Survey: More workplace exposure leads IT staffers to dress up

NOTE: This was originally published in the Sept. 3 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

Quick … when you think of your IT department, what jumps to your mind?

Do you still picture a young person with unkempt hair wearing torn jeans, a hoodie and dirty sneakers?

The dress code for IT personnel in many business has traditionally been more lax than other departments in the corporate structure, but that is beginning to change, according to a recent survey from Robert Half Technology. The company conducted more than 1,400 telephone interviews with chief information officers from a random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees.

The results was that two-thirds of the companies surveyed said their IT department dress code was considered “somewhat formal,” most staffers wear dress slacks or a skirt and a button-down shirt. More so, the survey found 76 percent of the respondents said that how someone dresses at work could influence their ability to advance in the company’s organization.

The move to a more formal dress code among IT professionals is reflecting to the increasing role they’re playing in the workplace, according to Matt McKee, division director for Robert Half Technology in Oakbrook Terrace. McKee notes the expanding role of IT workers is bringing them out of the server rooms and into the overall workplace, and are becoming more visible by co-workers and clients.

“As IT touches every part of the business now, the overall trend is to have a more ‘business professional’ environment because of their exposure in the workplace,” McKee said. “They are now more involved with everyone in the business, and as their exposure increases, the company’s desire to have IT workers professionally dressed also increases.”

And while not every company is looking to upgrade their IT staff’s wardrobe — 5 percent of the CIOs said their dress code is “very casual” — McKee said business with high stakes clients will likely have a more formal dress code for its IT staff.

“Places like law firms or investment firms, where people are looking to invest millions of dollars,” he said. “If they see someone wearing jeans and a T-shirt walking through the office, they may question the company’s professionalism.”

The move to button-downs and dress pants isn’t only for the company’s benefit. The survey also found that how an employee dresses could affect their ability to move up in the organization. The survey found that 73 percent of the CIOs are “somewhat” influenced by a person’s dress when considering advancement. Twenty-two percent said they were not influenced.McKee stresses that is important because an IT professional could be called on to work with anyone in the company.

“The next individual you work with could be the president of the company,” he said. “If you come into his office in ragged clothes, he’s going to think that you don’t care about your job.”

McKee points out that the Chicago area is a big IT market, with a number of large companies located or moving into the area tapping into a large talent pool. His advice for those working in IT is to look that the people you work with, and adjust your work wardrobe to what they are wearing. In fact, 85 percent of the CIOs in the survey said their department dress code is the same as the rest of the company, while only 10 percent said they were more casual.

As for those seeking an IT job, McKee recommends dressing professionally for the job interview, then once you get the job, adjust your wardrobe to correspond to the people around you. It’s always better to dress above the company’s dress code at the interview, McKee said.

“You don’t want to walk out and have them remember the spot on your shirt,” he said. “You want them to remember your technical abilities.”

And for those who just have to work at a company that allows T-shirts and jeans, McKee said there are still a number of companies out there that accommodate very casual attire. With a large pool of IT talent in the Chicago area, McKee said some companies may use casual dress as a way to attract quality workers.

“This is an exciting time in the IT profession,” he said. “There’s an environment out there for everybody.”