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For the 4 jobs that I have worked at, I dressed formal twice, business casual once and more casual once. How important is the dressing code to programming interviews these days? Will the employer or interviewer not take you seriously if you come in casually: plain shirt and khaki pants with casual walking shoes(non-sneakers)?

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closed as off topic by Walter, LennyProgrammers, Mark Trapp May 18 '11 at 19:28

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Hi Thierry, there's nothing about dressing for a job interview, particularly nothing demonstrated in this question, that's specific to being a programmer so this is off-topic here. –  user8 May 18 '11 at 19:30
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I once went to an interview in casual clothes. Not really intended - a couple of stupid accidents in the morning, and the end result was either go in casual clothes or don't show. I went for the experience anyway, and I didn't really want that job (an arranged thing for moving between projects in sister companies - I was already looking elsewhere), but needless to say I wasn't offered the position. On reflection, I should have at least explained - taking interviews for experience is one thing, but the effect of appearing not to take things seriously at all was probably to burn some bridges. –  Steve314 May 18 '11 at 23:47

16 Answers 16

Clearly, being underdressed is a big risk. If you show up to an interview where they expect you to be wearing a suit and you’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt, there is a big chance your interviewers won’t take you seriously and be irritated that you don’t take their job interview seriously. I personally have never been in such an interview.

On the other hand, despite what some of the other answers here say, there can be serious risks to overdressing too. It is simply not true that there is no harm to just wearing a suit to every interview. I have worked at companies where candidates who wear suits to interviews are presumed to not be a good “culture fit”. At these places, if you wear a tie or a suit to a interview, you are assumed to be a “suit”—someone who should perhaps be in sales or finance—or even a moron overdressing to hide your incompetence.

I had a discussion at lunch with some coworkers about interviews and attire.

ME: What would you think if an interview candidate came in wearing a suit and tie?
COWORKER 1: Who is this clown?
COWORKER 2: I would think “oh jeez, this is some kind of Enterprise Java Bean programmer”
COWORKER 1: Or I would think he IS an Enterprise Java Bean
ME: <spit-take>

These places are not mythical or marginal—they are major employers of software engineers like Google, Microsoft, and Apple:

People sometimes wonder how they should dress. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable. If you still want a recommendation, I say a button-down shirt or even a T-shirt. A suit can come off as too formal in some companies (e.g. Google).

This point is not as important, because people won't really care. You should ask your recruiter about what to wear, since this differs by country and East Coast / West Coast. A company like Google is more casual, so if you come in a three-piece suit, your interviewers may raise an eyebrow. If you've got the goods in terms of engineering skills, it's not a dealbreaker though. One candidate came to an interview wearing a gothic mesh shirt with holes through which his nipples were clearly visible. He still got the job. (I don't recommend taking this risk.)
Preparing For a Software Engineering Interview, by Niniane Wang, June 2006

No tie, unless you're in sales or marketing. I've worked at Apple, Microsoft and Adobe, nobody wears ties to interviews for tech positions.
Comment on Ask MetaFilter

The only technical interview where I've ever felt inapprpropriately dressed was the time I wore a suit to interview at google. [rolls eyes at self] The people interviewing me, with whom I was hoping to become peers, were all wearing jeans and tee shirts. I felt like a complete idiot, was uncomfortable all day (for the standard 8-hour google marathon interview), and I didn't get the job.
— From this related question on Stack Overflow

I have worked in companies where people may have missed out on job offers because they came to the interview in a suit. People would say they're not a good "cultural fit.
— From a comment on the Joel on Software forums

You absolutely MUST do due diligence and find out what level of sartorial formality is expected from interview candidates. This means doing the following in this order and stopping when you get an answer: (1) researching on the company's careers or jobs site for hints—Google, for example, explicitly tells interview candidates “business casual is fine”; (2) asking friends or acquaintances you know who work at the company; and as a last resort (3) ask the HR rep or recruiter who set up the interview. Ask something along the lines of “I’ve worked in office environments with very different formality levels. How formal would you say it is at your company” or “What do successful candidates tend to wear to interviews?” There is some risk that the interviewer will be turned off that you wouldn’t know what to wear to an interview, but I think in most cases you can avoid that kind of situation through prior due diligence; i.e. step (1) or (2).

For what it's worth, my last two jobs have been for startups in Silicon Valley and I wore jeans to my interviews with a button-down shirt and casual loafers.

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I'd like to know where people react that way to someone showing up for an interview in a suit - I've been on the other side of the table as an interviewer and the candidate not dressing appropriately for the occasion left me with a negative impression. –  rjzii May 18 '11 at 18:05
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@RobZ: There's sometimes an attitude of hostility between those who work with facts and those who work with people. To the extent that that exists, showing up to a programming interview with suit and tie is like wearing the enemy's uniform. There is no single right answer for all occasions. –  David Thornley May 18 '11 at 18:15
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@nohat - Suits are considered safe business attire because people shouldn't be holding it against you for wearing one unless it is inappropriate given the situation (i.e. wearing a suit to go swimming) and interviews are a formal enough occasion that it is more or less generally accepted to dress up for them (i.e. the advice to have at least one "interview suit" in your closet). To be honest, if I ran into someone that was being hostile towards me, or thought less of me for wearing a suit to an interview, there is a good chance I wouldn't want to work for them anyway. –  rjzii May 18 '11 at 18:41
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Even if you are going to work with people who look down on "suit wearers", you cannot guarantee that those people will be the only people interviewing you. Frequently HR reps play a part in the interview process, and they are certainly the types who would be predisposed to look down upon "underdressed" applicants. –  Beofett May 18 '11 at 18:50
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It seems to me that asking for proper attire before hand seems more incompetent than just plain wearing a suit. If I were to interview someone, and they were to ask before hand what they needed to wear, I would be thrown aback by the fact that they couldn't figure it out on their own. I wouldn't hold it against them, but it wouldn't instill confidence. Perhaps this is a localization issue. –  Craige May 18 '11 at 19:29

I'll chime in and say that I got a chance to interview about 20 people over the course of a few years for about 4 positions (web designer stuff), and I'll tell you that for me, anyone who came in with a full suit and tie was eyed suspiciously. It wasn't a deal breaker, but it signaled that the person was maybe ... desperate? Or young perhaps? Hard to put my finger on it, but myself and my coworkers agreed.

And before you assume this was at some wild start-up, the organization I worked for was a local (county) government. But for a tech interview, the full Sunday suit route just made people stand out in a bad way.

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This is for Silicon Valley:

My rule of thumb is to dress nicely enough to show I made an effort, but not so formally as to make my interviewer uncomfortable or make them think I know nothing of the Valley culture. I'm a woman, so that usually boils down to nice dark-wash trouser-cut jeans, a nice shirt, good (clean) low-heeled or flat shoes, and maybe a jacket (but I always wear jackets :) ).

One thing to keep in mind is that you may be asked to contort yourself to write on a very small whiteboard, and there may be a bunch of kneeling and reaching. So if you wear a jacket, be prepared to take it off and make sure it wasn't covering up a hole or stains. If you wear heels, make sure you can stand in them for a while comfortably, and that if you need to think on your feet (literally) you won't be distracted by the howling pain in your compressed little toe. This is also why a knee-length or shorter skirt is usually a bad idea, though I've seen it being pulled off successfully.

I've interviewed a lot of people, too. If someone shows up wearing a suit I'm usually pretty amused, but it doesn't really count against them. OTOH if someone comes in wearing a wrinkled t-shirt and dirty jeans, that's not a good first impression because it broadcasts a lack of caring and professionalism.

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My general rule of thumb is dress as though you were meeting a client....b/c you are. Your product is yourself and your skill set.

Unless they tell you that the interview will be 'causal' go full suit and make sure you look neat and professional. If they do say causal I would even suggest going business causal to the interview.

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You might be able to infer the dress code by who the company's clients are, or the size of the company. The more "corporate" the company is, or the more conservative their clients are, the more formal you need to appear. However, if you are applying at a game company or a small web design company, formal may backfire. It's fair to ask what the culture is like when talking to the recruiter.

  • When in doubt, ask.
  • Unless the company is formal (law firms, banks, government), it's usually safe to wear slacks and a button down shirt without a tie. That's even true if you are a woman.
  • If the client is informal, at least wear clothes without holes (even if that's the style) and refrain from "statement" T-shirts. They can backfire badly if you have someone on the other end of the table who is offended by it.
  • If the client is formal, dress in a suit--with a tie if you're a man.
  • Try to avoid spilling your coffee or food on your shirt before you come in to the interview.

As to shoes: only consider sneakers if the company is informal. The rest of the time use something more conservative. The overall impression should be smart, but not overreaching.

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Unless you show up wearing a white tuxedo, you will almost never have points taken off for being too formal, so why chance it. I would say suit by default, and button up shirt and khakis at an absolute minimum and only if you happen to know that the place is super casual. Always try to out-dress the person interviewing you.

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Ask

then wear a suit anyway. or not. and some more characters to meet the minimum.

this ain't rocket surgery

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I always wear a suit and tie to the first interview. While there, I observe what people are wearing and come back to a second interview a little more dressy than what my would-be colleagues are wearing.

This does have its risks, as a suit and tie can be a sign that you won't fit in, but that's almost always forgivable on the first interview, particularly if you sound like you'd fit in, since many people do it. I wouldn't dare dress in suit and tie for a second interview if the developers didn't war a tie - too much chance of giving the impression that I'm more like a sales or marketing guy than a software guy.

I'm sometimes told what would be appropriate attire for the interview, and I follow that advice. You can always ask if you're in doubt.

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The company I just crossed the one-year mark is technically business casual, which most days means cargo pants and a polo shirt.

When I came in to interview, the HR guy warned me, "We're business casual. If you wear a suit, we will laugh at you."

Point: do what's going to fit in, and you don't have to be a mind reader about that. You can actually ask the HR person you schedule it with, that's not weird.

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If you're scheduling the interview through an HR person, ask them if you should wear a suit. If you're scheduling the interview through a recruiter or agent, ask them if you should wear a suit. If you're scheduling directly with the developers.. don't wear a suit. –  Carson63000 May 21 '11 at 13:02

A suit is generally considered to be the de facto standard business attire, meaning that when going someplace to conduct business, it is always considered appropriate to be worn if you are not already familiar with who you are meeting with. Likewise, on an international basis, nobody should be offended if you show up to an important meeting wearing a suit and in some cases, people will be offended if you do not wear a suit.

An interview is a formal business occasion and as such, a suit would be considered appropriate for the occasion unless you are explicitly told by the folks you are interviewing with that they have a "casual office" or explicitly tell you not to wear a suit.

As a matter of personal practice I generally wear a suit when interviewing and when I was told not too I still wore business casual. However, when I have had to interview candidates I've also extended the same expectations and wore a suit for the occasion myself.

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@David - True, but there is also no guarantee that the only people you will meet with will be software folks. Also, as most people (including myself) have pointed out, you if you get guidance from the people you are interviewing with in terms of dress, then follow their advice. –  rjzii May 18 '11 at 18:35

Short answer: Unless stated explicitly otherwise, always formal.

It is not about being taken seriously, it is about interviewee showing respect to the interviewers and taking the job application process seriously.

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The answer is always "Dress appropriately for the situation" - different companies will have different cultures and expectations; know them before showing up.

The key is to not let your dress be distracting. You're there to showcase your talents, not compete in a fashion show.

So, if you're interviewing at an "old school company" (banks, financial, insurance, etc.) - it's reasonable that you'll show up dressed in suit and tie, at a smaller software company a suit and tie would be too much.

... and as someone who has interviewed a number of programmers, there is one important rule that I would recommend: wear clothes that fit well. This goes with the advice to not let your dress be distracting - if you show up wearing a suit that fit your body shape 10 years ago, it's going to be distracting. You'll never go wrong in investing in a conservative blazer/sport coat (doesn't have to be 'expensive', just one that fits), a pair of slacks that fit well, etc.

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+1 for wearing clothing that fits well. I've interviewed one candidate who's suit seemed to be several years old (based upon style), fit poorly, and was ill kept which distracted everyone that interviewed them and left them with a negative impression. How you dress when you are under the spot light does have something to say for how detail oriented you are. –  rjzii May 18 '11 at 18:07

It depends on the culture of the company. If you have contacts within the company, you can ask them for advice.

If you're not sure, err on the side of over-dressing. Some companies absolutely do frown upon under-dressing, whereas it's pretty rare for an interviewer at any company to be upset that a candidate is over-dressed.

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Some interviewers will not care, so long as your appearance meets the dress standards that they employ on the workplace.

However, many interviewers will care. It is taken as a sign of respect, and of taking a serious interest in the position if you come dressed formally. Conversely, failure to do so may very well be seen as not taking the position seriously, demonstrating a poor understanding of professional expectations, or even disrespectful.

Why take the chance that the interviewer will be picky? Always dress formally, and you can never go wrong.

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@nohat I have never encountered such a situation. Attire for the interview is not assumed to be attire for day-to-day work. Additionally, if the candidate has not yet interviewed for the position, how would they know what the normal dress code is? It is not generally good practice to ask what the daily dress code is when called for an interview (you are more likely to get away with "what is the dress style for the interview?", although this still runs the risk of creating a negative impression should the person believe strongly in "always formal for interviews"). –  Beofett May 18 '11 at 18:46
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@nohat Sorry, but I don't believe "my answer is right" is a valid argument. In some environments you absolutely can run into the situation of "if you have to ask..." creating an initial negative impression. For example, if you were called by a HR rep from an East Coast bank for a programming position, and you said "great, what should I wear?" chances are very good that the person you spoke with will immediately get a negative impression of you. –  Beofett May 18 '11 at 18:59
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Yes, I have often heard the advice to "dress one step above what the workers wear." I think that advice is ridiculous. Always wear a suit. That said, I wore a formal suit to my last interview, and they did express concern that I might not be a good culture fit, since I was so formal at the interview. I explained that I am old school, and consider wearing a suit to interviews a gesture of respect. I got the job. –  Robert Harvey May 18 '11 at 21:46

It depends on the culture of the place where you're interviewing, so figure that out first.

However, if I know I'm going to a typical software organization, I generally wear clothing that's slightly better than what I normally wear, but not enough to attract the attention of my coworkers at my existing gig. In practice, since I graduated from my mid-20s, even at my normal job I generally wear some sort of machine-washable slacks and a button-down, but fairly casual, collared shirt, or in winter months, a decent sweater. I think this "uniform" is more than adequate in most interview situations.

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If you already know what the dress code of the company is, dress consistently. It doesn't hurt to be slightly smarter.

Otherwise, the employer will take you more seriously if you phone and ask before you turn up.

If you don't ask and you turn up looking smarter than the dress code, I don't think anyone will think less of you. If you turn up looking less smart, they will.

(If this sounds hard, imagine what it's like to be female and often get the response, "Shirt, no tie.")

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