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The Geek Doesn’t Wear Prada November 29, 2006

Posted by Imran Ghory in job interviews, recruitment, Software development.
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It’s a rare occurrence to find geeks debating fashion and what to wear, but that’s what happened a few days ago when thedailywtf ran a story about job interviews

Most of the participants fell into one of two camps, the “pro-suits” and the “anti-suits”. The pro-suits generally took the opinion that “a job interview is a formal event and as such not dressing formally would be inappropriate and disrespectful” . The anti-suit camp generally fell into “developers should be judged on skill alone, after all what developer wears a suit anyway ?”

Sadly both camps missed the point completely. There is no “golden bullet”. There is no definite answer about what you should wear to a job interview. Different companies have different cultures, different countries even more so.

The single most important factor to consider when deciding what to wear is what other interview candidates will wear. When you meet meet your interviewer for the first time they’ll be comparing you to every other candidate they’ve seen. And if there’s anything about you that’s significantly different from everyone else that’s what’s going to stick in their mind as their first impression of you. Not your skills, not your lovely personality, but what you’re wearing.

If you’re the only candidate who’s turned up in a suit or a t-shirt you’ll be remembered as “the suit guy” or the “the t-shirt guy”, not because the interviewer disapproves of your dress sense (although they may do), but simply because that’s how human memory works.

The key point I’m making is that you don’t want to be remembered for what you wearing, you want to be remembered for being “the Boost wizard” or “the smalltalk guy” or at least something that has some relevance to the job.

Of course if you’ve just been called for an interview you may have no-idea what other candidates have worn in the past. But it doesn’t harm to ask, HR or your contact at the firm will almost certainly be willing to tell you what the dress code is both for day-to-day work and for the interview. Or if you’re reluctant to ask them then ask around, ask your friends what they would wear for an interview at that company.

But if you’re really stuck then I’d suggest dressing over-smartly. There are far more companies that will reject you for looking “unprofessional” then there are companies that will reject you for being “too smart”. Plus it’s a lot easier to take off a tie and undo your top button to become more casual then it is to make t-shirt and jeans look professional

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Comments»

1. Dave - November 29, 2006

If you are rejected for being unprofessional, then you have saved yourself a lot of time and headaches working at the wrong company. You have learned in just a few minutes what the company values most–authoritarian obedience, not skill. If you just want a job and will do what you’re told instead of thinking, show up in that prole suit. If you are a fabulously fashionable person, go for it with the fancy clothes–maybe that will win you points. But, if you are not stylish and are not a sheep, you would do much better advertizing your skills by looking like a genius inventor and valuable member of a thinking team.

2. TunnelRat - November 29, 2006

I still make it a point to wear a suit to an interview as much as possible, or at least dress business casual. And just because I dress in a mainstream professional manner does not mean I am a sheep. But I am getting sick of going on interviews for jobs and meeting with clowns wearing tee-shirts and ball caps. Plus the excessive piercings, tatoos, and facial hair. I mean, what are those things imbedded in your ear-lobes, coasters?

The web revolution has completely flooded the IT space with indulgent dweebs who see nothing wrong with doing interviews wearing flip-flops, picking their nose, and demonstrating excessive ADD symptoms. I mean, can you put away the damn Blackberry until I leave, you retard?

I can’t wait for the next time I have to interview at a place with a ping-pong table and no receptionist and waste an hour talking to a MySpace junkie with a Von Dutch cap — I’m going to unload on the little dweeb who thinks socks and Birkenstocks are an ok first impression for a prospective employer.

But what do I know? I’ve only been in I.T. for 15 years.

3. Mark Wilden - November 29, 2006

When I helped interviewing at Sierra On-Line, there was one guy who stood out – because he dressed relatively casually. He also had great skills, but what his style of dress told me was that he was confident enough that he didn’t feel he needed any window dressing.

4. Dave Aaron Smith - November 29, 2006

I just call ahead and ask if a suit would be appropriate.

5. gwhiz - November 29, 2006

If in doubt and you have the extra time… hang out nearby the HR dept of where you’re wanting to hire on (trust me you can spare a few hours away from World of Warcraft). See what the HR dept is getting in the way of dress code in the lobby.

If you absolutely cannot afford to leave WoW… wear a nice suit and be prepared/knowledgable about the company/department/role. Trust me… you’ll be ahead of 50% of the crowd. Give a good interview and you’ll have beat out 90+% of the crowd.

First impressions are totally important!

6. Dan Pritchett - November 30, 2006

I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that there is even a standard within a company. I honestly pay no attention to what a candidate wears and if you were to ask me as I’m leaving the room, I’d have to look back to answer. I have coworkers that do notice but don’t really make it part of their decision criteria.

Personally, I always tend towards the casual end of any acceptable dress codes. When going to an interview, I won’t show up in a t-shirt, but I’m not wearing a suit either. If jeans and a polo shirt is under dressed for the engineering organization, then we don’t have a fit and I need to move on for both our sakes. As an earlier commenter said, I’m confident enough in my skills that you can either accept my dress standards or you can’t. Either way, we both win.

7. laurabenjamin - November 30, 2006

Anytime you want to make an impression, whether it’s for a job interview or making a public presentation, always try to dress one notch above the “audience”. I agree it’s wise to gauge the culture of the company and sitting outside watching folks come and go is a great way to do that. Then take it up one level.

You want to be comfortable enough however that your mind is not fixated on your clothing. Here’s a few other things to be aware of in a job interview:

fingernails, hair (get it out of your eyes so people can see who they’re dealing with), facial hair (research shows you’re better off without it), fresh breath, and very importantly a firm, confident handshake (practice the handshake with your friends and ask them for brutal honesty). Also, try not to jiggle in your chair, fidget or pick at your clothes, your face, your hair, etc. Smile. People who smile at least 4 times during an interview are more likely to get the job, believe it or not.

Basically, you want to remove distractions from the interaction. If your clothing is a distraction to you or to them, it diminishes your ability to be memorable in a positive way.

Good luck!

8. sallyandbaby - November 30, 2006

this is the first time i’ve ever visited a blog so i am rather lost.

9. CJ - November 30, 2006

Same…

10. chaplainandrews - November 30, 2006

But if you’re really stuck then I’d suggest dressing over-smartly. There are far more companies that will reject you for looking “unprofessional” then there are companies that will reject you for being “too smart”.

This seems to be the best advise out there…look like a geek AFTER you get the job and show that you are really smart:)

11. ☆*°^` Rainbow - November 30, 2006

It depends on the culture of the company. Say, if you are going to Apple, I don’t think the interviewer would fault you if you don’t wear a suit since Apple is famous for being creative and casual (about clothes anyway).

12. jk - November 30, 2006

What you wear depends a lot on what you look like naked.

If you have long, scraggly hair, definitely take a blazer. Wear shoes. Wear a nicely pressed shirt, and consider getting the hair cleaned up a little bit. Ponytail is a big plus, as always.

13. LKM - November 30, 2006

You’re assuming that the interviewee absolutely wants the job and needs to do everything to get it. Wrong. Both the interviewee and the interviewer meet in order to figure out whether the two match. If you’re a “no-suit” guy, you probably don’t want to work in a place where everyone wears suits, so wearing a suit just to get a job you won’t like is pointless. The same probably applies the other way around.

I don’t want to interview people who were desperate enough to disguise themselves.

14. markharrison - November 30, 2006

> You have learned in just a few minutes what the company values
> most–authoritarian obedience, not skill.

Not so.

If you’re in a purely internal job, then dress code may well be irrelevant.

If you’re in a customer-facing job, and, say, your customers are investment bankers, then it doesn’t matter how great your skills are, if the customers get the wrong impression about the organisation, then the organisation will suffer.

If you haven’t worked this out before you turn up, and show up to a “suit and tie” organisation in jeans and a T-shirt, then you really don’t deserve to get THAT job, no matter how great your technical skills are.

Many programmers assume a “valuation function” that takes one argument – Value(Skill).

Many managers assume a valuation function that takes many – Value(Skill, Personality, Communication Ability, etc., etc.)

15. prabhagovind - November 30, 2006

Nice one…

16. lolbird - November 30, 2006

he Geek Doesn’t Wear Prada, But He Wishes He Did.

17. Neuromancer - November 30, 2006

Didn’t now that Prada did guys suits.

My main interview suit is $800+ silk with $200 boots/shoes form the mail proper gentelmans shop in town.

18. Yogizilla - November 30, 2006

I think what many folks fail to see is that it’s not just as simple as determining the corporate culture, standing out from the crowd, or dressing “smart”, but, really, it’s about contending with biases. Every interviewer has their own worldviews and that’s what makes the dynamics far more complicated than any simple formula can predict. In the end, many hiring decisions are illogical.

I’ve been on both ends of the gun and I’ve seen just about everything you all have mentioned here. I’ve also seen the complete opposite of some things as well. You can never tell what is going through the mind of the interviewer. They may have had a bad day or they are thinking about something else so you have even less attention that you would normally.

There are so many variables to consider too. The average person only can really focus on a conversation for 30 seconds at a time and, thus, will only retain less than 50% of what was said. It’s true that impressions are everything because they play into or against the biases that the people you interact with will inevitably have.

If you have been in the work force for over 20-25 years, it’s only natural that you feel the need to wear a suit to every interview; however, iIt could be argued that doing so is pretentious. On the flip side, if you go to a formal setting with no suit on, they’ll think you are some narcisisstic ninny… Or they’ll think you are brilliant and have the moxy necessary to do the job! It’s always a toss-up.

I’d hate to say it but I’ve seen more hiring managers go on a gut feeling than really objectively assess an interview. Like dating, the opposite sex often has already decided in their first 5 minutes of dealing with you whether or not they’ll let you go any further. In an interview, your window of opportunity may be even smaller than that.

Another big realization that everyone should come to grips with is that you can’t really show skills during an interview unless, somehow, they can pack in a lab session of some sort. I’ve had very few interviewers try this. Two interviewers tried to have me write code on pieces of paper, as if I have a built-in debugger. Pretty sad considering, in this day and age, there is so much open source and available framework to use. The interviewers, however, though this was logical and fair. They expected me to not textbook stuff that would never, EVER be needed on the field. This goes to show that identifying your real baseline is key: sometimes your greatest competition isn’t the other candidates but the interviewer himself. Those that need to protect their ego will find ways to smite yours and see how you react.

In any case, skills are not as obvious as appearance, communication skills, and overall personality. Appearance is not just restricted to the clothes you wear but also the body language, eye contact, grooming, and more. I think that there is snobbery on both sides of this debate. There are those that think that anyone with piercings and tattoos is not worth their time. Then there are those that don’t want to deal with suits because they are often just greedy paper-certified farses.

My advice to everyone is this: if you do not like what the job market, especially IT has become, consider a new career track or, better yet, start your own business. After well over 15 years in IT, I decided that I have better things to do than babysit bloated egos. Now I have my own business and I don’t have to worry about politics, just getting the job done. Of course, most people can’t work for themselves because they need to be micromanaged, motivated, and in a more social environment. Really, there’s something out there for everyone so don’t waste your time with the wrong companies and they won’t have to waste their time with you. 8)

19. Yogizilla - November 30, 2006

One more thought here…

Interviewing is a form of marketing. When you market something, you have to deliver an effective message that can be supported consistently by everyone point of contact. This is something that A LOT of people miss. Just ask Seth Godin and Harry Beckwith.

If you wear a nice suit but talk like a gangster, the only thing that you are communicating is that you have money to throw around, probably because unemployment has been good to you or mommy/daddy still spoil you. Speak eloquently and with great confidence while wearing something not particularly orthodox, people may just listen to you. Body language really comes into play. Things like fidgeting, breaking eye contact, crossing legs/arms, and tapping your feet can set off some bad signals yet people do these things all the time. As an interviewer, I’ve seen through many faccades quickly just because quite a lot of people can’t communicate properly using language, not smokescreens.

Again, we all have to accept that the corporate world has chanegd. Accept it and move on. If you don’t like that the gentleman with everything pierced and a tattoo of a burning skull is your boss, then do a good job so you can take his job… Or find yourself a better job. The job market may be tight but there is opportunity out there. Most folks are just looking in the wrong places… =o]

Good luck to all my fellow frustrated IT folks! Trust me, it’s not an illusion: the industry has gone to poo!! ;o)

20. arleen - November 30, 2006

ahhh the classic dilemma. developers will always think they should be assessed on brains alone, while most others agree there is some sort of dress code that should be followed. yes – this is a gross generalization…but thats what generalizations are. im stating a fact about majorities.

anyway – do what you want and wear what you want. if you dont want to follow rules leave and find a company that has rules you like. there is no “solution” to this dillema. and in the end its your own dillema…nobody elses.

21. Diandra - November 30, 2006

It really will depend on the job and the company one is applying to. Creative, less formal work can go without a suit. The ones more towards the formal jobs and workplace require a suit. The best way to know is to do a little research beforehand and dress properly.

In any case, always it is a good idea to wear something impecable pressed, tasteful and more importantly, something smart enough.

22. Nita - November 30, 2006

I think it also depends in which country you live. I think in western countries now being informal is accepted and at times it can be looked at positively. But in other countries it may be frowned upon. I would not agree that this shows the company up badly because it depends on the culture of the country. For example the same company in two different countries may have slightly different values where dressing is concerned. It’s always better to do some detective work beforehand. That is if you want the job badly. If you don’t, be yourself. And then wait for a company which is right.

23. bill - November 30, 2006

Face it, if hired, you will spend a big chunk of your life with this company. Possibly more time than many marriages. Do you want to go to a place everyday where you feel uncomfortable? The interview is like the first date where you each get to check each other out. And just like in dating, it’s important to be yourself if you want to find the best match.

The most important thing is to be clean in appearance whether you wear a suit or not is up to you.

I wear a suit and have been snubbed for it. Personally I was glad I was snubbed. It was a telco where everyone dressed like grungy hippies, but this was mostly because they were expected to work eighty hours a week. In the phone interview, they even suggested that if hired I should move into an apartment complex across the road so that I could work later hours.

I stuck to trying to present the best me and landed a great job where we are kept to 35 hours per week. It’s more formal. We have private offices. Everyone is professional and I feel I am appreciated since I am allowed to have a life outside of the office. I doubt I would be living the life I wanted if hired at the other place.

24. lapstre - November 30, 2006

I’d any day wear somethng contra formal, No suitr though…

Looks Good, Projects Confidence….

However you must have it in you to carry it off and clear the interviews….

25. markharrison - November 30, 2006

Neuromancer,

> My main interview suit is $800+ silk with $200 boots/shoes form the > mail proper gentelmans shop in town.

Silk suit, shirt or silk tie?

Mark in London

PS – cashmere is never the wrong answer 🙂

26. shelbycockrell - November 30, 2006

Mark’s comment on cashmere was funny. Have you ever read the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” ? It’s a good read about all sort of stuff.

27. yogizilla - November 30, 2006

Kiyosaki writes some good stuff though he does come off a bit arrogant sometimes. The corporate world is about playing ball. It’s a popularity contest, for the most part, and it’s all about appearances, not reality. That is why incompetent people still hold jobs that some of you should have instead. Like I said, if yo don’t like it, work for yourself; then the “rules” don’t matter a smuch. 8)

28. liquid06 - December 2, 2006

I have always gone by the philosophy of wearing the cleanest look that I could imagine wearing every day. I wouldn’t want to wear a suit everyday, so if that’s what’s expected then its a bad match. “Clean” and “professional” are good words that should describe your appearance in an interview, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a suit.

It’s a different story, though, when the job has a strict dress code that you are aware of. If that’s the case then abide by it. As a ballet teacher when a student comes to class completely disregarding the dress code it’s viewed as a major sign of disrespect (not just to me, but to every teacher in the school).

It’s a matter of research on dress.

@shelbycockrell – Read that book and I loved it!

29. stoykish - December 5, 2006

i dont know who wears what but i do know that i need to get me a slingbox for xmas, screw the prada bag. and by the way i just like to look clean, for me puma is the way to go. oh back to the geek gadget slingbox
(see)
http://gobloggit.com/?p=4

30. aaron - December 5, 2006

Wear a suit. I know many people fall into the anti-suit category, but really, wearing a suit is not agreeing to be a “sheep”–it’s a way of signaling to the company that you want the job enough to go out of your way and put on a suit (because no one in this industry wears a suit every day). If you show up in a T-shirt and jeans and blow them out of the water, then they should offer you a job–but you don’t know beforehand if you will interview well, and if you only do ok for some reason, but you do want the job, it doesn’t hurt to let them know you want the job. Effort means a lot.

31. LKM - December 11, 2006

>it’s a way of signaling to the company that you want the job enough

how about the company showing me that they want me enough and thus not requiring that I wear a suit?

32. Jasmine - March 12, 2007

Yep… I’ve gotten dinged both ways.
“Are you always this uptight?” – No, I just wore the suit for the interview, dumb-ass.
“we’re a little more formal here” – Oh, well the last guy I interviewed with thought I was stuck up because of the suit and tie.

Best thing to do is ask the receptionist how to dress. They will appreciate that you asked.

33. Suit and Tie Always - March 22, 2007

Please suck it up people. Is it such an effort to dress nicely for a job interview? Hope they only ask questions you like too. Wearing a nice pair of pants and a golf shirt is hardly a major task. If the office is
suit only like mine then wear a suit if more relaxed then dress in clean tidy business casual. If you are offered/accept the job the you will of course dress in the same manner as the rest of the office. I have worn a suit and tie my whole life (I am originally from the UK)
When we came to Canada I continued dressing formally for high school. I survived with no permanent injury.

34. froclown - April 17, 2007

I should like to point out that the problem is not that it’s too much effort to dress “nicely” for a job interview. The problem is that many of us do not understand why there is a criteria that says this kind of clothes are up dressing and this other type of clothes are down dressing.

We are supposed to be rational human beings who have defeated and kicked the living crap out of our emotional and instinctual notions of social class system and status displays (especially those based on clothing).

We demand to be judged on the criteria of rational inspection of our abilities not on our affinity for parading about like a peacock in the latest trendy feathers.

By not wearing the suit we are making a statement against the absurdity of human society which continues to value superstitious non-causal correlations between clothing and ability.

A wise human as we should think our boss wiser than ourselves, would ignore non-causal correlations, shew nepotism, and be free of prejudices based on economic class as presented to him by the cost of a man’s clothing.

Thus, not wearing a suit to a job interview is to voice out against, prejudice, narcissism, economic class prejudices, and the tendency to indulge bass emotions and impressions over rational inquiry.

Marketing is itself shunned as immature and a backwards force in out society, and marketing oneself is the worst kind of narcissistic self indulgence, which a man with even an ounce of humility and personal integrity would feel most ashamed of engaging in such a peacock display.

35. Philip - May 17, 2007

I have never been interviewed, I feel that being a photoGeek means you should not bother with fashion unless it is leather or denim.

36. Stephen - August 9, 2007

There are a number of strategies that one could take.

1) Phone the HR Department or even the receptionist and say that you are coming for an interview and ask them what the “Company dress style is” ie Formal, casual, suit and tie, jaclet but no tie etc.

2) Wear a suit and smart shit with tie that would allow you to remove the jacket and tie and the remainder would still look really great. Best colours for this are dark trousers and white shirt or pale coloured shirt.

3) As you walk into the interview room if the panel is dressed formally leave the jacket on and if informally dressed then ask if you may remove the jacket.

The process with all of the above is to end up “Mirroring” the house style as much as possible. However, whatever you do ensure that the trousers have a belt, the shoes are well heeled and well polished and the shirt is pressed and the suit is uncrumpled and clean. Looking casual and unkempt WILL always lose the job.

37. Liana Merete - September 19, 2007

that’s why it will never wor. Liana Merete.

38. Merrill Amram - October 21, 2007

and oh i with my girl who i though was my worl. Merrill Amram.

39. Lance Blazer - December 17, 2007

There is nothing to understand, you just do it. If the interviewer expects to see a man in a suit and tie and gets you in khakis or whatever you deem correct, you won’t get the job. Problem solved. You didn’t have to wear a suit/tie and they didn’t hire you.

40. Jessie - January 8, 2008

Jessie

Thanks for sharing. I agree and would add that th

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