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I recently interviewed for a software dev position at a company that seems to be really thrilled about me as a candidate, to the degree that they've been reading my blog and have openly told me that I'm the best candidate they've seen so far.

The lead dev invited me over for an on-site interview, without mentioning that he also wanted me to meet higher-ups later on. The in-person interview was between myself and the only two engineers on the team. It actually went really well!

Towards the end, the lead dev walked me out of the office; he basically summarized his stance and made it clear that they'd like to move forward (even mentioning the salary they'd offer).

He also said he'd like me to meet the CEO, but that he doesn't think my present attire would "leave the best impression" (I was wearing cargo shorts with a belt, and a dress shirt tucked in). He mentioned that he doesn't personally have a problem with my attire but that the CEO might.

I walked away feeling conflicted. On the one hand, they made it clear that they're really interested in me as a candidate. On the other hand, I'm jumped with a surprise offer to meet the CEO, but told to come back later once I've changed into slacks. This made me a little uncomfortable and, frankly, embarrassed.

Was this an appropriate comment, especially considering I was not clued in regarding what dress code I should expect or told that I would be meeting in such a formal setting (with the CEO)?

Edit: My location is Florida, for those who were asking. I didn't mention this initially for anonymity, but that was an oversight on my part as it seems to be relevant.

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    Why were you in shorts for an interview? – Dan Dec 13 '19 at 18:55
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    Have you interviewed much before? I think dressing a little fancier than shorts is pretty standard for interviews (in the software industry I have worn jeans and a nice sweater, but certainly not shorts). I'm curious why you thought shorts were appropriate to begin with? – Catsunami Dec 13 '19 at 19:47
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    Location? This is one of those things that might differ based on local culture. – nick012000 Dec 14 '19 at 6:44
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    Sorry, you're right. I didn't mention location for anonymity. I'm in Florida. – anonymousGuest1209hj30ahnssd9 Dec 14 '19 at 12:55
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    I have worked in Brazil and Germany and can say that in both of these places working in shorts is usually accepted, but wearing them to interviews is frowned upon. – undefined Dec 16 '19 at 12:18
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He also said he'd like me to meet the CEO, but that he doesn't think my present attire would "leave the best impression" (I was wearing cargo shorts with a belt, and a dress shirt tucked in). He mentioned that he doesn't personally have a problem with my attire but that the CEO might.

I walked away feeling conflicted. On the one hand, they made it clear that they're really interested in me as a candidate. On the other hand, I'm jumped with a surprise offer to meet the CEO, but told to come back later once I've changed into slacks. This made me a little uncomfortable and, frankly, embarrassed.

Was this an appropriate comment, especially considering I was not clued in regarding what dress code I should expect or told that I would be meeting in such a formal setting (with the CEO)?

He was trying to do you a favor. And the comments were perfectly appropriate.

Clearly, he knows the CEO better than you do, and knows what would allow you to make the best first impression with the CEO. My guess is that if this lead dev didn't think you were a good candidate, he would have let you continue on dressed as you are without comment.

You would be well advised to take the suggestion to heart. In a few shops, cargo shorts would be perfectly acceptable attire for a meeting with the CEO. Apparently, this isn't one of those shops.

If you decide that this is too uncomfortable or embarrassing to bear, you can just decline to continue to participate, and move on to other potential opportunities.

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    You know, whenever I find myself about to say "You shouldn't be offended by this" I have to ask myself if I'm saying it at time that is ignorant of privilege. I've taken some time to think about this and nope, I'm fairly confident this is one of the few times you can truly say "Take their advice, don't be offended by it." Which is cool! – corsiKa Dec 14 '19 at 5:20
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    I’ll never forget my interview for my current job, where when they commented on why I was wearing a proper two-piece suit and tie to an interview, I said “it’s better to overdress and dress down later than miss an opportunity.” And they were vocally impressed with the sentiment. And the interesting part was I ran into the CEO in the bathroom just before the interview. He concluded the interview by telling me to loosen my tie so I’d be comfortable, because to him comfort and productivity were more important than dress and looks. However, I had no way of knowing that before meeting him. – Bakna Dec 14 '19 at 7:18
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    A CEO telling you to loosen your tie is a VERY DIFFERENT comment than one where he asks "Where is your tie?" Do not mistaken that as the two sides of the same coin... one gets you a job, and one gets you the boot... – Nelson Dec 16 '19 at 6:42
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The company may have a casual dress code, but that's for regular employees, not for people coming to an interview.

You can pretty much assume that for any interview for a 100K+ job, your attire should be suit/shirt/tie, except if in the invitation for the interview they explicitly tell you otherwise. Assume suit and tie by default.

The interviewers can dress casually if they want to (actually, for them it's a day of regular work, so they will dress according to whatever the regular dress code in that company is), but the candidate cannot.

You may come dressed better than they are (but only for the interview; once you start coming to do the job, regularly, wear whatever others on the same level as you wear), but that will show some respect, it will not be taken in a bad way.

Even regular casual clothes is often not enough, and coming in shorts is worse than that.

Coming in shorts to meet the CEO would be a whole another level of improper dressing. It would imply disrespect, even if you did not actually want to show any, it would look and feel like that.

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    "You can pretty much assume that for any interview for a 100K+ job, your attire should be suit/shirt/tie" absolutely not my experience in IT. You definitely want to turn up better dressed than normal but there's still a lot of space between "cargo shorts" and "suit and tie". Pretty much depends on the kind of company though. – Voo Dec 13 '19 at 19:00
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    Dragan must be from the East Coast of the US, or from Europe. On the West Coast, being way too overdressed for a software developer interview at the wrong company can easily cost you your job. The lesson is. If you're not sure, you should ask. It never hurts to ask. But yes, "cargo shorts" wasn't a very wise choice to begin with. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 13 '19 at 21:06
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    @StephanBranczyk, I sometimes hear accounts of people claiming that actually "wearing a suit and tie" cost them a job opportunity. But the fact is, no one actually knows what the tipping point is. Clothing can easily become a factor in the overall impression that someone gives off. Personality is a major component in hiring decisions and that is conditioned by appearance (which includes clothing). If someone is comfortable in their skin and looks good a suit and tie is not going to sink them if they're otherwise a "yes" candidate. – teego1967 Dec 13 '19 at 22:56
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    I've seen people rejected for being overdressed by too much. "Didn't get our company. Clearly not a good fit." But you are meeting strangers, so you dress up a bit more than when only meeting your familiar crew. Aim for +20% over their company normal, not +200%. – ObscureOwl Dec 14 '19 at 0:19
  • For SWEs (at least in the bay area) showing up in a tie could be ground for a reject. And the salary exceeds 100K for entry level positions. – ajeje Dec 14 '19 at 6:27
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considering I was not clued in regarding what dress code I should expect or told that I would be meeting in such a formal setting ?

Job interviews are formal settings. Second to meetings with board members or backers or particularly corporate customers, they are perhaps the most formal settings a developer will find themselves in.

There are companies and industries today where things are less formal than they used to be or might be elsewhere, but that is precisely an aspect of "clued in" knowledge about the company.

In the absence of such knowledge, you have to assume a degree of traditional formality. Maybe for a software developer that generally no longer means a jacket or tie, maybe in some places and industries it can now include nice jeans. But it would really take a very hip company or a very informal role for cargo shorts to be a safe assumption for an interview. I'm sure those companies exist, but the guess that this was one of them was mistaken.

Fortunately it seems to be being treated as the minor misunderstanding that it was, with a solution offered.

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    I'd upvote this more, if I could: "it would really take a very hip company or a very informal role for cargo shorts to be a safe assumption for an interview" – thursdaysgeek Dec 13 '19 at 22:40
  • In a sense, the choice of clothing for an interview, and how you handle things like making sure you are on time, is an audition for how you would handle a meeting with a corporate customer. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 14 '19 at 9:43
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First impressions count as does office politics

Every company has politics and the lead has to play to the politics of his company. As a result, he is probably behaving conservatively to make sure that all goes well. Indulge him this little favour.

I personally would love a workplace that so clearly spelled out strategic expectations rather than having a manager who expected one thing and got another.

There is also the problem of shorts in general. All of my work environments have been casual (standard programmer t-shirt and jeans were perfectly fine), but shorts would be too casual except for one tiny tiny startup.

As for why you were not told earlier? You were being vetted. There is no point in taking you to the CEO if you flop the interview. You passed, so now you meet the CEO.

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You should NEVER go to an interview in shorts. Period. Job interviews are extremely formal, so shorts are taboo even in less-serious places like Texas and Wyoming. You might get away with jeans during the summer in southern states, but that is the absolute limit of informality.

The lead developer was trying to do you a favor. Seriously, first impressions are one of the most important things you get across in an interview. You can have the best credentials and resume in the world, but even these are worthless if you show up in a wrinkled tee-shirt.

  • NEVER? The interview I had for my current job, I was wearing shorts. – tddmonkey Dec 15 '19 at 21:03
  • @tddmonkey : Did they specify that you could? The OP was asking if, after being warned by somebody who works there that he should not wear shorts could he still wear shorts. I realize that sometimes it might be otherwise specified, but in general the above advice applies. Seriously, you are the first person I have heard of who has worn shorts to an interview and gotten away with it. – SE is too politically correct Dec 16 '19 at 14:37
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    @tddmonkey, being able to walk into an interview, as a professional, wearing shorts is very much an exceptional situation. In the vast majority of job-interviews that's a hard no. I suppose in some places SWE's have been infantilized to the point where candidates who dress like college students at a kegger are acceptable. It might be comfortable but it gradually chips away at the status of the profession. – teego1967 Dec 16 '19 at 23:12
  • @teego1967 wearing shorts has nothing to do with being infantile or dressing like a student, it might do where you are but that's not universal. In London in the middle of summer, it is common place to see professionals wearing shorts as the heat demands it. – tddmonkey Dec 22 '19 at 10:45
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    @thescribe-ReinstateMonica - no, there was no conversation about it beforehand, but this was London in the middle of summer - shorts is pretty standard due to the heat. The demand for tech staff is quite high so turning people away for something superficial like the way they are dressed is not the smartest thing to do. I also have a bright pink mohawk, so realistically, no-one cares that I'm wearing shorts – tddmonkey Dec 22 '19 at 10:47
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If the interviewer believed that coming to a talk with a CEO in shorts would lessen your chances to get the job, and he wanted you to get the job, then obviously it is of course absolutely appropriate to tell you to dress in a way that increases your chances.

If the CEO judges you by what you are wearing for a conversation with the CEO, and doesn't give you the job because you come in shorts, is that appropriate? Well, he's the CEO. Some companies don't care much what you wear for work (Q: "What's your dress code?" A: "Dressed.") but most would care that you can come to work formally dressed if you have to. Dress code at my place is very relaxed, but when there was a need to, we had half a dozen people in formal suit and bow ties.

And no matter what the attitude is at your company, there will be contact with other companies with different attitudes, and the CEO would like to know that he doesn't have to hide you away. Like "Tomorrow we will have visitors from xxx company, and you all know what a stuffy bunch they are, so no shorts and jeans with holes tomorrow, please". So there is justification to this, and if you think it is inappropriate, you may have to look for employment elsewhere.

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