Every time I go into a job interview, I do my due diligence. I make sure that I know as much as possible about the company and position. At least a couple of interview questions are predictable, so I run through them, reminding myself to stay on topic and save a little cheerful alertness for the fourth-hour interviewer.
The biggest uncertainty, though, begs the final question that I always ask friends who work at prospective companies: “What do I wear?” It should be simple, but I haven’t read an easy rule of thumb that seems to universally apply. It’s the Silicon Valley, and my interviews are for positions that require some degree of communication between technical and non-technical people. With interviews scheduled for five afternoon slots, I expect to meet all kinds, and it’s important to keep Valley techies at ease.
If I wear a tie, will it alienate an interviewer in jeans and Keen sandals? Does not wearing a suit make a weak impression? Come to think of it, have I ever seen anyone in California, my age, wearing gray flannel trousers and a sport coat? It’s always a little disappointing that the only confident advice I get is “nah, you don’t need to wear a suit.” I only ever feel sure about my shirt. Any stress spent on clothing seems like too much, given the broader context. It’s annoying to worry about dressing myself on a day of long-term professional concerns.
I honestly like to wear suits, but this is a rare bias from years of hanging out in parochial school uniforms. Coats and ties have been relatively comfortable since first grade. Trying to dress appropriately for interviews, with friends telling me “you don’t need to wear a suit” reminds me of out-of-uniform days, when elementary school fashion would become a sudden and inadequately addressed concern. Not “having” to wear a uniform presented an uncommon set of decisions on a day of social judgment. A big one that stands out was the choice on warm days between Bugle Boy jeans, which were hot but “hot”, and my OP shorts, which made a weak showing if most of the kids wore Jams. Decades later, the uncertainty is likely to lie between things like sport coats and French cuffs. I’m still basically trying to look good and comfortable without alienating anyone or trying too hard.
Ah, but the career advisers at the MBA program offices have finally relieved me of my burden of uncertainty. I’m a future MBA, and that’s evident to all concerned before I walk in the door. So… I wear a suit. Interview mornings are just a little more relaxing, now that I have definitive advice from a professional adviser for people with my job prospects. A suit is a non-distracting uniform, and I think I understand why they’re still so popular for high stress meetings.