tel3path at 2:36 PM on May 6, 2010

In the software biz. As a guy, khakis, a nice casual shirt, and a tie for interviews. I've been told I can take the tie off. ;) When on the other side of the table, yes, interviewing someone wearing a full suit tends to annoy me. Basically, consider what you would be wearing on the job, go there (or sit around when people are leaving for lunch or for the day) to scope things out if needed, then go one notch above that.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 4:09 PM on May 6, 2010

Casual can be very dressy as indicated by Banana Republic.
posted by santojulieta at 4:34 PM on May 6, 2010

politikitty: "If this were me, I would wear nice jeans with a blazer and nice shoes."


The idea is to wear "smart" casual clothes. So not ratty old jeans, but new dark ones (what I would call "going out jeans"). I love the blazer idea - blazers and jeans are very cute together.
posted by radioamy at 7:03 PM on May 6, 2010

Yeah, they're saying "khakis," but that means men, to me. I think very dark wash trouser jeans could be a good way to go, if you know what that means and you already own some. On top, a shirt and scarf, or tailored blazer/jacket over a plain t. Shoes should be comfortable--no fancy heels, but clean and in good shape. I would probably avoid a skirt if it looks at all suit-ish. And definitely no panty hose.

I once worked at an outdoor recreation company, and everyone there dressed really casually. Even the dressed up people were still wearing flip flops and shorts with their polos. And people who overdressed really stood out and did not look like they understood us. So, yeah, go with what they are telling you. No suit.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:23 PM on May 6, 2010

Just ask the recruiter. They probably get a bonus if you're hired, so they're happy to help. I do this with tech interviews in CA and never had a problem.
posted by jewzilla at 10:29 PM on May 6, 2010

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