Dress code and start-up culture

24 Aug 2015

When I first started looking for a job after university, almost 6 years ago, I was really concerned about how should I get dressed for an interview. Several of my closest friends helped me out and advised me to wear a suit. After all you can't err on the well dressed side of the spectrum. It sounded correct and made sense. The fact that I'm coming with a tie and a suit is a gesture of my respect towards you and your company. Simple. Fast forward 5 years and things are way more complicated!

Several months ago I read this article on the 42floors blog (now deleted but you are able to find it on archive.org) where the CEO was writing about how they rejected a super experienced candidate, that sounded to me like a great fit for the company, because of the way he came dressed in the interview (he was wearing a nice suit and he was holding a leather bag). According to the blog post that suited candidate was a danger against the culture of his start-up and a bad fit. All because he didn't come to an interview with a t-shirt (the CEO claimed that they had other concerns too, but my perception is that one of the main reasons was his attire). That article is so wrong, in so many levels that I would need at least 3 blog posts to get it out of my system. Instead of doing that though I urge you to read it as a testament of what not to do when hiring people.

Fast forward several months and I have to visit the offices of one of the coolest start-ups in London, and here I am thinking what should I wear? Obviously not a suit. Should I wear just a t-shirt? Nah, too casual. OK, I'll wear a shirt! Fine. Jeans? Chinos? Jeans! Shoes? All-stars? Snickers? Dress shoes? Boots? Damn!! That was the point that it dawned on me. I have never gave so much thought about my clothes. And for what? A start-up!

Now, don't get me wrong for saying "for a start-up" I don't mean it in a negative way, exactly the opposite. For me a start-up is a great place where people have the creative space to create awesome and innovative things without the impediments, and limitations, of the million rules of a big corporation. A start-up should be a place where diversity is to be embraced, that people should come as they are. Instead of that, for the most part, we're in a position where several start-ups have a stricter dress code than most banks. Jeans, t-shirt, snickers or GTFO. Luckily the place I went was super cool, and people wore all sorts of different clothes. I was fine.

So here is my opinion. If you are going to talk with a start-up wear something you're comfortable in. Don't care about the special attire they might have. You want to work with people that are cool with who you are, and if you are to be rejected because you carry a leather bag, then it's all for the better. If on the other hand you are someone that owns/recruits for a start-up, please make things simpler. Make your start-up a place of accepting different views and lifestyles. Don't try to fit people into a specific category. Stop rejecting the suited guy, the 50 year old engineer, the gay Scottish guy or the black girl from West Africa. Uniformity is not the way forward and if you are so afraid about your fragile culture then you should start questioning if your company culture is good in the first place.

Strong, healthy, cultures are not fragile and are not threatened by leather bags and brogue shoes.

P.S Don't wear a tie.

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