The ever-evolving world of startups is drowning in T-shirts and sneakers, while the financiers continue to commit to heels and dry cleaning. The pantsuit is no longer a workplace staple, and a suit and tie may leave you feeling out of place. Before you get the chance to scope out your company during the interview, it’s hard to tell if casual is the code.
It’s clear to those of us who are newly entering the job market that there is no direct guide for the how-to’s and no-no’s of fitting into the work environment. Of all the internet articles and “_____ for Dummies,” there is just nothing specific enough out there to assure you of what’s acceptable to wear to an interview. Never having worked in a tech startup, I didn't have a clue as to how my interview attire could fit into the casual environment I’d heard so much about.
Definite Interview Dress No-No’s
Looking professional has never gone out of style; having a polished look can only get you brownie points during an interview. Having said that, when you’re interviewing with a company known for its casual vibes, ditching the tie and cufflinks might be OK. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that throwing a pair of shorts on is going to go over well. Having a wardrobe malfunction is not likely to end you with the impression or job that you were hoping for. Clothing items you should rule out are ones that result in too much cleavage or a plumber’s crack- the obvious stuff.
The key is comfort. Wear your favorite blouse and most reliable office shoes. If you wear something brand new there is too much room for disaster. Just the other day I strolled into the office with a comfortable new pair of shoes and (barely) walked out with blisters, bright red toes and a grimace. That is not the kind of situation you want to have when attempting to impress your possible employer. Wear what makes you feel confident and prepared- don’t risk an embarrassing glitch. If you know the workplace is relatively casual, feel free to switch out your 3-inch pumps for a pair of comfortable, classy flats.
What an Informal Interview Really Means
There’s a chance that your interviewer might hint at appropriate attire when scheduling your meeting however, there’s a larger chance they won’t. Sometimes, a hiring manager will tell you it’s an informal interview, but they are not referring to the dress code. Rather, it may have more to do with the style of the interview. It may not be a question-and-answer format or it may be more of a company tour.
If you’re nervous about being over/under dressed, layer up. Sure, when you walk through the office and see flannels, sweatshirts, jeans and gym shoes flooding rows of desks you may feel like a fish out of water. Add a watch or simple necklace for a sophisticated touch, and don’t be afraid to reflect yourself in your outfit. It is always better to be overdressed than the alternative. Show up sporting a burlap sack and you may soon be back on the jobs board at FirstJob.com looking for another job.
Ariel Lozovsky is a Marketing Intern at FirstJob who currently attends the University of Colorado at Boulder, studying Economics and Philosophy. When she's not reading, she loves petting dogs and playing tennis.