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.

  21. You can’t go wrong with a blouse that can stand by itself and a pantsuit. I don’t really see how that one can backfire.

  22. I’d wear a suit, and make sure I had a blouse that looked good on its own, so I could take off the jacket if I was horribly overdressed. I don’t know anyone that hasn’t gotten a job because they were overdressed, but I do know people that have not gotten a job because they were undressed. I was on the hiring committee, and it was never explicitly stated, but it definately leaves a bad impression.

  23. Absolutely agree — suit up! In this case, the “informal” definitely describes the interview rather than the attire necessary. Even if you’re a student — if you’re interviewing in a big law firm and you haven’t bought at least one suit yet, you need to get yourself a suit as soon as humanly possible (it doesn’t have to be expensive — The Limited often runs great sales on their suits, so for students looking for suiting that have some time on their hands before they MUST have the suit can wait these out). Agree with C that pants suit is fine, or whatever you’re comfortable in suit-wise, and you can stray from the dark interview suit if you choose to and the season is appropriate (unless this is a very conservative office). Basically, if you wouldn’t wear it to work at the office, don’t wear it to the interview, even an “informal” interview, and err on the side of too formal.

    On the lighter side, does anyone have a link to NPH’s “Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit!” musical interlude from last night’s How I Met Your Mother? Seems appropriate for this thread :-)

  24. Ha! The shorts are ONLY for programmers, and the best ones at that. Seriously guys, I worked with a 6’4″ 300 pound guy who would come to work in lederhosen. These are outliers. I’m just including them for a laugh, because if you start to believe in the dress code stuff, believe it to your core, I think it can be a little stifling. If it’s just a costume for battle, that’s great. IMHO.

  25. But as a Southerner, I’d advise you to wear a suit. I’m even controversial enough to advise you to wear a skirt suit. Also, you never know who you are going to meet and someone may not have gotten the “candidate is dressing informally memo.” Wear your best lawyer costume.

  26. Agree with suit & maybe a nice cashmere shell beneath. Make sure you can take the jacket off if you need to. ‘Informal’ most likely refers to the process, not attire.

    I interviewed at a “business casual” MNC when I worked in banking and wore a pantsuit for the interview, though I was over dressed. Of course, I passed it off saying that I had taken a half day off to go for the interview and therefore had come straight from the bank. Did I get the job? Yes! So agree with the suit option….

  27. Wear a jacket and slacks/skirt/dress, if not an actual suit.

    My boss invited a guy in for an “informal” interview. The guy, whose wife had previously worked in my office, thought he was getting coffee with my boss and just having a conversation about possible future opportunities. Unbeknownst to the guy, we had a consultant/temporary position open up that he was qualified for, so my boss decided to have him meet with a couple other members of my team (my boss wore a suit to the meeting; my colleague and I did not). He showed up on slacks and a button-front, no tie or jacket, looked surprised by the formality of the interview, but proceeded to wow us. My colleague and I were both enthusiastic about hiring him. My boss? He wanted to ding the guy, because he was dressed too casually and my boss thought that meant he wasn’t serious enough.

    Luckily my colleague and I were able to talk my boss down, reminding him that it was supposed to be “informal,” and a year later the guy has been hired for a staff position and is fantastically good at his job. But seriously, he almost lost the opportunity because he didn’t wear a jacket and tie to supposedly get coffee and have a chat with my boss. Moral of the story: if you’re a lawyer having any sort of meeting or interview about a job, always, always wear a jacket.

    • I thought the moral of the story would be that your boss was acting kind of like a petty jerk. Guess I was wrong.

  28. I have been on many interviews for lawyer jobs throughout my career. The only job offer that I received after interviewing in a suit was my first job as a lawyer. For every job offer that I ever received after that, I was dressed casually during the interview, and for those interviews during which I wore a suit, I did not receive an offer. In fact, during one interview, I was wearing a white button down shirt with a black suit, and the interviewer actually told me that it was not a white button down shirt kind of law firm. I have always felt that I for the interviews from which I received offers, I dressed appropriately, and comfortably, and that the focus was on me, and not what I was wearing. I might add that I have had some great jobs working with great people. I know this completely goes against the grain of Corporette, but some real life experience is in order here.

    • You made a good point, it all depends on the firm/geographic culture, the OP should probably call and ask the receptionist. Before I was a lawyer, I was a law firm receptionist, and I fielded that question many, many times.

  29. You don’t really say whether you are a student, but to my mind, an “informal” interview is particularly something that happens when firms recruit laterals. The recruiting firm will have the prospective attorney over to meet people, walk around, do lunch; not necessarily to sit across a conference table and ask 10K questions. In this case, I think you should wear exactly what you would expect to wear in the office as an employee or exactly what you would wear to your current job (assuming it’s a comparable position). To my mind, this definitely means a pantsuit is appropriate. Or a cute skirt and blazer. I do not think a power suit is necessary.

  30. I think I’m the only one here who would ask the recruiter – but like everyone else, a suit is always the default.

    Interestingly, at one big SiliValley firm, I was told business casual for an interview; BUT at the big search engine company, the recruiter said to definitely wear a suit.

  31. Plenty of answers for you here… but I must agree that the ‘informally’ probably refers more to the actual interview and the way it will be conducted, rather than the ‘dress code’. Wear a suit, can’t go wrong with that. I think you’d rather be ‘over-dressed’ than ‘under-dressed’. This will also show that you are keen to get the job.

    In the UK the site offer a one-stop shop for working women’s clothing.
    Good luck!

  32. I had a similar experience recently. I was going in for a formal interview at a small firm, but the hiring partner told me that the lawyers all wear jeans around the office, so there was no need for me to wear a suit. (I’m in the northwest.) I wore slacks, a collared shirt under a v-neck sweater, and a blazer over top. She was wearing a blouse, a jacket and nice jeans. I got an offer.

  33. Anne Vohl :

    Here is how I once finessed that situation. It was a boutique firm, and a Friday morning interview. I wore a suit. But….they said please come back this afternoon to talk about the specific terms of the offer. So I changed to jeans and a sweater, came back after lunch and got the job.

  34. my last interview i did dark slacks, brown boots, white crisp shirt and a dark vest. sounds a little scattered but was actually complimented!
    here are some more ideas:

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