Interview attire for the casually corporate

If you asked most professionals what they wore to their last job interview the most common answer would undoubtedly be “a suit.”

For the duration of my career not only have I worn a suit for job interviews but I have also told hundreds, maybe thousands of students, “no matter what, wear a suit!” My ongoing lecture would include statement such as “employers can expect this is the best you are ever going to look” and “if you can’t dress up for an interview employers might ask themselves what you might wear once you get the job.”

As with all personal growth I have recently had a specific experience that has challenged and changed my standard “wear a suit!” mantra.

A student in my job search strategies class (side note: most colleges offer such classes, take it, you most certainly will not regret it) was preparing for an interview at a large, tech company in the Midwest with a very cool, casual, trendy culture. In the confirmation email he received prior to his interview he was told to dress down in accord with the company culture. Several of my fellow counselors and I had a nice conversation about what that really meant. Was it a trick? Does it mean jeans? Are khakis (really, chinos- but that’s a whole different post) too predictable? Tie or no tie? Ultimately we wondered if we were reading too much into it. He settled on pants; button up shirt, no tie.

Here is what he wrote to me the day after his interview:

“As far as dress code goes, they weren’t kidding when they said feel free to dress down. The HR representative that was assigned to me for the day was wearing n faded hoodie and jeans. I think the most dressed up employee I saw was wearing jeans and a polo. Out of the 20 other candidates on campus yesterday, not one of them was in a suit, some were in jeans, and most were in khakis and a button up shirt.”

As I see it there are at least two morals to this story:

One: FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. If there are no specific directions then default to the norm: INTERVIEW SUIT.

Two: No matter how much you think you know the rules change. Be open to all possibilities.

P.S. I’m typing this on a Friday, which is jeans day in our office. For a few bucks we can all wear jeans. At the end of the year we donate all of the money to a charity. Jeans are comfy and can be dressed up. Watch for my next post on Building your first professional wardrobe.

Updated: 17/03/2017

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