Reader mail: What to wear to an “informal” interview?

What to Wear for an Informal Interview | CorporetteToday’s reader mail is an interesting one…

I am not really stressed about this, but I would appreciate some input. I have an informal interview on Friday morning – what is your opinion on the dress code for an informal interview? It is taking place at the actual law firm and, just for reference, this firm has about 60 attorneys and is one of the “big firms” in my small Southern state, which in my experience, means that it is a touch more formal, at least as far as dressing goes. My thoughts are that since it is a Friday and the recruiter has specifically dubbed it “informal” then I should not wear a suit but, obviously, wear a nice and professional skirt/pants/blouse combo. Thoughts? Advice? Well wishes :o).

First:  good luck!

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Our gut feeling is that the answer depends on what the reader is currently doing. If you’re currently a lawyer, suit up. We’d say a pants suit is probably fine for an informal interview — doesn’t even have to be a “power” color like black or navy —  but, still:  suit up.  It doesn’t matter that the interview has told you it’s going to be informal, because you can always pass it off as having a big meeting or court appearance later that day.  If you’re a student and you don’t own a suit, go as professional as possible.  But honestly, if you already own a suit, we’d say to wear that anyway.  After all, you always have the option to take the jacket off.  (Pictured: Classiques Entier suit, on sale at Nordstrom.)

But really, unless the company you’re “informally” interviewing with is amazingly casual — a surfing company, or a place that is famous for a khaki-panted workforce —  the answer for us is almost always going to be a suit, if only to show the interviewer that you take the prospective job seriously.  It also avoids distracting the interviewer — e.g., if you should have worn a suit and didn’t, she or he may sit there wondering, geez, do they not have a suit?  Do they not care about the interview?  We’re curious, though — what do readers think?


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  1. I think, as an attorney, a suit is always appropriate. Especially for an interview. However, I am a little mystified that this is an “informal” interview at a “big” law firm.

    Has that happened to anyone else?

    • I agree. I don’t think there is any such thing as an informal interview at a law firm, or at least, I don’t think you should treat any law firm interview as an informal one. A suit, IMHO, is de rigeur.

  2. I hate it when they pull this sort of thing… “informal” interview, “black tie optional,” “business festive attire.” It adds headaches to the process. I like the grey suit idea, and would go with that and a softer blouse rather than a crisp button-up.

  3. redheadesq :

    Agree wholeheartedly with Corporette – ‘suit up!’ It’s always safer to be the best dressed person in the room during an interview. If you’re just starting out, a suit will always give you the look of a more seasoned professional anyway.

  4. my suspicion is that “informal” does not describe the required attire, but something about the internal interview process.

    • Associate :

      +1. I’ve had an “informal interview” that led to a job. I wore a suit and didn’t regret it. I think informal has more to do with whether it’s HR sanctioned than the attire.

    • This. In my experience, “informal interview” has nothing to do with what you should wear, but rather means something along the lines of “We are just informally talking to you and if we are really impressed, we may consider hiring you, but this is not an actual interview interview.” Wear a suit.

    • Agree, agree, agree. Wear a suit.

  5. Hmmm…I’m not actually sure what’s meant by an “informal” interview – unclear whether it’s the interview itself or the attire to be worn at the interview that is “informal.” I would go with the suit, as recommended by C. No need for the navy blue/black pinstripe and crisp white shirt.

  6. this last summer I was on a team that did a pitch for a big tech company in Silicon Valley. As a NYer a pitch always means dark, formal suit but one of the lawyers on the California end of our team specifically told us “no suits” because the client is informal. My boss always, always, always wears a suit so as a compromise, I wore a less formal cement color suit (it was summer) with a jewel-toned shirt. Not as formal as I would normally go with a suit for a client pitch or court but I didn’t feel out of place with the men who still wore jackets and omitted the tie on their suits. Bottom line, I’d suit up but in a more casual suit. Good luck!

    • I love that we have so many more options than men in this regard! There’s a lot more middle ground and room for subtle changes in women’s clothing.

  7. I would wear an interview suit. No one can fault you for over dressing, but they will fault your for under dressing.

    In my experience, the fact that women have so many more options only leads to more criticism from men.

  8. An informal interview for a, let’s say, programmer, out here Silicon Valley would mean shorts. Almost. Anything more than khakis and a polo neck and they’d run away from you the moment you walked in the door. But that’s not law and it’s certainly not The South. In The South informal probably means wear the small pearls…

  9. Does the firm have casual Friday? I agree that a suit would be best, but if the firm has casual Fridays, just be prepared to feel over-dressed.

  10. I think it depends on the way in which it was dubbed “informal.” If it was simply referred to as an ‘informal interview,’ then I agree with Anon and Associate that it is likely the interview itself that is informal and not the dress code. But if it was specifically referred to as being informal in the context of casual Friday and/or other’s dress code, then I think you’re safe to assume that you may not need a jacket after all

    Nonetheless, I vote for the suit, and would go with a pants suit in grey, with maybe a cute pink shell.

  11. I agree with everyone else! When I had an “informal” interview last winter, I was offered a job at the end of it. I wore a suit and was very glad I did. “Informal” there meant that only one memeber of the hiring committee and it wasn’t a big official thing. I’m also in the South, and this was at a big-ish firm in my town.

  12. I agree totally with the above that “informal” refers to the interview process itself – but if you are going on site to a big law firm for an interview, you wear a suit, period, unless they have specifically said “It is casual Friday here so everyone will be wearing jeans” – in which case I think you wear dress pants with a blazer, and they would never say that anyway. There are other industries for whom “informal” could easily mean jacket and blazer, or jeans and a sweater, or even (Silicon Valley Creative) less formal than that (did someone say shorts? I have to say, I don’t think it’s appropriate to an interview even in environments where people wear shorts to work). Also agree non-power suit would probably be best, save the blue pin-stripes and solid black for the next round.

  13. I recently had an “informal” interview at a huge law firm, so I wore pants, flats, and a corduroy jacket. I think something that like would be perfectly fine for the OP. The people interviewing her probably won’t be wearing suits anyway since it’s on a Friday. if you’re not sure about casual Fridays, call the receptionist and ask.
    Good luck!

  14. There is no such thing as an “informal” interview, and it doesn’t matter whether it is casual Friday or not at the firm. “Informal” just means, this is not going to be a sit down question and answer format, but a less formalized process. That does not mean the interviewee should not be totally prepared and totally suited up.

  15. I once showed up at an interview for a summer associate position wearing a nice silk blouse and a dark gray wool skirt suit. It was far more formal than anything I’d now wear to court. Spent most of my time interviewing with a partner who was wearing running shorts and a T-shirt.

    I got an offer.

    If that disparity didn’t kill my chances, wearing a suit probably won’t hurt yours. If you don’t have or prefer not to wear a suit, then I’d suggest some kind of jacket over your top, so you look equally put together but less formal.

    • Yep. I interviewed for my current job on a very hot Friday in August, and wore a skirt suit, with hose. My interviewer (a current colleague who has her own, unique sense of style and gets away with it because she is not American so higher-ups just write it off) was wearing skintight jean capris and an off-the-shoulder top that exposed the top half of her bra.

      You can’t go wrong with a suit.

  16. I agree with Karen. I interviewed at a company that prides itself on having “one corporate tie” – in that, all the men (approx 80) share one tie.

    I wore a suit to the interview, but paired it with a fun blouse. I ended up taking off my jacket after passing through the receptionist’s area (after being introduced the company president who was wearing mismatched running shoes. I kid you not) and didn’t put it on until I got in the elevator.

    Having the suit made me feel confident and put me in the right frame of mind. Now, I haven’t worn a suit since, and I now struggle with what-to-wear at the casual end of the spectrum. It’s hard to feel anything but overdressed when your HR person is in pyjama pants. But that’s a discussion for another day (I HOPE! Nudge! Nudge!)

    Wear the suit, and if you’re overdressed, oh well. It is far better than the alternative.

  17. North Shore :

    Running shorts and a t-shirt? Eeeeek!

    • For some of us that is normal office attire. For general amusement, I also note that walking around the office in bare feet, socks, or flip flops is exceedingly common among programmers.

      • Watch out. You may cause a sudden upsurge in law graduates applying for masters in comp sci.

        • pinkrobot :

          *formerly known as ‘A’

          @LPC I’d be thrilled to have company. If comments on this blog are any indication, law grads would have a very different viewpoint.

    • I had a job AT A LAW FIRM where I was chastised for dressing up when I wore khakis and a blouse or sweater. The work that we did had us in and out of easily 20+ different files daily, and they flew from one part of the office to another and back, people got dirty. The head atty. in the office usually had holes in his sweaters, his khakis were 30 years old and it wouldn’t surprise me if his tennis shoes had dirt & etc. on them. I was sick for a month and came in pjs then, and people were happy that I was dressing like them. Eeek is right (IMHO).

      @reader: Suit. Be a good Southern lady, don some pearls. Maybe soften it up with a colored top?

  18. I agree that informal probably refers to format and not to dress, but even if it did refer to dress, very few people/places would ever fault you for wearing a suit to an interview. (I once interviewed as a ski instructor and I knew I should wear jeans and sweatshirt but just couldn’t do it because it was an interview and I felt I had to look decent so I went with khakis and a cardigan set. I was horribly overdressed and out of place but got the job anyways).

    We have casual Fridays but they coincide with motions day for the local courts so half the litigators are in suits on any given Friday anyways and most attorneys wear suits if they’re meeting with clients so there’s not even a guarantee you’d be out of place wearing a suit in a casual office setting.

  19. Anonymous :

    I will be the lone person here to disagree, but I am writing from the small firm context. I worked at a small firm where the partners weren’t always on the same page. One would decide he wanted to hire someone and then he would have to convince the others including one super penny pincher. So, he would be secretly “interviewing” people under the table so that when he finally convinced the penny pincher to hire he already had someone lined up.

    If someone came in all suited up w/ a portfolio and the penny pincher saw, he would be furious. If law students came in for “mentoring sessions” aka, “informal interviews” he was fine. For those situations dressing up w/o a full on suit was the way to go.

  20. I think the answer to this is regional. Interview in The South? Suit, of course (regardless of informal/formal moniker).

    @LPC, I too practiced in The Valley (Silicon Valley, of course!) and most law firm partners are more casual and dress in nice pants, shirt and blazer /jacket (no tie) if they’re not in court. San Fran is slightly more formal. We could tell a NYC lawyer a mile away — they looked like funeral home undertakers….LOL.