How to dress for a job interview – tips from CIOs

IT professionals aren’t known for their fashion sense, they of the uninspired polo shirt and khaki persuasion. When they do dress up, they tend toward the brown suit à la Dwight Schrute.

Who can blame them for not wanting to bother with their wardrobes?

Fashion is fickle. Fashion is expensive. Fashion requires imagination and inspiration, and let’s face it, after a long day spent debugging code or trouble-shooting computer problems, there’s not a lot of creativity left for clothing.

But if there’s one professional occasion when a tech worker should think fashion first, it’s the job interview.

CIOs say so.

According to research conducted by Robert Half Technology, more than one-third (35 percent) of CIOs surveyed say that IT professionals should sport a suit for a job interview.

For a little more than a quarter of CIOs (26 percent), the khakis-and-a-collared-shirt kit counts as appropriate interview attire.

For 24 percent of CIOs, “tailored separates” (e.g. a skirt and blouse or jacket and dress pants that weren’t sold as a suit but that match) get the green light.

The nine percent that said jeans and a polo shirt count as appropriate interview attire at their company must work for startups.

The results of the Robert Half Technology survey corroborate what CIOs interviewed for’s Hiring Manager Q&A series have to say about dress codes for job interviews.

Of the 14 IT executives who gave definitive answers to the question, What should candidates wear to a job interview, nine said to wear a suit (or otherwise overdress for the interview), while five said business casual was appropriate for their organizations so long as the candidate looked crisp and professional.

Several of the CIOs interviewed for the Hiring Manager Q&A series noted how difficult it is to figure out what to wear to a job interview in the age of business casual attire.

That may be why so many of them recommend erring on the side of caution and overdressing for a job interview rather than showing up dressed too casually.

They say overdressing makes a strong first impression, and in today’s employer’s market for talent, job applicants need every advantage they can get. Why let a job opportunity slip through your fingers all because you didn’t feel like dressing up?

Almost all Hiring Manager CIOs advise candidates to ask the hiring manager, recruiter or HR contact about the dress code if they’re unsure what to wear.

Here are some of the more interesting responses CIOs interviewed for the Hiring Manager gave to the question: What should candidates wear to an interview?

Accellent CIO William Howell:

“I think the individual organizing the interview owes the candidate the courtesy of telling them what dress code is expected-unless he is using that as part of his evaluation of the candidate.

I’ve interviewed for jobs in informal companies and have felt very out of place when I arrived in a suit and tie. In today’s world, proper business attire is so confusing that I don’t think anyone should use it to evaluate candidates. They should instead give candidates a heads up of what is expected.”

Harvard Business School CIO Stephen Laster:

“Please do not wear jeans. The year 2000 has come and gone. Call and ask what to wear, or if you don’t want to do that, wear what you think is appropriate. Jeans are not appropriate for an interview. When in doubt, overdress.”

American Diabetes Association’s Frank Hoose:

“Certainly, for more senior positions, a business suit is appropriate. For technical roles, crisp business casual attire is acceptable, but a suit demonstrates a serious attitude toward the interview and is always welcome.

I would be very unlikely to hire a candidate who is dressed casually, i.e., in jeans, sneakers, a T-shirt, etc. or inappropriately. Both suggest a lack of awareness or a misreading of the culture.”

JDS Uniphase’s Chief Administrative Officer Alan Etterman:

I’ve interviewed a ton of information security guys. I’m not sure there is a dress code for that culture. In fact, for those, the more purple hair and tattoos and body piercings lets me know that I’m in the right candidate pool.

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