What (not) to wear on an IT job interview: 6 real-life examples

It’s IT meets career meets fashion police -- practical and also fun.

By , ITworld |  IT Management

Need fashion advice? Some of us obsess about what to wear in even the most mundane circumstances, but we really get worked up when it's a job interview. After all, we want to look competent, professional, and -- it's ok to admit it -- attractive.

Will the right clothes cause someone to hire you without regard to your professional qualifications? Of course not. But clothes are one way we convey who we are during that all-important first impression. Our day-to-day outfits might be casual, but job interviews encourage us to be a bit more formal. Even if your idea of choosing a "dress for success" outfit is "What's reasonably clean?" we each do give some thought to what to wear.

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"An interview is where you want to shine and visually show what others can expect from you," says Traci McBride, chief stylist at TeeMcBee Image Consulting. "Remember, you can easily be taught new skills but an employer doesn't want to show you how to dress. Your image needs to elevate and reflect the brand of the company and never diminish it."

That sounds good… until you look in your bedroom closet. Which outfit is best for a job interview? Few of us are certain what makes the best impression.

So in this article, with the help of a few brave volunteers, we examine how that dress or suit really comes across to the people who might ask, "When can you start?" In the following pages, you'll see six real-world people in real-world outfits, and hear what our esteemed judges think is the best choice for that IT job interview. Plus, you can vote on the outfits you think are best for each individual, and compare your opinion to those of the fashionistas and hiring managers. It's IT meets career meets fashion police – practical and, I hope, also fun.

Stage Dressing

Here's how this worked: I asked several people to pretend that they were going on a tech job interview tomorrow. (No time to shop!) They were instructed to pick the two outfits out of their closets that they'd be most likely to wear.

The "job candidates" sent me photos of themselves wearing each outfit. We blanked out faces for anonymity; it's the outfits we care about, not the body it hangs on.

I sent the photos, along with the geographical area and job for which each person would likely apply, to a panel of judges. That's relevant, after all. Someone interviewing for a QA job would dress differently than for a CIO position; a corporate Java programmer in NYC would go into a large business dressed differently than would a designer at a San Francisco startup.

Meet the judges

  • Traci McBride, the chief stylist of TeeMcBee Image Consulting, is dedicated to men and women who are ready to harness the power of their personal image using the most common tool, clothing.

  • Brenda Kerton, the owner of Capability Insights Consulting, works with IT and business organizations to define strategies, then grow their leadership and process capabilities through improvement initiatives, strategic hiring, and coaching new managers and executives. Kerton has hired dozens of IT professionals at all levels.

  • Brenda Christensen is well known in high-tech PR, but she's also worked with and in the fashion field. She launched the Jaclyn Smith line of clothing for Kmart, for instance, and was a fashion writer for publications including Glamour magazine.

  • JJ DiGeronimo, president of Purposeful Woman, specializes in leadership strategies for professional women; she is president of Advancing Women in STEM.

  • Seth (last name redacted) is an IT Network Security Manager for a large regional health care organization. Seth has reviewed and selected IT professionals from interns through management.

  • Leslie Hawthorn (http://twitter.com/lhawthorn) is an internationally known community manager, speaker and author. She has spent the past decade creating, cultivating, and enabling open source communities. Today, she works at Elasticsearch as Community Manager, where she leads developer relations and community outreach.

  • Robert Hoff is a Southern California freelance writer. In a former IT life, he hired all manner of IT support personnel. "Some still talk to me," he says.

Ready for the fashion advice? Let's get started.


Beth would most likely interview for technical advisory positions in an academic setting.


Image credit: ITworld/Esther Schindler

Cast your vote!

Next page: See what the judges said

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