My love affair with fashion started at the ripe age of five, when I started requesting clothes instead of toys for birthday and Christmas gifts. While I’d never consider myself a fashionista, putting together a “look” is a cause near and dear to my heart. And I’m not the only one: Most candidates I talk to during their recruiting process ask the pressing question, “What should I wear for my tech job interview?”
I worked at a staffing agency before becoming a recruiter at HubSpot, and I’ve probably interviewed about 4,000 candidates to date. That’s not a terrible sample size. So it’s safe to say I’ve seen it all when it comes to choosing interview outfits and helping my candidates dress for success. I’ve even (happily) received selfies from candidates the day before their interview to make sure it was “the outfit."
The tech industry has become less concerned with what you wear, and more focused on what you can do. With ripped jeans and t-shirts running rampant, the full suit is no longer standard interview attire (and even discouraged in some instances). While this flexibility is refreshing once you’re hired, it makes navigating the interview outfit waters even trickier.
Naturally, I agonized over finding the perfect outfit for my first tech job interview, which was with HubSpot. “Is this bright red blazer too loud?” (It was.) “Should I wear heels or flats?” “How much of a statement should a statement necklace make?” Those were just a few of the questions that ran through my mind the days before coming in to the office. Needless to say, dressing for a tech job interview had me stumped.
The biggest question candidates usually have (and I know I did) when it comes to tech interview attire is: Should I go formal or casual? Well, after the thousands of candidates I’ve interviewed, I’ve realized that it isn't black or white. The best outfit is usually in-between, a grey area of business and everyday wear. But that’s not too helpful, is it?
That’s why I’m going to break down a few style standards to follow for your next tech job interview. But if you’re looking for the cliff notes version, then follow one of my mom’s favorite phrases: “If you have to ask, the answer is no.”
1. Comfort Looks Good on Everyone
Interviews are nerve-wracking enough, so don’t let what you’re wearing add to the stress. If you’re physically comfortable, chances are you’ll feel more at ease during your interviews. Not to mention, constantly fixing or adjusting a piece of clothing is distracting and will take away from your conversation. So, if that button up is a little too tight, or those heels are fire but you can’t walk in them, leave them at home. A comfortable candidate is a confident candidate.
2.A Little Tailoring Goes a Long Way
In addition to what you wear, the way your clothes fit speaks volumes. You don’t want your clothes to be too baggy or too tight - both for making a good first impression and for being comfortable. Do your pants drag on the floor? Do the shoulder seams of your blazer or blouse end where your shoulders end? If you’re not sure, ask a friend while you’re out shopping or find yourself a tailor. (Don’t worry, I got a guy.) Oh and, an iron or steamer should be your new best friend - wrinkles, not so much.
3. Personality is a Fashion “Do”
It’s important to be authentic and let your personality shine through your style. Add something that’s memorable – a statement necklace, printed pant or shirt, etc. More of a minimalist? Wear something you typically reserve for special occasions like a silk scarf or your favorite pair of patterned socks. You’ll get a mood and confidence boost that’ll keep you on your A game.
One caveat: You want the hiring managers to focus on your answers, thoughts and questions, NOT what you’re wearing, so make sure your outfit doesn’t become distracting (Those cool earrings you got in Spain? Yup. That graphic tee with “Yankees suck” across the front? Despite my fervent support of the sentiment, it’s a no go.)
4. Dress for the Job (and Department) You Want
Thinking back to the grey area theme, there is no one-size-fits-all interview outfit. (Come on, you didn’t think you were going to get through this whole post without a clothing pun, did you?) Different departments have different expectations, and different companies will have different ideas of style. For example, are you interviewing for a role that is client facing or computer facing? Don’t be afraid to ask your recruiter for help if you’re stuck on what that grey area is for the team you’ll be interviewing with. We’re here to help!
5. When In Doubt...
If you find yourself flip flopping on whether something is appropriate to wear for an interview or not, don’t wear it. (Oh and, don’t wear flip flops.)To help, here are some non-suit safe bets in that grey area that always make a positive and professional first impression:
You can’t go wrong with:
A fitted blazer and button-up shirt or blouse with a tailored pant
A dress or skirt and shirt combo, provided they aren’t too short or sleeveless
Flats or low heels
I recommend staying away from:
Sneakers or flip flops
T-shirts and tank tops
Jeans (even though, yes, your interviewers will probably be wearing them)
Let’s face it, that perfect balance between business and casual is pretty ambiguous. But these five tips can help clear the fog a little bit the next time you’re looking in your closet for an interview ensemble. The most important piece of fashion advice I can share, though, is to wear something you feel comfortable and confident in. With all the nerves you have going into an interview already, why pile on the stress by wearing something outside your comfort zone? Think about how you can be cool, calm, and collected in your outfit and make a positive first impression on your interviewers.
Now, any buttons undone? Toilet paper caught on your shoe? Lipstick on your teeth? Negative? Then it’s time for your tech job interview. Go get ‘em!
Originally published Sep 22, 2017 9:00:00 AM, updated January 19 2023