Interviewing at a Startup: How to Dress to Showcase your Skills

Startup companies are known for their relaxed rules with regards to work attire. In fact, casual dress code is often considered a major perk of working for a startup. However, when it comes to interviewing at a startup, deciding what to wear can be the opposite of relaxing. Although wearing ‘startup casual’ to the interview can help to demonstrate you’re a good fit, it’s still essential to look professional and polished to make a good first impression and express your capability. This is especially important for women, who are under-represented in startups and therefore often stand out in the interview process on their gender alone (despite what they are wearing).

Lucy Orloski, Marketing Director at Localytics, has been working in startups since 2007. Having seen and interviewed countless female candidates during that time, she certainly knows a thing or two about how women can dress to impress for an interview with a startup. I sat down with Lucy to discuss the importance of carefully considered interview attire, and get her fashion tips!

Amelia: So why is it so important for women to consider what they wear to an interview with a Startup?

Lucy: For better or for worse, it does have to be recognized that there aren’t many female hires in startups. So, at an interview in a male dominated startup, they will often already be focused on how different you are from them. You definitely do not want to downplay the fact that you are a woman. However, ‘girly’ clothing can cause the interviewer to focus too much on what you’re wearing, and detract from what you have to show as a professional. It is important to remember that the number one goal of any interview is to communicate how you can help to solve the company’s problem, and help the company move forward. You want to ensure that this is the focus of the interview, not your appearance. Just like a male with a mohawk will attract more attention in an interview, girly clothing may have a similar effect. In an interview, you don’t want to draw attention to the fact that you’re different, but to the fact that you are a professional, capable person.

Amelia: What can women wear to an interview to make sure the focus remains on their capability and skills?

Lucy: My advice is that less is more. Be relatively low key with what you wear to make sure all the focus is on showcasing your skill sets. Dress to show that you’re functional and professional.

Amelia: The traditional corporate interview attire is a pencil skirt. For an interview with a startup, would you suggest wearing a pencil skirt or pants?

Lucy: Wearing a skirt makes you look ‘junior’ at a startup. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, in a male dominated startup a skirt could call attention to differences between yourself and the interviewer, rather than your skills. Wearing pants makes you look like ‘more money’ to a startup. Both dress pants or even jeans are fine, but they should be dark in color, tailored, and fit you well.

Amelia: What about accessories?

Lucy: Startups hire people, not just skill sets, So, statement jewelry can be a great way to show your personality. However, pick just one statement piece, one thing that calls attention. You don’t want to look like someone who prioritizes appearance over function. Similarly, with shoes, you should show that you prioritize function over fashion. You want to be able to walk as quickly and as purposefully as the employees in the company for which you are interviewing. This means no super high heels.

Amelia: Any last tips?

Lucy: Over the years, easily 100 people have asked me the question ‘what do I wear to a startup interview?’ Generally, they’re concerned that they won’t look like a good hire if they don’t look like everyone else in the company. I always say it never hurts to dress up well. Wear clothes that you can be functional in, move well in, but still express your personality, and make you look like you’re comfortable in your own skin. This is a great way to show how you’d be a good fit for any team at a startup.

So in summary, here are Lucy’s 6 tips for what to wear to an interview with a startup:

1. Less is More: Make sure all the focus is on showcasing your skill sets
2. Ditch the Pencil Skirt: Draw attention to your skills, not your gender
3. Pants are Perfect: Dark, well fitting pants make you look like ‘more money’ to a startup
4. Stand out with Statement Jewelry: A great way to express your personality
5. Be Shoe Smart: Show that you prioritize function over fashion
6. If in Doubt: Dress Up, Not Down: Dress up well to show that you’re comfortable in your own skin

Now, instead of staring forlornly into your closet come interview day, you have all the know-how you need to pick out an outfit that says “I kick ass”; in the most professional way possible, of course!


Photo on 3-10-2014 at 5.29 pm #2 copyAmelia is an adventurous 20-something Australian who wants to share her passion for writing and interpersonal connection with the world. She graduated from Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) in February 2014 with a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Marketing and International Business. Since then, she has moved to Boston where she is currently a student at Startup Institute and hopes to begin her career as a content marketer.
Read more about and from the author: Amelia’s WiLab Profile