1

I know this is likely a bit opinion-based, and it may have been posted before, but I couldn't find anything identical.

I'm finishing my undergrad this year and will be doing some informative-interviews this term to figure out my preferred field. I'm currently looking at several rebranded (read: recently 'modernised') and perhaps 'alternative' communications/branding/PR companies in my city (not metropolitan, at all). While I may interview some more professional, older companies, they aren't my focus, so this question is regarding the newer companies. For these interviews I planned to wear something comfortable and very smart, but I don't want to wear something dressy. I've researched their websites, and they're all casual/smart-casual dressed. So planned on black jeans (demon trousers), a blouse and blazer. I think this is appropriate, as have others I've spoken with.

My question is this: what has the opposition to jeans in interviews been about? Is this faux-pas on the way out, as many jeans aren't as causal (darker washes, slim lines, better fitted, holes aren't very fashionable anymore). I wholeheartedly agree that light wash, flare jeans with sparkles or ratty hems are inappropriate for interviews or work, but why are clean, tidy, well-fitted jeans not appropriate for office-level work (not managerial, or those applying to work directly with clients in overly professional positions)?

Hypothetically (if my info-interviews prove me right, and these companies are smart-casual), would it be appropriate for my to wear clean, denim trousers to a job interview with them?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jim G., CMW, Rhys, jmac, jcmeloni Mar 16 '14 at 16:37

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • @JoeStrazzere I tried to be as helpful as I could about the jobs. They're modern, mostly younger people, focused on start-ups and businesses looking to rebrand or attract new, younger clients. I'm an undergrad, so any position I get would be either intern or entry-level, not professional or front-line. – georgienne Mar 11 '14 at 13:46
  • 1
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is culture-specific, job-specific, sex-specific, person-specific, and very subjective. – Jim G. Mar 11 '14 at 17:56
  • I've interviewed for dozens of tech companies. 95% of the companies that have interviewed me have explicitly told me "we care more about what you can do than how well you dress. Wear business casual to the interview." What this means is -- if they don't care about "formal" attire, they will tell you, but don't assume they expect X or Y from you until they explicitly tell you, or you ask. – theGreenCabbage Mar 11 '14 at 19:12
  • 1
    @JimG. How does that make it off-topic? It's just like any other question, except for the fact that the OP made an effort to describe the context instead of assuming that it's the same everywhere. – Relaxed Mar 12 '14 at 2:49
  • 1
    Seconding @theGreenCabbage, but I'll add: It is ALWAYS legitimate to contact the company and ask this sort of question. – keshlam Mar 12 '14 at 5:00
13

If in doubt about anything to do with attire in an interview situation, err on the side of formality. If you're over-dressed, it gives a better impression than under-dressing.

Having done a lot of interviewing in my company, which has a business casual dress code, we would expect candidates to wear appropriate attire - not necessarily fully formal, but not casual, and in this company jeans would be considered not part of business casual attire. We wouldn't reject a candidate purely on dress, but it would form part of the first impression.

A lot of this is my opinion, but based on the experience I have in interviewing, on both sides of the desk, over many years.

  • 3
    I do agree being underdressed is bad in any case, but being overdressed would be embarrassing and could possibly come off fake? Also, would it not look like I'm unfamiliar with the company to be dressed more formally than the interviewers? – georgienne Mar 11 '14 at 13:50
  • 2
    I work at a midsized tech/cloud company where the dress code is "wear clothes", and it's still remarked on during feedback sessions if a candidate does not dress up. It's not an interview-killer, but if you are even with another candidate and that candidate dressed up, that may put them over the edge. In addition, remember that it may not just be the "young, trendy" employees interviewing you. You never know when a senior VP or director who has spent time at more "traditional" companies is going to come in and participate. – phoebus Mar 11 '14 at 15:19
  • Familiar, but never been inside; only a clients perspective. I've seen several at local business awards and their 'air' is one reason I'm attracted to contraction them for career questions. They're the sort or people and company I'd like to work with and attract. – georgienne Mar 12 '14 at 3:59
  • @phoebus Your experience with your midsized tech/cloud company contradicts my experiences with similar companies - they often tease candidates who dress up. – 2rs2ts Mar 12 '14 at 18:02
  • @2rs2ts See it depends on who exactly "they" are. Companies don't have monolithic cultures, even as much as they'd like to. In addition, if you do get a good-natured "teasing", then that's perfect for breaking the ice: just give as good as you get and acknowledge that you'd be more comfortable in shorts and flip-flops or whatever is the standard dress in the office. There is very, very little downside to dressing professionally for an interview in comparison to potential upside. – phoebus Mar 12 '14 at 18:45
9

As an old person, personally I find jeans at an interview to be way too casual. I am flexible enough to understand the work world has changed and so it probably would not make me eliminate someone, but unconscious preferences are sometimes very subtle and it might make the person start off at a disadvantage. Many older people however are not flexible in what they think is acceptable, but you may not be comfortable working for this kind of person anyway.

Younger people are much less likely to be offended by them but older ones worked in the professional work world where jeans were not allowed at all ever and tend to have developed their professional standards for what is acceptable in an interview then. So wearing jeans is probably fine if you are being interviewed by younger managers but less fine as the managers get older. Consider this especially if you get a to final interview with a very senior manager.

Another consideration is the type of job you are applying for. No one, even us old people, would blink at a developer coming to an interview in jeans. However, in Public Relations where you might have to do a lot of work with senior managers and/or the public, it might be less acceptable. Basically, you need to dress at least as well as the interviewers and possibly one step above what they might wear on a casual day. If there is any public contact in your proposed position, you want them to know that you can dress well to represent the company. In a conservative company or someplace like a law office where the principles wear suits, then I would always go to an interview in a suit.

If you want to know what is acceptable attire at a specific company interview, I would ask the person setting up the interview. I can't think that any company you would want to work for would be offended by such a question especially from someone just entering the work world.

  • 1
    +1 "unconcious preferences are sometimes very subtle and it might make the person start off at a disadvantage" – 2rs2ts Mar 11 '14 at 13:45
  • +1 for sharing your experience with us. This brings a good light on the case. – Hugo Rocha Mar 11 '14 at 16:52
  • @hlgem great points, I definitely understand dressing for the position (law firms = suits, tech = more casual). I never would've thought it appropriate to ask about expected clothing: very helpful, thank you! – georgienne Mar 12 '14 at 4:03
3

I have interpreted your question as wide as possible.

When interviewing, what is the appropriate clothing?

Your clothing (just as your grooming, well-kept beard, nose-hairs, long hair etc) communicates about you. It communicates:

  • The effort and preparation you did for this interview
  • Your fit with the company
  • The type of person you are (i.e. are you willing to dress up for your job?)

You have a lot of different levels of formality here. When you are too far from what the interviewer was expecting, it raises questions.

  • Being over-dressed raises this question: "This guy does not know our company culture very well. Will he fit into a more relaxed atmosphere?"
  • Being under-dressed tells the interviewer: "He did not even dress up for the interview: is he willing to dress up for his job? Does he value this interview? Will he also refuse to dress up for presentations to our clients?".

This is why being over-dressed is less bad than being under-dressed. As an interviewer, it is very hard to ask point-blank: "You are not wearing a suit. Why?"

Let's now go over your different options:

Level 1: full business formal (dress shoes, suit, tie)

This is almost never wrong. It may come off as a bit stiff, but you can correct this in the second interview (when you know what clothes people wear). Some people are more stressed when they are in full business attire, this could be an argument not to wear this.

A slight advantage as well is that you can easily dress down. When you feel you are overdressed (before the interview, or in between two interviews), you can easily take off the tie in the bathroom. I have done this on multiple occasions.

Level 2: dress shoes, suit, but no tie

This is slightly less formal. I found it appropriate for long-term clients (people you already know), researchers (who will probably be in jeans/t-shirt), or PR firms. For a marketing or PR firm, the guy across from you will probably be wearing Level 3, so you are not that far from him.

Level 3: dress shoes, jeans, blazer and shirt

This is often what is worn in PR agencies. It shows a smart confidence. It still shows you care, because you wear nice shoes and a well-ironed shirt.

In general, I would only do this in two cases:

  • You feel extremely confident and know they will see a perfect fit for your future role. Even then, I would not give you any bonus points as an interviewer. Your making an effort to wear a suit is more important than your knowledge of the standard attire at the company.
  • You are applying for a non-client-facing role and do not like wearing suits

Level 4: regular shoes, jeans, shirt

This communicates one thing: "I behave badly in formal situations."

For some jobs, this really does not matter. For others, it really does. If it does, your attire will not be decisive. The interviewer will also evaluate your behaviour, your composure, your smile, the tone of your voice... In practice, people not wearing a suit generally fail these as well: speaking very silently, being very nervous, telling inappropriate jokes.

Even here, you should not wear a t-shirt. A shirt is the simplest choice, but a v-neck sweater&t-shirt would also work.

Level 5: ripped or washed jeans, running shoes or sandals, t-shirt...

This communicates that you are not willing to change your attitude to work in a professional environment. This will limit your employment opportunities.

Source: Interviews in different environments, both as interviewee and interviewer, including for a PR-like agency. Sales talks (which are like interviews, in that you want to establish a fit with your potential client) in different environments (guys in overalls, banks, small start-ups, marketing companies...)

  • I liked very much your level division. I was going to share a answer close to yours, but using points. Your level 5 would be mine -10 points. :) – Hugo Rocha Mar 11 '14 at 16:55
1

I've often heard it recommended that you dress one "level" above what you would wear to work. When you are not given instructions on what to wear, you can follow this. The goal is to give the impression that you are taking the interview seriously and you are well-kept and professional, but you also fit into the "culture." This helps the interviewer(s) feel comfortable.

I'll just give some blanket suggestions on a few examples, but it's up to you to decide based on your best judgment and personal style.

  • For "casual" (which can mean anything), wear high quality jeans or slacks and a collared shirt or blouse. Keep the top unbuttoned.
  • For "business casual" (usually slacks/skirts and collared shirts/blouses), consider adding a tie or a nice jacket. If you do wear jeans, they should be "dress jeans," such as the black ones you mentioned; slacks/skirts are still recommended.
  • For "business formal" (ties/dresses required), wear a suit. I can't advise women here, but I think women's business suits are very classy and sharp.

In general, though, you should always wear high-quality clothing, especially shoes. I recommend avoiding warm colors, especially red, since they can give off an aggressive aura.

You can always ask about the dress code, too!

I'd like to add that on a few occasions, I wore a tie to the interview but took it off when I saw that the people interviewing me were not wearing ties. In one circumstance, I asked if it would be all right to remove it, because it was killing me. The interviewers and I shared a laugh over this, and it set a much more comfortable tone.

  • 2
    I'm a girl, keep it unbuttoned doesn't seem like the right advice to me!! I know you mean don't button way up to the neck, but unbuttoning the whole shirt seems a bit unprofessional!! – HLGEM Mar 11 '14 at 13:56
  • 1
    I meant unbutton the neck! I'll edit to be explicit. – 2rs2ts Mar 11 '14 at 13:59
  • 5
    I would add that high quality doesn't mean debt-inducing. Look for affordable quality clothing... 80% of America's millionaires are first generation wealthy and shopped at places like Sears and JC Penney. Source: "The Millionaire Next Door" by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. – jmort253 Mar 11 '14 at 14:07
  • I had to look twice at the 'unbuttoning' comment. Whoops. But I definitely get your points; I'll make sure to ask if I'm not informed of expected dress. – georgienne Mar 12 '14 at 4:11
  • 2
    @georgienne - I'm actually reading "The Millionaire Next Door" right now, and the key to how these folks won with money was by looking for bargains. If you know you'll have to interview in your junior spring semester and you're in the fall semester now, start looking for a deal now. The people who pay the most for anything are the desperate, or those who wait until the last minute. In the book I'm reading, it's the planners, those with patience, who wait out the deals. Hope this helps. – jmort253 Mar 12 '14 at 5:01
0

I work in a tech company in my city, and when I was about to go for the interview, I specifically asked what type of dress would be most appropriate. This not only answers the question, it also gives the interviewer the idea that you care about the interview and want to get it right. Every other place I've interviewed has told me what is appropriate dress.

As a side note, Microsoft tells their recruits that you should dress business casual. You can wear a suit if you want, but you will stand out and look like an interviewee.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.