What Not To Wear: The Interview Edition. Help!
February 8, 2012 7:53 PM   Subscribe

Okay. Mr. Anonnymoose is interviewing for an IT position at a large company that is well-known for its offbeat aesthetic. We are very excited! But we have no clue what he should wear.

A suit seems pretty out of place here. But would jeans and nice man-boots be too dressed-down? What should he wear on top? As an added note, we are in the Southwest, where things are generally relatively casual. As a day-to-day thing, he usually wears something like nice dark jeans, a nice pullover sweater with a tee underneath, and boots or shoes.

Please help us raid his closet tonight! We both really want him to look good and feel good so he can just focus on making a positive impression and showcasing his skills.
posted by anonnymoose to Work & Money (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm of a mind that it's better to dress a little formally for a job interview. If a suit would be out of place, maybe step it down to a pair of khakis (or chinos or slacks or whatever you call them) and a button-down shirt. No suit means no tie necessary, but a sport coat without a tie can look sharp and smart and relaxed.

I wouldn't wear jeans to interview anywhere that wasn't manual labor of one sort or another, even if I fully expected to wear jeans every day on the job. And I wouldn't wear a shirt without a collar, either.

OTOH, I'm coming from an industry where suits are worn regularly, and a part of the country (the Northeast) that dresses a bit more formally, at least in urban areas, so you should feel free to discard this advice if it seems totally out of place.
posted by gauche at 8:02 PM on February 8, 2012

Also, congratulations and good luck!
posted by gauche at 8:04 PM on February 8, 2012

While normally would I agree with gauche, interviewing at an "offbeat aesthetic" type company does actually require something a little different. Silicon Valley tech companies, for example, have been known to openly mock applicants who come in wearing chinos and button-downs. They aren't looking for cogs, and "fit" is more important to those kinds of companies than most anything else. I don't know precisely what kind of company your hubby is interviewing at (is it hip or just offbeat?), but if he were interviewing for a programming position at, say, Tumblr, dressing square might be a red flag for them.

If I were a dude interviewing at a tech company, I would wear the sharpest-looking leather shoes or boots I owned, dark pants (navy or dark grey), a button-down or t-shirt, and a cardigan. I would seriously consider a vest. Professorial is never a bad way to go, and is probably a much safer bet than yuppie business casual for that kind of environment.

Good luck to him!
posted by libertypie at 8:13 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would go with a sport coat, or v-neck cashmere sweater, and what I call "rich guy picnic shirt", a dress shirt that is not plain white or blue. Maybe a vertical stripe or a small check with a spread collar. Dark wool pants.

You don't want to wear a suit with no tie, because you look like a guy with a suit and no tie.I also don't think you should go with the Bill Gates style button collar and dockers either.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:19 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whenever I can't determine appropriate dress, I ask the host. I would call HR in the morning and ask. Why not get it right rather than guess?
posted by AugustWest at 8:19 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Silicon Valley tech companies, for example, have been known to openly mock applicants who come in wearing chinos and button-downs.

I'm the head of engineering for a sizable ($800M) public tech company headquartered in Silicon Valley (though I work in the San Francisco office). The statement above is completely true.

Mine is a jeans and T-shirt company. We came very close to not hiring a candidate because he showed up to interview in pleated khaki pants and a button down, but we made the offer anyway. In hindsight, we probably should've kept looking. Not because he's been a bad worker, but because he's a marginal cultural fit. Which means, we could've done better with someone else.

I've worn jeans (nice jeans, but jeans) to every job interview I've been to since I was 19. I have only been turned down for a job once (and it was likely for other reasons). My uniform for an interview for an IT or dev position with an offbeat company is a pair of nice, freshly washed dark jeans, a bold button down or other dress shirt (something like this, for a look similar to something on this page?) and a nice pair of shoes.

The target is to be dressed just one notch above the person interviewing you, because it makes everyone more at-ease -- you're dressed up to impress, but they can see that you're still one of them at heart. If they're a jeans and T-shirt shop, and you're jacketed and slacked, then you're several notches up, and it doesn't help you, because it makes your interviewers wonder whether you'll be happy in their environment, and whether they'll be happy with you in their environment.

If you memail me the name of the company, I'll be glad to privately tell you anything I know about it, btw.
posted by toxic at 8:46 PM on February 8, 2012 [10 favorites]

My go-to suggestion if it's not a high-level position would be polo or button-down, something with a collar but not too formal, and nice slacks or dark jeans that don't show a ton of wear.

Something I usually do when I get an unhelpful answer like "business casual" (which in my experience may mean slacks-and-polo or may mean "please try to have pants and shoes of some kind on") is wear a setup that lets me call an audible when I get there.

For example, a button up with sport jacket up top and black jeans. You look stylish and dressed nice if that winds up being important, but remove the jacket if you need to step down, or remove the jacket and untuck the shirt and, hey presto, you're casual.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:48 PM on February 8, 2012

Toxic is spot on.

Don't suit up for a jeans and t-shirt company.
posted by IronSurfer at 8:52 PM on February 8, 2012

My stepson recently interviewed at a Silicon Valley dotcom. He was encouraged by the HR manager to wear jeans and his "Talk Nerdy to Me" T-shirt to the interview (which she had seen a photo of him wearing.)
posted by eleslie at 8:56 PM on February 8, 2012

I agree with toxic (who I know in real life & didn't know was on Metafilter, but I digress... hi toxic!) - you definitely want to look as stylish and professional as you can (clean clothes without holes in them!) but not overly formal. I would agree - dark jeans, stylish button down shirt, with or without a jacket, and nice shoes.
posted by judith at 8:56 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wear whatever feels right. If it turns out to be totally off, turn it into a little joke and have a laugh about it.
posted by klanawa at 9:04 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel weird now. I'm here in the PNW and I still wear suits to interviews no matter what. My resume shows my New York Financial background and that's what I think of for 'interview'.

I mean I can always dress down later, but...

And when they ask me what questions I have, I usually start by gesturing to the suit and saying, "Too much?" with a small grin, as if to apologize.

But that's what I've always thought of as 'proper' dress for an interview, and now it looks like I was really, really wrong.
posted by mephron at 9:25 PM on February 8, 2012

Can he lurk outside of the building a non-Friday day or two before the interview? That might give him a sense of what the employees wear, and dress a half step more formal than what they're wearing.

It might also make him seem like a total creep, though. Also, it sounds like the interview might be tomorrow.
posted by troika at 9:54 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the general advice of dressing "one step up" is a good one. I like it when the person being interviewed is the best dressed person there. This usually isn't hard. I work in Silicon Valley where "business casual" means "Please put on some pants". For a tech job here you don't need a suit. I sort of think that a button down shirt with a casual tie is a nice touch, but if you don't feel comfortable dressing that way then don't (conversely, if you look like a million bucks plus tip in a suit then rock that suit). Dress as nicely as you can while still feeling like yourself.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:54 PM on February 8, 2012

I would think that there are plenty of ways to look original/quirk/whatever without going so casual as jeans. I think jeans are just one of those things that people have strong opinions about- they're considered a real line-crossed. I would aim for pants that don't do that and get an interesting and more casual shirt to wear with wool pants or similar.
I don't think this has to read conservative if it's done appropriately stylishly. I just think jeans are a risk. Plus I wouldn't want to work somewhere that was so insecure that it couldn't hire someone who wore something other than denim... Which seems to be a vibe here.

Denim is so widely accepted as the next stage of casual. I think it would be better to err on the side of more respectfully formal. Likewise, don't live where you do. So grain of salt etc.
posted by jojobobo at 10:08 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with toxic, also. No jacket, no pleated pants, and absolutely no khaki pants with blue button-down. I'd go with very dark wash jeans, a very cool pair of sneakers, and if there's a tie, make it skinny or retro and not Presidential Candidate power-tie.

IT with a company that has an off-beat aesthetic doesn't follow the usual career rules for dressing. Going too traditional/conservative will be more harmful than dressing a bit more casual with a touch of fashion forward geek chic. The Silicon Valley dudes I know notice a sharp dresser; things that get a nod of approval include raw denim, cool shoes (including limited run sneakers by Adidas/Puma/etc), and well-designed glasses frames. Lean toward that aesthetic.
posted by quince at 10:21 PM on February 8, 2012

My very first tech interview, I wore nice slacks with loafers and a button-down shirt, tucked in, and thought I was set. Then my interviewer entered wearing a tank top, bike shorts, and still had her bike helmet on. Did I ever feel out of place! From then on, it's always been jeans for me.
posted by vasi at 10:23 PM on February 8, 2012

Not to be a contrarian, but a lot of the advice above seems *extremely* Silicon Valley centric, and the OP didn't say where she was. In the SE US, I can't imagine anyone being taken seriously showing up to an interview in jeans, much less a tee-shirt, for anything but the most junior position. In my own very jeans and tee-shirt company, I interviewed in slacks/button down and a sports coat. I routinely hear candidates being mocked for dressing too far down (though to be fair, the guys showing up in suits generally are mocked as well).

The real answer here is to understand that the corporate recruiter is incented to find a fit, and they are your biggest ally. Ask them what is appropriate dress is.
posted by kjs3 at 10:52 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Whatever. I do craptons of interviewing for engineering roles and I literally could not care less. I've interviewed people in suits and people in shorts. It could not matter less to me. I'm frankly shocked to see all these strong opinions about what you should and shouldn't wear. I don't think most of my coworkers even notice. We interview college students from all over the world, we interview people with 20 years at the most buttoned-up defense contractors. Everyone has a different idea of what you're meant to wear to an interview. We're looking for talent, not fashion sense.

In five years in this industry I've met one guy who claimed he was turned off by candidates who showed up in suits. I told him he was an asshole. It is a complete dick move to judge people on "culture fit" based on what they wear to an interview. Interviews are stressful enough without worrying you wore the wrong brand of jeans. Some people want to feel totally comfy in their interview clothes. Some people wear their formalwear like armor. I am a woman and most of my interviewers in my life have had a good foot of height on me. You bet I'm going to show up wearing something that makes me look like a grownup. I guess if you're the kind of company that'll judge me harshly for that, you're the kind of company where I'd rather not work anyway.

Seriously, if you judge candidates based on how they dress you are missing out on good people. Sure, if you're interviewing a designer, that's one thing - but IT? Yeesh!
posted by troublesome at 11:10 PM on February 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

When I do tech company interviews, I generally go in jeans and a button down shirt. My daily office attire is jeans and a T-shirt, but I think it's nice to dress up a tiny bit for an interview.

Suits are overkill and often will be taken badly (which I think is lame, but true, personally I would love to see a candidate in a suit who was also laid back and fun, and those people certainly exist, but people are predisposed to see someone in a suit as uptight).
posted by wildcrdj at 11:23 PM on February 8, 2012

It's long been my opinion that any organization that cares more about how you dress than about what you can do is not worth working for. The only way you should even consider dressing up for an interview is if you care more about how much they're going to pay you than you do about how interesting the work is, in which case none of my advice will ever be of any use to you.
posted by flabdablet at 12:51 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I worked in IT, we only wanted to hire the best of the best. They were not easy to come by so when we interviewed candidates, we weren't interested in what they wore, but in what they said. My boss would often interview people in suits while he himself wasn't even wearing shoes or socks. If the suit wearer was good, they'd be hired.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:37 AM on February 9, 2012

There is a difference between rocking a suit and wearing your interview-and-funeral suit. The key, I think, is to wear what you are comfortable with. Showing up in khakis with the wrinkles from the store still in them, bought 45 minutes prior, because you think that's what they want to see is probably not a good idea. But the key is to make sure what you wear is you putting your best foot forward. In you are a jeans an t-shirt person, wear the nice jeans and the shoes without the stains.

It's long been my opinion that any organization that cares more about how you dress than about what you can do is not worth working for.

I agree with that, mostly. In both directions. If you show up, acting like you care, in your suit with your shoes shined, and they snicker about you behind your back, it's just as bad.

But I think about my company, and I can see where a certain amount of clothing judging is necessary. But we are a services company, always selling and showing off. I don't think they care too much about *what* you wear, as long as you look like you give a shit. Some guy was walking around the office wearing a tucked-in rugby shirt, brilliant indigo Wal-wranglers, gym shoes with neon stripes and a (dressy) black leather belt. I threw up in my mouth a little. I feel awful for it, but I just imagined some client walking through, seeing that dude and thinking "incompetence".
posted by gjc at 5:01 AM on February 9, 2012

Do they have a website? Check and see if there are any pictures on there of employees assisting customers or whatever. Wear what the stock photos are wearing.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:06 AM on February 9, 2012

This article in the nytimes suggests "socks" are the most important clothing item in silicon valley.
posted by j03 at 5:27 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Not to be a contrarian, but a lot of the advice above seems *extremely* Silicon Valley centric, and the OP didn't say where she was. In the SE US, I can't imagine anyone being taken seriously showing up to an interview in jeans, much less a tee-shirt, for anything but the most junior position."

Yeah I agree with this. I'll have to search, but I've seen articles about west coast vs east coast interviewing attire(east coast is more formal) so that could be part of this...but with start-ups or these silicon valley firms I think that as long as you don't look "cookie cutter" like the khakis with blue button-down, etc that you should be ok. If dark denim would be acceptable, then just make sure they look nice. Or a bit of self-deprecating humor if you find you've dressed up too much.
posted by fromageball at 5:55 AM on February 9, 2012

My partner's been interviewing for the same types of positions, and he's been wearing pants with built-in suspenders, a plaid bow tie with some sort of interesting shirt, and a corduroy blazer that he can take off if the situation is informal or he's doing whiteboard work. My advice? GO HIPSTER.
posted by hotelechozulu at 7:10 AM on February 9, 2012

The interesting thing about this is how the jeans-culture companies were born out of the idea that what you wear doesn't matter or signal anything about your talent. Yet, at the same time there is evidence in the answers here that wearing something other than the jeans and t-shirt uniform could get you laughed out of the room. Same old shit, I say.

Your best bet is really to ask HR. These days you have no way of knowing.
posted by dgran at 7:26 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wear a Stereolab T-Shirt, old blue jeans and some suede Vans, but iron it all and make sure it looks "crisp".

What you want to project is "not frumpy", rather "al dente casual".

Do something with your hair. Scrunch it with your hands, make it look a little ragged, not shagged.

We laugh at people who try to look "pro". Nothing says "I'm a douchebag" like an Abercrombie outfit.
posted by roboton666 at 1:26 PM on February 9, 2012

Christ, you people are making me feel like I should give the hell up on the suit thing, forever and ever.
posted by mephron at 1:54 AM on February 13, 2012

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