Start-up companies, especially those in technology, are notorious for their casual dress. Boardshorts? Flip-flops? Okay, in many small nimble places employees wear them every day. Think Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook in a hoodie, and he runs the place.
Casual dress or not, a suit is the usual uniform for a job interview, even if you never wear it again once you’re hired. Suits are a kind of “interview day” code. Wearing one usually signifies that you know how to interview, you get the unspoken stuff. Employers can see that as a good sign that you can know the rules and crack the code in other areas as well.
But start-ups may actually be different in this way. If employees and even founders rarely see anyone working in a suit, a suit may make you seem like the odd person out. You may be viewed as stiff, too formal, or old. Wearing a suit to a start-up could actually make the interviewers decide not to pick you. They won’t see a fit.
Start-ups don’t all think alike. Especially if you are applying for a public-facing job or one in a traditionally staid department, like accounting, they may actually be thrown by your not wearing an interview suit.
Two tips to win:
1. Do Your Homework
There’s no shame in doing some research not only into the company itself but how people dress every day. You want to aim for something in that range, but slightly more formal. If you do see that shorts are worn there nearly by everybody, you might be okay wearing khakis and a blazer rather than a suit. (As of this writing, shorts are too informal for an interview, even at a start-up.) If people wear suits… you wear a suit.
So how do you research? Reach out to anyone you know there. Friends or friends of friends. Don’t be afraid to quiz them on dress. It’s a good question and an increasingly common one.
Another strategy? If you don’t know anyone and it’s in a large office building, go and observe people walking in and out before the interview day. You’ll be able to look at how people dress. You won’t necessarily be able to tell the start-up employees from other companies in the same building, but you can get a sense of how everyone dresses and work from there.
2. Dress To Impress
If research doesn’t work, dress in layers that can look like slightly like a suit or look more like business casual, depending on what you find out when you get there.
Jackets of linen or cotton can work here because jackets dress any outfit up. Men, wear a shirt that looks okay without a tie if you see no one wearing a tie at all. You can take the tie off. Women, take the jacket off if it’s less formal than you expected.
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