How to Dress for A Technical Interview

So this is probably “master of the obvious” stuff, but there’s a story behind it and I decided to tell the story and then rant a little. The details have been changed to protect the guilty. If you think this is you, it isn’t. It is also only about how a man should dress. I have no clue on what a woman should wear. I think they have it figured out anyway. I’ve never interviewed a woman that wasn’t dressed appropriately. So this is for all of you techie guys out there who hate ties and dress shirts.

I had a friend a couple of years ago that called me up looking for a job. I had worked with him previously and knew that he was a good engineer and had excellent customer facing skills. My company had an opportunity at the time that I thought would be a good fit, so I submitted his resume and gave him a good recommendation. The recruiter phone screened him and they setup an interview. We decided to meet for breakfast so I could fill him in on things and give him some pointers.

The next morning he showed up to breakfast looking like this:

That’s a little bit of an exaggeration. His shirt was long sleeve, but similar color and style. And he had on pants, but again, similar style. No tie. No jacket.

I had heart failure. “Dude, where’s your suit I told you to wear?” I asked. “Well, when I talked to them on the phone they said since it was Friday I should come in casual, so I did.”

The end of the story is that he wasn’t offered the job. He met with the project lead and they liked his skill set and sent him over to their boss (who was also my boss at the time) and he thought he was ok. He actually wanted to take him down to meet the VP, but couldn’t because of how he was dressed. He told me that he seriously wondered about someone’s commitment and professionalism if they don’t show up to an interview dressed nicely. So at the end of the day, there were a couple candidates and they chose someone else. I think he would have gotten the job if he had dressed differently.

One more illustration. In my MBA program, we had guest speakers come in to my leadership class. All of these people were Owners, Founders, Presidents, or Vice Presidents. All of them very successful. One of our speakers told us a story how he had been puttering around the house one Saturday and decided he needed a few things from the store. So he grabbed his keys and was heading out the door when his wife asked him where he was going. He told her and she said “not dressed like that you aren’t!” So he want back in and changed into business casual clothes to go to the store. He ended up running into someone that he was trying to do business with at the store and was glad he had changed. He told the story to illustrate that you always have to look the part , even when you are going to the store.

So here’s a clue of how to look the part when you are interviewing for a technical position. When I go to work, I work with people that dress like this:

And this…

And this:

Even this:

And depending on where you work, all of these are fine. I don’t like ties, so I usually wear this:

with this

But this is what I look like when I go on an interview:

Well, except I’m not a model and not nearly as handsome, but I wear a suit and tie. I make sure my shoes are polished. I brush my teeth, comb my hair and wear deodorant. I make sure that if the person interviewing me decides I need to meet the President of the company, I’m dressed appropriately. It’s totally ok to have the interviewer tell you to take your coat off and be comfortable. It’s totally not ok to have the interviewer think you were under dressed and then make a judgment on your professionalism or skills based on how you dressed.

I did a search on how to dress for an interview and here’s what came up:

I think that’s a good clue. If you don’t own a suit, go to Joseph A. Bank or Mens’ Wearhouse and pick one up. When I got laid off a few years ago I went into Joseph A. Bank and told them I wanted the “I’ve just been laid off and need an interviewing suit discount.” The guy there helped me out and I got a couple of nice suits for a pretty good price. Then I got a job. Did I get hired because I wore a suit? No, but I didn’t get passed over because I didn’t.