you need to wear a suit

Yes, you have to dress up for the interview.

I don’t care if the office where you’re interviewing is business casual. You can wear business casual when you’re working there, after you impress them in the interview where you wore a suit.

I don’t care if you don’t feel suits reflect the “real you.” I would wear head-to-toe fleece to the office if I could get away with it. But I can’t.

I don’t care if you don’t like arbitrary rules like this. I’m not thrilled with them either, but I don’t make those rules. I just want to know that you know what those rules are.

You need to slap on the suit and look professional. It signals that you take the job seriously. Sure, you might get hired if you wear a sweater and pants instead; I’ve hired people who wore that to the interview. But why wouldn’t you want to play it safe and wear the suit? It’s like thank-you notes — if you’re the right candidate, I’m going to hire you even if you didn’t send a thank-you note after the interview. But if it’s a close call, why wouldn’t you want to do everything possible to give yourself an edge?

Just wear the suit.

(Disclaimer: This doesn’t apply in certain fields, often tech-related ones. If you won’t wear the suit, maybe that’s the field for you.)

{ 18 comments… read them below }

  1. Evil HR Lady*

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I can’t tell you how many interview “advice” columns I’ve seen that say something along the lines of, “Go to the prospective office around 5:00 and see what people are wearing. Dress that way.”

    If you came to my office and watched people come out, you’d see the majority in business casual, some in jeans (IT frequently wears jeans because they are crawling under desks), and some of the scientists in things their mothers bought them in 1982.

    If you showed up in any of that for an interview, you can bet you wouldn’t be taken as seriously. Wear a suit–I don’t care if a woman comes in a pant suit or with a skirt, but it better be a suit.

  2. Anonymous*

    I have a question about women’s formal business suits that have pants instead of a skirt. I look awful in skirts, and an ankle problem prevents me from wearing high heels. I own many lovely pants suits (matching pants and jacket) that I wear with silk blouses and dressy flat-heeled shoes. Aside from the financial industry (where I know it’s skirts all the way), would dressy pants suits like this be formal enough for most interviews?

  3. Productivity Guy*

    I can’t agree with you more. The last job I interviewed at (where I am now)… they made fun of me for dressing in a suit because it’s a pretty informal company, but it was teasing in a good way. When I’ve been hiring in the past, there have definitely been a few people who I ruled out immediately based on how they were dressed. If someone is dressed nicely but not wearing a full suit (but still a tie), then that doesn’t bother me, but a suit is the safest way to go.

    As for the question from anonymous, don’t take my word for it, but I think as long as you dress nice and professional, you’ll be safe. And I don’t know why dressy pants suits would be any less formal than business skirts. Not all women are made for skirts, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  4. dg*

    Disagree with the previous comment about suits in the tech field, I’ve been in meetings where I was the only one whose shirt was even tucked in.

    Also, so many companies in tech make you do puzzles and brain teasers, that if you dress to impress, it’s often seen as a way to cover up an inability to handle abstract concepts or advanced technology.

    so if you’re going to do a suit, don’t go for the Gordon Gekko look with suspenders and hair gel

    Slowly, more companies outside of tech are embracing this. I showed up at Bank of NY recently in a tie, and was the only one not wearing khakis. Meanwhile, you don’t see people at Google turning to power ties.

    Ultimately, I find much of the career advice on this topic is dated and assumes one way is the only way. It’s better to understand the individual company’s culture, so you don’t look like you just walked in from 1985.

  5. Ask a Manager*

    Thanks, DG. I think you’re right that as time goes on, different companies increasingly have different standards on this. But it’s hard to know in advance how a company feels (aside from tech, as I noted in my disclaimer): For instance, my organization is business casual. But I still want to see interviewees show up in a suit for the interview. They can wear business casual once they’re working here, but I want to know that they respect the situation, know the typical rules of the game, etc. Are there interviewers who feel differently? No doubt. But when you don’t know for sure (which is most of the time), a suit is always the safest bet.

  6. Anonymous*

    I disagree with dg, however he/she could be referring to lower skilled tech jobs, e.g.; Help Desk.

    Form my experience and for the past few weeks I’ve been interviewing for several IT positions (mostly mid/high tier Systems Engineer II or III) and here are my observations

    Once I read this blog post I went and spent a good deal of money on a nice suit and power tie. I definitely see a difference in the interviewers approach. Not only do people treat you differently the suit makes me feel empowered, especially in multi-person interviews. Just psychologically the suit was worth every penny!

    I suggest any IT professional wear a nice suit, what harm can it really do.

  7. Anonymous*

    I would agree that GENERALLY SPEAKING, a suit is your best bet.

    But here’s my story: Earlier this week I interviewed for an internal position that would be a nice promotion. The company is global, but our particular facility is a “divisional” type HQ office in small town America (think, absolutely positively, what can purple do for you.) 1,500 people work here out of 13,000 in the community. So we all pretty much know each other. I know the Director who interviewed me; worked with him on projects 3-4 years ago. My wife and his wife are old friends.

    So the debate raged: suit or no suit? Our offices are business casual. My wife and one colleague said no way; he’ll think you’re a geek and you want to show you’ll fit with the group.
    Another colleague said, put your best foot forward; if you don’t get the job, you’ll always wonder if it was because you didn’t wear a suit.

    I went with my wife’s opinion and dressed one step up from a normal day.

    Halfway through the interview, I was asked, tell me something about yourself that you don’t want me to know. I gave a (much) brief(er) version of this story. He laughed and said, always listen to your wife.

    So aside from that nugget of a moral, I would suggest that, given a business casual enviornment, unless you’re interviewing with a C-level exec, a suit may not always be necessary.

    And if you’re wondering, I haven’t heard back on the job yet.

  8. Anonymous*

    Look, this is pretty simple. Unless you KNOW that you’re going to be 110% out of place with the people that you’re interviewing with, wear the dang suit.

    1. It’s professional.
    2. You’ll appear to be taking the position seriously.
    3. Most people look better dressed up. It’s mostly psychological, but it works.

    But overall, you just never know who you’re going to end up meeting during the interview – and in the event that you’re interviewed by someone you didn’t expect, you’ll never have to worry that you’re underdressed.

    In fact, carry this thought with you wherever you go from this point forward. OVERdressed is always better than UNDERdressed – even if you feel a bit out of place. You can remove a jacket/tie, roll up your sleeves, etc. But you can’t convert your t-shirt into a button-down and you can’t add length to shorts, etc.


  9. Boss Lady*

    I have to weigh in on the skirt suit/pant suit question because it is one that bothers me to no end.

    I know that there are still some hold-out industries (and incidentally those where the good-ol-boy network is still intact) where skirt suits are considered more formal than pant suits. And as AAM says, you have to demonstrate that you are aware of the rules when you are interviewing, so if you are interviewing at say a financial firm then yes, maybe try to get the skirt suit to work for you.

    I think however this is a pretty dated notion, far more dated than the “to suit or not to suit” question.

    Anonymous: If you look better in a pant suit, I say do it. You want to look put together at the interview, and trying to wear something that doesnt flatter you will undermine that.

    In the end, imho, I think a pant suit better sends the message that you are ready to get down to business, work hard and play with the big boys.

    1. Julie*

      I agree! So many times I’ve had people say to me, “oh, you’re so dressed up today” just because I was wearing a skirt (I don’t want to get into detail, but I’m positive this is the reason). My friend was applying for jobs a few years ago, and one time the recruiter (in another state, so they’d never met in person) called her to tell her that an employer had reported back that she wore a pant suit. The recruiter told her she had to wear a skirt. My friend does not own a skirt and will never wear one, so she decided not to work with that recruiter and not to worry about being turned down at a company that wants women in skirts. She was offered and accepted an excellent job at one of the top accounting firms.

  10. Anonymous*

    I only wore a suit once to a software developer job interview. No one was formally dressed and I was regarded with what I would characterize as suspicion. On my next interview I dressed casually and didn't even wear socks. The interviewer, giving a tour of the company's cool products said "look at this — this will blow your socks off." "Ok," I replied. "I'm ready for that!" I got the job. So … you just all pay attention to what Evil HR Lady says and, you'll be working for Evil Company right away.

  11. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous, there are some industries where a suit is really expected. Banking, perhaps. And others where a sweater and skirt would be just fine. So it really depends on the industry — but you can get nice suits pretty cheaply at consignment shops.

  12. Anonymous*

    I can tell you as a big girl, there are no "cheap" ways to get a nice suit that doesn't make you look like, well like the elephant in the room! Tuck in my shirt? Just how many stomachs do you want me to make it look like I'm packing exactly? I want to look nice and DOWNPLAY that fact that I'm not an Armani model so that you will consider hiring the big girl. I just wear NICE clothes.. nice slacks with a business appropriate top that camouflages the belly. I also avoid trying to get hired at places that want an armani suit.. i'm sorry I'm broke.. thats why i need the job?

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