I have accepted a job offer as a software developer after two phone interviews, and they told me that they have a relaxed dress code. Specifically, they mentioned wearing jeans. However, I'm not sure whether that's jeans with a polo, or a button-down shirt, or a T-shirt; and I want to communicate on my first day that I take the job seriously. Is it acceptable for me to show up on my first day in (nice) jeans (particularly if I wear a nice shirt)? Is it a bigger risk for them to wonder why I'm in jeans on my first day, or for them to feel like I'm overdressed?
Since they said jeans, I would wear (nice) jeans.
As for the shirt, you could ask (or look for photos of their workplace on their web site). Failing that, your best bet is to pick something "in the middle" -- not a t-shirt and not a high-end dress shirt, but a nice polo shirt, short-sleeved buttoned shirt, or (climate permitting) sweater would probably fit in. A sweater that you wear over a t-shirt gives you the option to shed the sweater.
Don't wear something way out of line with what they told you (like a suit), though -- you'll stand out, but not in the way you want to. I've seen people do that and they end up feeling awkward.
Context is King
What was the context of the statement, "they have a relaxed dress code. Specifically, they mentioned wearing jeans."
If it was during the "our company is awesome, work for us!" stage, it could have been a bit exaggerated (using the most casually dressed member as an example of "average" for the company, when it isn't).
Since you seem to be unclear on what the actual dress code is, I'd urge caution on that front.
Check the Website
Assuming this company has a website, they likely have photos of the office somewhere on there (assuming they aren't stock photographs, who knows). At any rate this can give helpful pointers on:
- What they want the outside world to think they wear
- How that image matches up with what you were told they wear
Just note the range of dress in the photo (are they all wearing jeans?) and take a mental note.
Comfort is King
At the end of the day, wearing something that makes you feel comfortable will be best. If you try to over/under do it and aren't comfortable as a result, you may be spending more time worrying about your dress than making the right impression on your coworkers.
So whatever you end up picking, make sure that you feel comfortable in it.
I always come in to a first day worried that I will be introduced to the CEO, and want to make sure that I am at least dressed as well as my boss when I go to meet them.
If all indicators point to very relaxed dress, I'd probably still wear khaki pants and a button-down shirt. You can roll up the sleeves and unbutton the collar to look more "casual", but you can also pack a tie in your bag just in case. If you wear a t-shirt underneath you can also unbutton the front of the shirt to look even more casual.
It's like wearing layers during a New England winter. You can adapt yourself to the atmosphere more easily.
That's my style, just get what information you can and decide on yours. Then don't worry about it. A nice smile and confident greeting is far more important than what you wear.
Yes always err on the side of overdressing on your first day. After you see how others you work with dress, then you can tone it down. I like how you said err on the side of over dressing, don't totally overshoot it. If they said it's relaxed obviously don't wear a suit and tie. If you have one wear a short sleeved shirt with buttons all the way down the front, and make sure it has a collar. Also a solid collar is considered more formal so you may want to choose one with a few stripes.
Since you were specifically told that they dress code is relaxed and jeans were mentioned, then that's what you should wear.
In regards to the shirt - by all means, dress smart-casual - in this regards, there will be no harm in dressing up and you will be able to see what others are wearing and adjust accordingly.
If you are still unsure - by all means go into work in a suit on the first day. This will certainly give the right message - I have done this in the past and had the COO come over to tell me that's the last day I come in to work in a suit.
Personally, I'd go for smart jeans, a casual shirt (button-down or otherwise) and shoes.
The thing to remember is that there will likely be people at both ends of the spectrum. Some will look like they're ready to haul a few tyres in the local garage whilst others will almost look like they have an interview somewhere. As long as you're not at the extreme end of casual, I think you'll be fine.
As well as fitting in with the accepted standard of dress, it is also important for you to feel comfortable with what you're wearing.
Every job you take, you should do two of three things.
1) ALWAYS obtain the contact information of your soon-to-be manager if they weren't the ones to interview you. Send them a quick email a few days before starting, introducing yourself to them and such.
The next two you need to do one of.
2) during your interview, try not to leave without at least being walked through where you might be sitting/working. Meet the team if only briefly, and PAY ATTENTION!! This not only is a great way to get your face and name known to the company (improves chances of being hired) but also gives you the opportunity to learn some stuff about the environment (what are people wearing, how cluttered are peoples' desks, how much "personalization" is there to individual areas).
3) Ask about the dress code. It is not a problem to ask a quick clarifying question, especially if you reface it by explaining your reasoning ("a previous company had some very strange meanings when they said jeans were fine, i just wanted to clarify it real quick here"). this is why step 1 was so important. You're not going to ask HR, because unless you're applying for an HR job, they won't know. They'll know the 'official' policy, but sometimes (especially in technical departments such as IT or AppDev) dress code is more relaxed to facilitate better work.
In the event you're unable to do these things, then I would err on the side of caution. A button-up shirt is a good call, and remember, if it turns out you're a bit overdressed, you can always untuck your shirt to "casual-down" your attire on the fly.