I want this job but I look like a slob?
October 25, 2007 7:40 AM   Subscribe

I have an interview for a Web dev position with a university next week, for the graduate department (Midwest, Big 10). I read Dress for Success about 30 years ago, but since then I have been mostly a jeans and t-shirts guy. I am out of touch with the business world and academia these days. What should I wear to my interview?
posted by bricoleur to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Job interviews (other than interviews for jobs in which you use a shovel) require a suit and tie. Navy suit, white shirt, and a patterned tie of your choosing. Black shoes and belt.

Ta da!
posted by craven_morhead at 7:43 AM on October 25, 2007

Do not wear a full suit to an interview in academia as a web developer. You will be looked at as a loon.

Khaki pants, button up shirt, tie, sport coat.
posted by miss tea at 7:47 AM on October 25, 2007

Miss Tea is Miss taken... Suit and tie. Leave the Kakhi's for when you actually get the job. If you need to buy something, and you don't want to buy a suit then at least a blue blazer and charcoal trowsers with dress shoes., shirt and tie
posted by Gungho at 7:50 AM on October 25, 2007

Web dev is probably a more laid-back dress code, especially in academia. I'd go with a shirt and tie, no jacket. A tie is enough to show that you made the effort, IMO.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:51 AM on October 25, 2007

I'm a sloven who wears jeans and flannel to work quite often; just got a tech job at a Midwestern Big 10 University after wearing a suit to both rounds of interviews. Wear a suit, even if you'll never wear anything like it to work.
posted by COBRA! at 7:54 AM on October 25, 2007

in my experience a full suit is overdressed to a lot of people these days, to others it means you're trying to make a good impression, to still others it means you're trying too hard. hard to tell.

i try to layer so that i can flip in and out of business/business casual upon seeing how most of the office i'm meeting is dressed.

my usual first meeting uniform is a pair of slacks that's quirky enough to go casual or business (nau.com has well-fit slacks), a shirt from paul smith or another menswear designer with some panache, slipper-style shoes (they invoke formality by virtue of looking similar to what one would wear with a tux) and a well-cut blazer. tie only if i'm feeling insecure.

this has not worked for me only once in the past seven years.
posted by patricking at 7:54 AM on October 25, 2007

First academia job, I wore khakis and a buttondown shirt, no tie and combat boots.
Second a few years later, I wore nice jeans and a sweater and combat boots.

I got both jobs (both were for senior IT positions).

Academia is a different animal, but it all really depends on the dept. you are shooting for and their own attitudes.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:55 AM on October 25, 2007

Er..that's what I wore to the interviews.

For the actual job, I wore shorts, t-shirts and sandals.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:56 AM on October 25, 2007

The rule of thumb I was told was dress as well as possible for the first interview (suit if you have one), then dress one step above the way your interviewers dressed at all subsequent interviews.
posted by drezdn at 8:41 AM on October 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I work as a computer tech and I went to the interview with a shirt (not T) and black jeans.
posted by PowerCat at 8:41 AM on October 25, 2007

My dad always said "Dress for the interview, not for the job."
posted by Floydd at 8:41 AM on October 25, 2007

Things are changing so much these days that I think it's ok to ask.

I went for two interviews recently, where I asked, and was told "wear the same as you would wear on Friday's on dress-down day." This was with a consulting co.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 8:43 AM on October 25, 2007

posted by blue_wardrobe at 8:43 AM on October 25, 2007

I worked in a shorts-and-flipflops web dev shop for several years. I felt ridiculous when I showed up for my interview in a suit, but I got the job. Several months later, they were looking to hire another developer. The owner of the company, a developer himself, ruled out a great prospect because the guy didn't wear a suit to the interview. He said it just showed that the guy didn't really want the job. The candidate was in much nicer clothes than the boss's old khakis and faded polo, much nicer clothes than any of us would have worn on the job, but it didn't matter. Personally, I thought the boss was crazy - that was the beginning of the end for me at that company. On the other hand, nobody else seemed to think his judgment was off.

Possible morals of this story:
- It's better to be over-dressed than under-dressed, if you just really want the job.
- If you wear a suit, you might have to work for a guy who thinks a suit is important - be careful what you wish for.
- There's no standard appropriate answer to this question.

If you've got some time on your hands, is there anyone you could talk to at the university who might know what the hiring boss would consider appropriate? Maybe some of the helper people in the computer labs know the person you'll be interviewing with, or maybe a nice administrative assistant in some office could give you a hint.
posted by vytae at 8:45 AM on October 25, 2007

I got my first academia computer job wearing a pair of khakis and a button up shirt (I was comfortable in the clothes and relaxed in the interview instead of wearing a suit and being high strung), but it was on the west coast and years later when I was interviewing people myself in the job we would mock the applicants (after the interview) that showed up in suits for simple IT positions.

When I think about it, I'm pretty sure that's a west coast thing where everyone has a higher tolerance for casual dress. In the midwest you should probably wear a tie and maybe a suit jacket or sportcoat as well.
posted by mathowie at 9:02 AM on October 25, 2007

Nobody will opt to not hire you for wearing a suit to an interview; some people won't hire you for not wearing a suit to an interview.
posted by ellF at 9:19 AM on October 25, 2007

From previous threads, reinforced by mathowie's comment, it seems there's a serious East Coast-West Coast difference.

I'll vouch for: East Coast = wear the suit. Dress for the interview.
posted by desuetude at 9:35 AM on October 25, 2007

These "suit" people commenting in the thread are pretty out of touch. You show up for an interview wearing a suit in my webdev shop, you're going to look like you just stepped off the moon.

No doubt, there are places where that's appropriate. Personally, I'd just ask...
posted by ph00dz at 9:46 AM on October 25, 2007

I can't imagine wearing a suit to an academic interview. Admittedly, my experience is on interviewing for faculty jobs and more academic positions, but we would always make fun of the folks who wore suits to interviews. This has been true on both the east and the west coast (though a lot of the folks in my east coast department were from the west coast).
posted by pombe at 9:53 AM on October 25, 2007

May even depend on the graduate department. Humanities tended to dress up more, I found, and my old department could be pretty formal when the occasion required it. Sciences, it depends... can you scope out the department and see how people dress and what the general attitude is? (Not students - professors and staff.)
posted by citron at 10:22 AM on October 25, 2007

ellF: "Nobody will opt to not hire you for wearing a suit to an interview"

We might. I work for a start-up but it's a very academic atmosphere (founded by a professor, many employees were his students) and we might not think that someone who shows up in a interview/funeral suit would really fit in well. We're not really looking for someone who wants to work banker's hours. Most interviewees here wear business casual with or without tie. Employees wear tee-shirts and jeans and running shoes.
posted by octothorpe at 10:51 AM on October 25, 2007

Oh, I'm on the east-coast here.
posted by octothorpe at 10:53 AM on October 25, 2007

I can't imagine wearing a suit to an academic interview. Admittedly, my experience is on interviewing for faculty jobs and more academic positions, but we would always make fun of the folks who wore suits to interviews.

I work in an academic department where the most dressed-up people get are nice pants and a nice shirt (and several are fine with jeans)---and I would probably look askance at someone who came to interview and didn't put in the effort to dress up (yes, probably in a suit). Sure, you can tell the person is here to interview, but like someone up-thread said, it shows you care enough about the interview to make the effort.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:25 AM on October 25, 2007

OK, let's review and see if we can surmise anything about location:

The Suit Camp
COBRA! - Minneapolis, MN
drezdn (suit if you got one) - Milwaukee, WI
Floydd - Madison, WI
ellf - Cambridge, MA
desuetude - Philadelphia, PA
craven_morhead - no location
Gungho - no location

-- two "east coast" (PA and MA), three midwest (WI and MN)

The No Suit Camp
miss tea - Portland, Maine
chrisamiller (tie) - Houston, TX
Cat Pie Hurts - Waltham, MA
patricking (layers, maybe tie) - Chicago, IL
ph00dz - Tempe, AZ
octothorpe - Pittsburgh, PA
PowerCat - no location

-- nobody here is really "West Coast", some (PA and ME) are arguably East Coast

vytae (you might have to work for a guy who thinks a suit is important) - Minneapolis, MN
citron (may depend even on academic department) - Washington, DC

blue_wardrobe (it's OK to ask) - no location
mathowie (suit wearers risk mocking, theorized east vs. west difference) - near Salem, OR

My own take: I think that vytae's comment is spot on - think about what's important to you in a workplace, and dress to impress the kind of people you want to work for. In these sartorially confusing times, I think it's also legitimate to communicate with your potential employers about dress, as long as you don't seem overly insecure while doing so.
posted by amtho at 11:28 AM on October 25, 2007

I'd just like to mention I've never actually got a job where I wore a suit to an interview. I usually go with nice shirt, tie and dress pants. Though this is definitely an instance of correlation != causation.
posted by drezdn at 11:33 AM on October 25, 2007

Best answer: As someone who works at and has interviewed people for positions at a couple of major universities in the Southeast (US), I'd say a suit is not mandatory. I wouldn't go the jeans and t-shirt route, but a nice shirt, decent tie, sport coat, nice pants and shoes would suffice at my office for an interview. Of course, different universities have different standards, so YMMV. But this advice would have been suitable for all 3 universities where I have worked.

Generically speaking though I think there are two things to try and balance:
1) What will make you feel the most confident about yourself, given that you can't wear your normal jeans and t-shirt? Whatever you wear should make you feel good about yourself. It may not be the most hip or stylish, but if you feel good about yourself wearing it, that confidence will come across in the interview -- that's a good thing. If you've picked something that makes you feel good and you still don't get the job, then there's a good chance something other than your wardrobe was part of the equation.

2) At the same time, you want to show that you took the interview and the interviewers' time seriously enough to make an effort to look good/professional. Hiring someone at a univ. (especially a public one) is often a long frustrating process with lots of time spent battling red tape, reviewing CV's, interviews, etc. All of which has to be done in addition to the normal work. When someone comes in who is unprepared or gives off the vibe that they don't care by not making an effort to look professional, it feels like a complete waste of everyone's time. You don't have to come in wearing a bespoke Italian suit, but at least look like you want to make a good impression.
posted by cptspalding at 11:41 AM on October 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

“Nobody will opt to not hire you for wearing a suit to an interview; some people won't hire you for not wearing a suit to an interview.”

This isn’t true – I know people who will ding you for wearing a suit – and if it was, I’d definitely avoid wearing a suit. Why would I want to work at a place where they reject good people because of how they dress?

When I was in school, I did about fifty interviews (for CS and EE positions) with companies from both coasts, as well as the South, the Midwest, and Colorado. I never dressed up and it never seemed to be a problem. There’s a bit of selection bias here, e.g, I walked out of a presentation from Big Software Company when their recruiter stressed the importance of wearing a suit to interviews to make a good impression.

I think vytae has it right: wear a suit if you want to work with people who care about wearing suits. Otherwise, don’t.
posted by suncoursing at 11:54 AM on October 25, 2007

I went for a job at PlayStation in the UK for a Graphic Designer's position. Graphic Design rule of thumb is that suits are out - the end.

I know it's not the same position, but I went to the interview wearing Jeans, Polo Shirt and a Tank Top (or what you refer to on the other side of the pond as a Sweater Vest, a V-Neck sleeveless jumper?)

Regardless, good luck with the interview!
posted by stackhaus23 at 12:37 PM on October 25, 2007

Dittoing suncoursing. I recently did a bunch of interviews for EE/computer engineering positions wearing a blazer and jeans and nobody seemed to care, even when the interviewers were dressed much better than me. Since then I've heard back from almost all of them.
posted by pravit at 1:17 PM on October 25, 2007

You should dress well - slacks, shirt and tie, shined shoes.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 2:08 PM on October 25, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all very much for the good, and voluminous, advice. I didn't expect a definitive answer, and I didn't get one. But cptspaldings answer was the one I wanted to hear, I guess. I want the job, but fortunately I don't need it, so I am okay with using my wardrobe as part of my filtering mechanism. I do not want to work with suits (though I don't think that's a danger here). At the moment, I'm thinking sportcoat and jeans, though I may bump that up to khakis.
posted by bricoleur at 2:28 PM on October 25, 2007

I asked a similar question last year.
posted by medpt at 6:06 PM on October 25, 2007

Final comment on this: dressing smartly is indicative of your ability to recognize one of the principal ways in which humans demonstrate their degree of socialization - their appearance. If you want to work for people who think of social norms as being irrelevant, yeah, go without the suit, as they aren't going to care. My original comment, upon reading further responses, seems incorrect.

However, I can't imagine wanting to work at any place or with any people who think that appearance isn't important. Regardless of what importance someone may personally assign to it, most people consider it to be so. Refusal to wear a suit is fine, but doing so and then claiming that it has something to do with not caring about appearance would suggest to me that the person making the claim was operating on delusion. I try to avoid that in employers.

Best of luck, though - this has been an interesting read! :)
posted by ellF at 8:14 AM on October 26, 2007

Response by poster: Data point for future readers: I wore khakis, a nice dark blue corduroy shirt, nice shoes and belt. I got the job.
posted by bricoleur at 6:44 AM on November 14, 2007

posted by vytae at 9:10 AM on November 14, 2007

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