Question

What is the dress code for men on job interviews, whether live or Zoom? Some people say you can never go wrong overdressing, others say you don’t want to look stodgy. One friend always wears a sports jacket with a button down shirt, no tie.

Recent history: I had a Zoom interview with a manufacturing company and I dressed like my friend suggested. For a media firm where nobody on LinkedIn looked a day over 28, I wore a button down shirt, no jacket.

Tomorrow I have a 3rd interview with a large warehousing company (1st two were via phone) and want to get it right for this and other situations. Is a suit with a tie good? Sport jacket with a tie? Jacket but no tie? Looking for a default option. (Note: CEO of this company is wearing a suit on LinkedIn, other people are a mixture between suits and sport jackets with no tie.)

Thank you for any insights you can provide.

Nick’s Reply

zoom job interviewsHow you dress for a job interview in-person or online can have a big effect, though not just for the reasons you think. What you wear might help you dodge a bullet! But first let’s address the obvious: How to suss out the right way to dress.

Zoom job interviews

This is a tough question because there’s (1) little history about Zoom job interviews to go on and, (2) you have almost no idea how the interviewer will be dressed. So it’s a crapshoot!

You could check the interviewer’s LinkedIn photo prior to the meeting — if you can identify the interviewer in advance. Even so, I would not guess at the interviewer’s garb based on how they’re dressed in their LinkedIn photo. Many hire an “expert” to design their LinkedIn page and, if they’re execs, the expert tends to go high — suit and tie for men and suit or severe garb for women.

Not matter how you cut this, the fact is that we’re doing it online. Many people are working at home. Only the top half of both parties is visible, so for all either of you know, beneath the camera you’re both in your underwear. So the question is, what standard should you use to decide?

Ante up, raise the garb

My advice for in-person interviews is to ante up and raise the bet. That is, match, or dress half a notch above, the interviewer, mostly as a show of respect. They expect you to be putting your best foot forward. For a manager who seems to wear suits to work, I’d wear a suit. For a manager in a sport coat, I’d wear the same and perhaps add a tie. I’d one-up the manager in a well-pressed shirt by adding a low-key sport coat. Do they seem to wear t-shirts or sweats? Then show them a clean, collared shirt. If they’re out-and-out slobs, I’d dress down without sinking to their level.

In my experience, good managers expect job candidates to try and impress — not only with what they can do, but in how they look. (If the job is writing code alone under a naked lightbulb, all bets are off.)

Having said all that, never dress in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or not like yourself. More about this in a minute.

Reconnaissance

If the company is nearby, go visit the facility, if only to request some product literature. (Yes, companies still produce stuff in print!) Don’t laugh. I’ve seen this make a difference again and again. Linger if you can and look around without appearing suspicious. If you can’t get in, park yourself nearby and observe what people are wearing when they leave work. Yup, this involves a bit of reconnaissance. Find photos and videos online, perhaps of employee gatherings and events, and of managers giving talks or interviews. It’s amazing what you can turn up via Google. This will give you some basic ideas.

Does your garb really matter? It does. Like it or not, people judge books by their covers.

Zoom Interviews

For a Zoom call, I like to go to the middle, especially if your recon turned up nothing useful. For an office job, I’d wear a nice shirt (or blouse) in a solid color. Guys should pick shirts with a good collar. In Zoom we see only your top half. They know you’re at home, right? So even a stiff exec talking to you isn’t likely to expect you’ll be in a suit at home (I hope!). For other than an office job, wear a clean shirt of the type employees would wear on the job.

I’d never recommend a suit and tie or even a sports coat on a Zoom call, unless that’s really what you wear in your home office. Some interviewers might reject me, but I’d reject them first — they probably have a driver that takes them around the block and back home to work at their own house. I mean, anybody, and I mean anybody, that expects you to play dress-up at home is a weirdo.

A young interviewer, who may dress more casually, isn’t going to see you as stiff because you’re wearing a nice shirt. A manager in a suit or jacket and tie isn’t going to view you as underdressed at home. Make sense?

Dodge a bullet!

Now let’s talk about how your attire will help you dodge a bullet. Those clothes can keep you out of trouble!

If you’re in just a nice shirt and either a sartorially expert exec or a young interviewer in a t-shirt rejects you — well, it’s time to move on to the next employer. If that’s how they’re judging you, why would you want to work there? You may have just dodged a bullet!

If you try to be someone you’re not, they’re going to expect someone you’re not to show up to work every day — and you’ll be miserable. It is impossible to keep up a phony interview façade after you’re hired, whether it’s your attire or the “personality” you put on.

Get past the clothes

There’s only one best way to get the hiring manager past what you look like. Make sure your ability to demonstrate how you’ll drop more profit to the bottom line is so solid that they won’t even remember what you were wearing! I wouldn’t worry too much about suits, jackets and shirts if you’ve got your message down. This may help:  Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.

I wish you the best!

Do you dress for success? What do you wear for Zoom interviews? What’s your sartorial rule when you interview in person? Have Zoom interviews and work-at-home changed all job interviews?


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6 Comments
  1. “Casual Fridays” started many decades ago.

    People loved it, actually got more work done, and left early during “summer hours” for an early
    weekend.

    Somehow I don’t think I’m gonna worry, much less care, about what some “interviewer’s” opinion
    is of my attire.

    The days of the “IBM Blue Suits” and starched shirt dress code is long gone.

    Amen!

  2. I have a friend and former colleague (worked at two different jobs together) who was adamant about wearing a sport jacket, or sport jacket and tie for warehouse or manufacturing Operations Manager positions he would interview for. We agreed to disagree, but it really worked against him. He once went to an interview for an Operations Manager position at a fulfillment center. Both the guys interviewing him were wearing Dockers, steel toe boots, and polo shirts with the company’s emblem on them. They told my friend that he looked out of place there, and they had a hard time seeing him fitting in, so they asked him to remove the tie. He complied. Then they asked him to remove the sports jacket. He complied again. The interviewer said “there that’s better now”. He made it to the third round of interviews which involved meeting the interviewers after hours at a sports bar for beers and to watch a ball game. While I’d walk away from something like that, my fiend played along, but he didn’t make the cut and was ghosted afterwards.
    There’s no foul no harm in flat out asking what’s the dress code is like at a prospective employer, then dress accordingly for the interview. I can say firsthand that dressing too nice can be a deal breaker.

  3. Nick, I’m really not understanding why reasonable people with good common sense are having difficulty with this issue. To paraphrase a line from a now-famous TV show, “be who your (potential) employer expects you to be!” You’re trying to sell yourself and (visibly) show your interviewer that you are the best fit for the position, and you want your interviewer to walk away from that interview with exactly that thought.

    In all the years I’ve been interviewing for regular career jobs, I always wore a suit and tie, with one exception. For that one job, with a friend of a friend, my friend warned me in advance to NOT wear a suit. Business casual worked there, and later my new boss told me that if I ever wore a tie in the office, he’d cut it off! And he meant it! He turned out to be one of the most interesting people for whom I’ve worked over the years.

    But Zoom and other video platforms present a new challenge that most non-tech-savvy people may have missed. In an in-person interview, everything about you that an interviewer can see and observe goes into your evaluation. But in a video interview venue, now every single thing that the interviewer(s) can see BEHIND you also goes into your evaluation. Well before your scheduled interview, record some video of where you will sit in front of the camera, and then get up and walk away. Then examine the video carefully. What can be seen in the room? Is it a meticulously organized library? A high-tech toy showplace? A pet store? A teenager’s sloppy bedroom? Piles of paper and junk?

    If your evaluation of the scenery behind you takes more than about 90 seconds, you might need to take some drastic action. If you don’t have a place in your house that looks just like the position and/or company you’re trying to pitch, a “green screen” can solve that problem. Most video conferencing software today will work with this. A green screen (along with everything else in the room colored green) will become your video background. Regardless of the method, let your environment speak for you, or eliminate it completely.

  4. Sage advise to recon company… also try and grab the company newsletter or “house organ” to get a feel for their culture. Don’t forget your “staging” in Zoom interview is just as important as your dress. Good lighting, camera angles, background scenery & noise make a difference as to how you appear along with your costuming. Highly recommend you perform a dress rehearsal with a friend before you go live.

  5. Basically, I agree with Steve. But why y’all is Babble Babble Babble about something like what you where? That’s a rhetorical question. Simply, task. Really hard thing to do is it and you avoid all this Babble gabble that’s been commented on.

  6. Nick,

    An interesting topic this week. As usual, I think your advice is sound, especially the recon part. Plus you get to tickle your inner Mission: Impossible for half an hour. And good advice from Steve about your background picture. I use a picture of sand dunes when I’m on Zoom; that doesn’t leave much for anyone to be fascinated about.

    Funny that you said, “I mean, anybody, and I mean anybody, that expects you to play dress-up at home is a weirdo.” When I first started working from home years ago, I had trouble getting started. Eventually, I put on a dress shirt, tie and jacket (my normal office uniform) and went into my home
    office at 8:00. I’d drape the jacket on the back of the chair and get to work. It took about two weeks until I was fully adjusted to the new routine. Now I dress like an unrepentant slob.

    Except for Zoom, of course…

    Thanks, and Happy Thanksgiving.

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