Since the dawn of the startup, figuring out what to wear to a job interview has become ever more complicated. Before companies became “families” and your boss insisted on being your friend, the dress code for a job interview was fairly standard: If you were applying for a white-collar position, you wore a goddamn white collar shirt under a suit. But then corporate dress codes were eviscerated by Silicon Valley man-children. It became common to see CEOs wearing ashy hoodies and flip-flops. Before long, casual Friday had morphed into simply wearing your black skinny jeans and favorite shredded band tee.
None of this is a bad thing, per se, but it does mean that figuring out how to make a first impression, sartorially speaking, has become a game of, “How do I look professional without looking too professional?” It’s a question that’s cruelly difficult to answer: Showing up to an interview in a suit and tie when your interviewer is wearing a T-shirt with a Batman symbol on it, isn’t likely to emote the right sort of cultural fit. (Yes, I hate these terms too.)
Complicating matters further is the pandemic, which has effectively rendered any piece of clothing below the waste utterly irrelevant. Frankly, at the right angle, you could probably get away with wearing a crop top or even just a collar. Still, interviews are interviews and jobs aren’t easy to come by, so you’ve got to do the monkey dance. “For Zoom interviews, dress as you would for a normal in-person interview,” says Rayne Parvis, a men’s fashion expert. “And yes, that means appropriate slacks and shoes too!”
But — why?
Part of the reason is that during an interview, your clothes are more than just clothes. “It’s more of a story about your overall presence,” Joseph Rosenfeld, a personal stylist and corporate image consultant, told CareerToolBelt.com. “Visuals are really important. That’s the prism through which everyone is going to receive your communication.”
If that sounds a bit abstract, Parvis has a more practical reason why you shouldn’t get too casual during a Zoom interview: You never know what might happen during it. “I can’t tell you how many times I was Zooming with a client and something happened where I had to get up to fix something,” she says. “If I wasn’t wearing ‘stylish’ pants, it would have looked real sloppy.”
Does that include shoes, though? After all, it’s not like the camera is ever pointed at your feet. But according to Parvis, yes, you should probably wear shoes too, even if only for psychological reasons. “In my experience, shoes tell your mind, ‘It’s go time,’” she says. “It’s time to be mentally ready.”
In addition, Parvis suggests wearing a simple blue or white button down shirt. “A neutral suit is most universally appropriate,” she adds. “And depending on the job, how creative you can get with your tie and/or pocket square is up to you.” For example, Parvis tells me that if you’re going for something like a creative video editor position at a fashion magazine, you can obviously be more innovative with your accessories. But, for a corporate interview, “I would stay in the safe zone — blue or black suit and a light colored shirt,” she says. “The key is to look professional, up-to-date, and to wear nothing too distracting that would take away from the conversation.”
Still, you shouldn’t completely ignore the cultural aspect of the company you’re applying for. If it is a startup and you’ve done your research and found that most of the employees typically dress down, you can’t go wrong with a casual blazer: “A soft slub jersey cotton blazer you can throw over jeans and a T-shirt,” as Parvis told us last month.
Ultimately, a Zoom interview is no different from a normal interview. Even if your interviewer is wearing casual clothes, it can’t hurt to be a bit overdressed: It’s better to be remembered as the guy with a quirky pocket square than the guy who wore a hoodie.