Do I need to wear a suit when interviewing with a startup?
10 years ago if you walked in a meeting room with an investor with t-shirt and shorts, chances are that you will be looked down upon. For years, wearing a top notch suit, having nice shoes, and an expensive watch was a way to show that you’re successful and professional. Over the years, we have seen famous people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg throw away the suit life and bring on a more casual feel.
One of the questions that I see around the web a lot is whether or not individuals seeking jobs should wear a suit to the interview. Some are worried that they might overdress for a startup and some are worried that they will underdress for a startup interview. If you’re planning to go to an interview for a position at a startup company, it is best to dress business casual.
You never want to go to the interview in plain shorts and t-shirts, but a lot of startups will tell you to dress casually and be relaxed. One of the safest bet is to wear a dress shirt with dark jeans and a decent dress shoe or something that resemble a dress shoe. For males, imagine how you would dress in a nightclub? Forget the hats and flashy accessories, but keep it business casual.
An example would be my friend Lopez who interviewed for a Google position. He was worried about how to dress for an interview at Google, and even emailed the recruiter asking how he should dress. As expected, the recruited responded with, “Dress casual and natural!” Even after hearing that Lopez decided to purchase a blazer to keep it just a notch above the business casual. At the day of the interview Lopez said, “Forget it, i’m gonna go with no blazer and just go in casual.” He picked up a dress shirt with a pair of khakis and wore some dark leather shoes.
When he arrived at Google, he noticed two men that was in line ahead of him wearing a suit and thought to himself, “uh-oh this is bad” Nevertheless, he went on with the interview and landed the job as a product manager. After working at Google for a while, he now understands that casual means casual. Keep it casual is his advice, but not beachwear.
Suits In Startups
I’ve visited many startups and you rarely see people wearing suits. To be honest, I rarely see people wearing dress shirts as well. I’ve seen more t-shirts with the company’s logo on it than dress suits when visiting startups. If you are visiting an early stage startup where people are eating cup noodle ramen and sleeping under their desk, then you probably will never spot any type of suit or dress shirt.
Positions matter as well. The golden rule is to dress according to position and situation. For example, if you’re position at a startup is business dev or account executive where you actually have to go out and meet clients, then it’s probably better off to dress in a dress shirt. You don’t have to over do it with a suit, but a dress shirt and some nice shoes might be necessary to give your client a good impression.
My friend Ken, who runs a real estate brokerage firm that sells luxury homes in Silicon Valley says that if he is meeting with a finance or manager client, then he will dress in a suit. If he was meeting with an engineer from a startup in Silicon Valley, he would go in with jeans and maybe a dress shirt or just casual wear. The reason why he does that is because he doesn’t want to overdress and give his clients a bad impression. That tells us how the outside professions think about the startup culture.
How Interviewers want you to dress
While it is important to have a good first impression, most interviewers suggest that you go in as casual as possible without violating the basic rules such as wearing sandals or tank tops. Startups are suppose to be a fun place to work at. You’re suppose to feel like home and have tons of fun while getting your work done. Interviewers would say, “If you’re at home would you wear a suit?”
Over the years, less and less young people are wearing suits. The finance industry still requires wearing a suit as a standard, but startups have departed away from that. Top CEOs believe that the community should respect you for your work and not how you look. Interviewers think the same. They hire you because you can put in the work and drive excellent results not because of a suit.