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The Geek Doesn’t Wear Prada November 29, 2006

Posted by Imran Ghory in job interviews, recruitment, Software development.

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