What to wear to a job interview?
June 30, 2006 10:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm interviewing for a developer position at a software company in Silicon Valley in a couple of weeks. The dress code there is casual. What should I wear to the interview?

I don't have much of an instinct for fashion; left to my own devices, I think I would wear khakis, a button down shirt, and a tie. This feels really boring. Plus, is a tie necessary? Are there more interesting or stylish options? Can you recommend any specific retailers?

I'm meeting with several people over 6-7 hours, so I'd like to be comfortable.

I'm male, mid-twenties, medium build.
posted by medpt to Work & Money (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Remember; first impressions count. The dress code while working may be casual, but you should not consider the interview to have the same conditions. Impress them first, and once you've actually got the job, then go to work in your khakis.

Go dressed wearing a comfortable business shirt, business pants and a tie. If you have a suit jacket, wear it when you go into the interview room, and after shaking everyones hand, take it off and sit down.

Oh, one more thing...

Good luck!
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:44 PM on June 30, 2006

Always overdress just a tad for interviews. Software development combined with 'casual' brings up images of overweight bearded guys in geek t-shirts, black socks and flipflops. And that's what casual means in a lot of offices - t-shirts, jeans, but generally you can get away with any clothing that won't get you thrown out of a lunch diner.

Part of it also depends on what place you're in as far as your career goes. Are you just starting out in the industry? Are you an established name?

Anyway, as far as practical advice goes. Your khaki/button down plan sounds pretty good, but ditch the tie. Maybe a button down with a pair of fashionable jeans?
posted by jedrek at 10:49 PM on June 30, 2006

My opinion: Tie is slightly too formal, jeans slightly too informal. But the tie won't really make a big difference; feel free to do it if you want to err on the side of caution.

It really depends on the company you're dealing with; even in SV there's quite a range. I imagine Apple and Oracle are quite different in what they expect.
posted by xil at 10:56 PM on June 30, 2006

Response by poster: jedrek: I've been a developer for several years. Also, in case it's relevant -- I've had a phone interview already, and now they're flying me out for a full on-site interview.

xil: On the spectrum from Apple to Oracle, this company is much closer to Apple.

I had always assumed a tie was a given, but I recently read this job interview advice from someone at Google, which made me reconsider:
People sometimes wonder how they should dress. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable. If you still want a recommendation, I say a button-down shirt or even a T-shirt. A suit can come off as too formal in some companies (e.g. Google).

This point is not as important, because people won't really care. They might raise an eyebrow if you come in a three-piece suit, but if you've got the goods in terms of engineering skills, it's not a dealbreaker. One candidate came to an interview wearing a gothic mesh shirt with holes through which his nipples were clearly visible. He still got the job. (I don't recommend taking this risk.)
posted by medpt at 10:59 PM on June 30, 2006

If you think a straight button down is boring, consider rocking a printed one, maybe something embroidered?
posted by jedrek at 11:17 PM on June 30, 2006

Best answer: No tie, unless you're in sales or marketing. I've worked at Apple, Microsoft and Adobe, nobody wears ties to interviews for tech positions.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:20 PM on June 30, 2006

On the spectrum from Apple to Oracle, this company is much closer to Apple.

If you want to fit in, wear either a black t-shirt and jeans, or a hipster t-shirt and jeans, depending on the group.

It would not be a good idea to wear khakis, a button down shirt, and a tie.
posted by rajbot at 11:29 PM on June 30, 2006

Yeah, no tie. Khakis and some sort of non tshirt shirt is alway safe. Wear what feels comfortable. Definitely don't wear anything too hot. the last thing you want to do in an 8 hour interview is start sweating because you're uncomfortable.

Wearing a tie would just identify yourself as a non-local. That's perfectly fine, as every software company gets plenty of non locals. It won't hurt your chances really, but fitting in with the other people at the interview will probably make you feel more at ease.
posted by JZig at 12:23 AM on July 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

As the voice of dissent, you should always wear a suit and tie.

The dress code for employees may be relaxed - but you aren't an employee. You're being interviewed, you don't have that job yet.

In addition, you have no idea what the dress code may be for an interview - they may have to wear a suit for that.

What is worse, you overdressed or your interviewer overdressed?
posted by mr_silver at 2:42 AM on July 1, 2006

Nah... if you wear a suit, you'll look like you stepped off the spaceship into that office.

Usually, I just ask the interviewer. It's crazy, I know....
posted by ph00dz at 4:15 AM on July 1, 2006

Best answer: I second asking the interviewer.

How about a print shirt with a suit, or depending on how sedate the print is, perhaps without the jacket?

Like this print shirt - Etro

Or this suit - John Varvatos

Or separate jacket and pants - Pringle of Scotland
posted by saffron at 4:59 AM on July 1, 2006

Best answer: Dark pants (maybe from a suit), patterned button-down, good shoes, no tie. Since it's summer, no jacket. As an interviewer in the Valley, I was always impressed by the effort people made to look polished, which doesn't necessarily mean formal. Always err on the side of too formal, though, and you can definitely dress more casually for a second interview.
posted by judith at 5:08 AM on July 1, 2006

I got hired by a silicon valley company last year, and wore dark slacks, a white oxford shirt and a tie to the interview. No jacket. You could probably ditch the tie but I don't think it hurts. I just interviewed someone for our group last week and he wore a tie too (and we gave him an offer). It did seem a little funny though, wearing tevas and a frisbee tee-shirt interviewing someone in a white shirt and tie but it wasn't my interview.
posted by octothorpe at 6:15 AM on July 1, 2006

I wore a suit (I'm a woman) for my interview for my current job, and my boss was like, oh, should have told you we were casual. Telling me they were casual, though, wouldn't have told me not to wear the suit. ALWAYS wear the suit, in my opinion, unless they say "and don't wear a suit."
posted by sweetkid at 7:14 AM on July 1, 2006

My husband wore a suit (and tie) to an interview at a place where there is no dress code. Since then, he's worn jeans and a polo shirt every day (and shorts when it's really warm).

I would say (as a general rule) it's better to overdressed for a situation than underdressed.
posted by Lucinda at 7:15 AM on July 1, 2006

Best answer: This advice is coming from a woman, so it might be a little different for you.

I work in the tech industry, and every job I have had has been either extremely casual or business casual. I have never worn a suit to an interview.

I do, however, attempt to overdress. But I do it by looking as smart as I possibly can, and by looking smart, I mean I get myself an outfit that doesn't actually qualify as a suit, but looks very well put together.

For a man, I would suggest getting a nice, crisp shirt, make sure it's well pressed. Wear well pressed khakis, or pleated pants. Wear an undershirt. Wear a nice belt, nice watch if you have it, and sturdy, clean, well made shoes that match your belt. If you can afford a little shopping spree, do it. You will feel confident wearing sturdy clothes that feel a little fancy but still appear casual, which will help you on the interview.

I don't normally wear clothes from Banana Republic, but I always buy "interview outfits" there. It's pretty much the exact vibe I'm going for on an interview.

Women have it a little easier in this regard, I think. I find that accessorizing with a nice bit of tasteful jewelry is something that makes it look like you put some thought into what you wear, like you have it "together." That's what you're going for with your appearance.

Don't wear cologne if you normally don't. You might overapply and it could be offputting.

Think about projecting an image of friendly confidence. Your clothes should communicate that you made an effort to appear well dressed as a show of respect and as acknowledgement of the fact that you are formally interviewing for a position at a company you would like to work for, but you understand the atmosphere of the company on a day to day basis and you will fit in fine.

Take heart that nobody will notice what you're wearing as long as it's not a formal business suit or jeans and a tshirt. Appearing well put together will only register subtly on a barely conscious level with anyone that interviews you, but it may make you feel more confident, which is always good.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:58 AM on July 1, 2006

I agree with the previous posters that a good way to compromise is to wear what you were planning on wearing -- khakis and a nice button-down shirt (though I agree, skip the tie) -- but to make the shirt a nice print or even dark colored shirt. Something like this or this or even this in silk.
posted by raf at 8:03 AM on July 1, 2006

Don't wear cologne at all. Some people really hate it (me, for one), and it sets up an instant aversion if you're meeting someone who's sensitive to it and dislikes it.
posted by EllenC at 8:29 AM on July 1, 2006

I generally wear to the interview what I would expect to wear making a presentation to the whole company or meeting with a client (even though you may never meet with clients or customers), or talking at a prefessional conference. I am a software developer, and my interview uniform is not-too-faded blue jeans, nicer than usual shoes, and a polo shirt. The interviewers are generally dressed much more casual than this, so it works out.
posted by jimfl at 8:37 AM on July 1, 2006

I seem to recall reading a recommendation that you should dress about one step above what's typical for the people you'll be talking to (unless you're interviewing someplace where business suits are the norm, in which case wear a business suit, not black tie or something).
posted by oats at 1:42 PM on July 1, 2006

Consider a proper suit, no tie, and draping the jacket on the chair.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:12 PM on July 1, 2006

I'm shocked and amazed at all this no-suit advice. Look at the various covering letter threads and the obsession over "yours sincerely" vs. "yours faithfully". This is so unlike AskMe..

I have tried to think my way out of wearing a suit a few times, but the scheme always fails on the drawing board. As unused to wearing a suit as I am, it always comes down to: why not? The answers here aren't very satisfying, so far.
posted by Chuckles at 7:59 PM on July 1, 2006

Along the lines of oats point. I seem to recall advice along the lines of: you should dress for the position you aspire to, rather than the one you are interviewing for.
posted by Chuckles at 8:01 PM on July 1, 2006

Another voice of dissent, here. No matter how casual the office, I have ALWAYS worn a full suit to interview for office positions. I have suited up for interviews with granola leftie political fundraising groups, tech support positions, and security guard jobs. If there are desks, and flourescent lighting, you can't go wrong with a suit!
posted by BigLankyBastard at 6:30 AM on July 2, 2006

I am a strong believer in proper business attire. I think many businesses tolerate a level of "business casual" that is unacceptable. I do not think one should wear to work anything that would be inappropriate to wear in front of a client of the company. This does not mean everyone needs to be dressed in suits like the salespeople, but it does mean you should look presentable and not wear anything that would look bad for the company (in my view this goes so far as no printed t-shirts and few shorts). With this in mind, I think a suit is always acceptable.

Evening formal wear (tux and the like) is really the only thing that would be inappropriate for an interview in the valley. A full suit looks damned good (assuming it fits you well and you personally can be comfortable in such a thing. If it doesn't fit you, look to have it altered or get a new suit. If you aren't comfortable in it, start taking your girl out on dates where a suit is appropriate (even a stodgy business suit can be made to look quite snazzy with the right shirt and tie)) and makes a good first impression.

Random anecdotal evidence: I was flown out to Silicon Valley at the beginning of June for an interview at a start-up that was unquestionably informal. I wore a suit for the interview (out dressing even the CEO and salesmen). I have since begun working at the company and have received several sincere comments from people thinking the suit was a nice change for an interviewee.
posted by fief at 10:36 AM on July 2, 2006

Another vote for making sure that you wear clothes that are high quality, and well-pressed, with shoes that are new, cleaned or shhined, as appropriate. In some companies a suit may be off-putting. In some companies, a suit is a bonus. Think about who you are, and what kind of environment you want to work in, and dress to impress yourself. Your confidence and assurance will show.
posted by theora55 at 3:25 PM on July 3, 2006

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