The tech industry is known for being casual (think Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs), which defies everything we learned back in school about how to present ourselves at interviews.
What does this mean you should wear for a tech company interview? Do you go with a suit and feel uncomfortably over-dressed…or dress down and wonder if you’re making a good impression?
Consultation with several tech interviewers (and later, fashion experts) revealed the answer: it depends. They advise that you take these steps before the big day.
Try to research the company in advance.
What are people wearing in the company photo? (This is a time when light internet stalking is okay.)
“You should check the company’s social media channels first (all of them!),” says Brian Shoicket, Director of University Programs at Uncubed, a platform that hosts online courses and connects students with job opportunities. “Usually tech companies post photos from their office or employee gatherings and you can see what they are wearing day-to-day.”
No luck on social media? Check out their About page. Shoicket continues, “See what employees chose to wear in their photos, as this is an indicator of their company culture / environment. Is everyone in jeans and a T-shirt? Then it’s clearly very casual.”
Oftentimes companies will actually let you know the attire before you arrive — it’s often business casual, but could be just “business” or even just “casual.”
Take your role into account, too.
“Attire should vary based on roles / industry in a few specific instances: if your role is heavy client-facing, then you should dress nicer based on who the clients are (are you selling software to brokers? have on a suit jacket),” Shockiet notes. But in a lot of cases, he adds, “engineers / programmers can wear whatever they want.”
When in doubt, ask the recruiter (or hiring manager).
“One of the best resources to get a better sense of what to wear to a tech interview is by speaking with the recruiter. They should be able to provide you with guidance on proper attire and company culture,” says Brad Williams, Director of Talent Acquisition, Engineering and Analytics at Wayfair. They may even provide you with the intel before you ask, but if not, shoot them an email about it.
Always aim for one level up.
Regardless of how casual the office environment is, on your interview you want to look professional. (That doesn’t necessarily mean a suit/skirt/blazer…but it does mean you should leave the “Trust me I’m a doctor” hoodie at home.)
Shoicket says, “If you see jeans and T-shirts [on company pages], wear a button-down and dark jeans (as a man). For women, we usually recommend dark jeans and a nice blouse with flats (heels aren’t necessary). The most important factor is wear what you feel confident in!”
Kevin Harter, the men’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s, confirms, “I stick to the old adage, ‘it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed’. Even when wearing denim and a T-shirt, layering a jacket adds authority to your appearance.” He also advises to make sure your shoes are clean.
Nonetheless, you can probably ditch the suit.
Williams says, “At Wayfair we care more about a candidate’s qualifications and skills than we do about what they’re wearing. We recommend that they wear something that’s similar to their day-to-day attire in their current role, but maybe on a day of meetings. We want our applicants to get a good grasp of our culture while they’re in the office, so we recommend that they skip the suit, and let them know that they’ll likely be speaking to employees dressed in jeans and T-shirts. We want them to feel confident walking into our office.”
Harter’s jacket recommendation for men: Hugo Boss’s Janson Regular Fit Blazer.
Brooke Jaffe, the Women’s Fashion Director at Bloomingdale’s, has specific advice for women going on interviews. The pieces she thinks every woman should have:
Pants: “A pair of great fitting black trousers that hit right at the ankle. An ankle length gives the wearer the opportunity to show off a pair of great shoes.”
Blouse: “On top, you can never go wrong with a silk blouse or classic white cotton shirting tucked in. Stock up on a few great white blouses that tuck into your trousers.”
Jacket: “I love blazers for interviews. The structure of a blazer creates a pulled together and confident look.”
Shoes: “To play it safe, wear a black pump, but if you want to add a little pop, wear a pointy toe lace up flat (pictured) or a cool girl loafer which is very of the moment.” Don’t feel like you have to wear heels, though! “I think stilettos at the office feel out of date,” says Jaffe. “Thankfully fashion is offering us some fantastic options that don’t involve killing your feet!”
Dresses: “Another option is a dress that allows you to move comfortably but feels polished. It is important to note that you should wear a print versus a print wearing you. When you have an interview you want people to listen to what you are saying as opposed to distracting your potential boss with a loud look. ”
Nails: You don’t need to get a manicure, but “no chipped nail polish.”
But the most important outfit accessory, for men and women alike, is confidence. Harter says, “Some of the biggest CEOs in the tech industry have made T-shirts and jeans their uniform, but they still manage to look authoritative and confident in their appearance.”
Your fashion choices should allow you to do the same. “You are hired for your mind and skill set,” Harter concludes. “However, being stylish gives you a competitive advantage.”