Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

suit-blackOK, it is still interview season. We are having candidates come through, and frankly I am surprised sometimes at what people are wearing. BTW: This post is for the men. My field is male-dominated and most of our candidates are men (~1 token woman per short list). This year, I have seen some real bombs when it comes to what people are wearing to interviews. This is pretty ridiculous because it is SOOOOO easy for men. So, what should you wear?


Just go buy a suit. Buy it at a good department store. Get it tailored. Yes, it is expensive. But, if you get a faculty job, you will make more money, and buying a good suit will have been worth the investment. Plus, you will have a suit to wear to weddings and such, so just buy a decent suit.

Wear the suit on the most important day (when you give your job talk). For the next day, get a sport jacket and slacks – they can be separates like a blue blazer and khaki pants.

Should you wear a tie? That depends. I am OK with or without a tie. Some older folks think a tie is more important. Some fields might think it weird if you wore a tie. It is your call. You still need a suit. Get the suit.

Do not wear:

  1. Jeans. I don’t care how nice they are or what designer. Don’t do it. NO! No jeans. It looks like you don’t even care.
  2. A sweatshirt, hoodie, or any other similar type of clothing article. This is worse than jeans.
  3. Tennis shoes. Do not do it. Wear loafers, leather shoes. They can be brown or black or something more flashy, if you have a personality. Especially do not wear white tennis shoes.
  4. White socks. Invest in dark colored socks. Don’t wear a dark suit with white socks.
  5. A t-shirt. Come on. DO I have to say it. t-shirts can be worn under button-up shirts or sweaters. No t-shirts and especially nothing with words.

For the women: I have never once seen a poorly dressed woman candidate. They wear pant suits (full suit or separates), suits with a skirt and nylons, button-down shirts, good shoes. We might be a bit obsessed with this because it is often harder for us to determine exactly what is right.

I have had people ask me, when I give this advice: Why does it matter what I wear? I’m a creative scientist. I should be able to wear whatever I want. 

My answer: Yes, when you are a faculty and have a job, you can mostly wear what you want. And, if it OK to show your personality on your interview. But, being a professor is NOT about doing whatever you want. You must be a team player and serve on committees. You must teach. You may have a set curriculum that you have to teach. You have to write grants and these have A LOT of RULES. Even submission of papers has rules. Showing that you understand social standards of how to dress when shows that you can follow social norms. You will be able to get along with others. You will be able to follow the rules. We do want someone creative – but not off the rails.

Other issues that are becoming more frequent:

  1. Tattoos. Older individuals see tattoos as a taboo thing for Hell’s Angels Biker Gangs, but young people have tattoos. I say don’t over-expose, but no need to hide. If you have a face tattoo, you might be screwed, but something nerdy and medium-sized on your arm can be covered
  2. Piercings. Are they in ears? Probably OK, but you might want to remove for the interview if you are a man. Remember that many of the people interviewing you are older and of a generation when men did not have such things. If it is in your face (eyebrow, nose, tongue) – definitely remove it.
  3. Facial hair. Trim it to look neat. I know that steam punk handlebar mustaches and mountain man beards are in, but tame it for your interview. Also, get a hair cut. Manscape and make sure you don’t have crazy eyebrow hairs and nose hairs. People notice this stuff. Believe me. We notice.

Overall, I think you want to look like you are trying. It is a good thing to care. I want someone to join my department who has a clue and who cares. I don’t actually care how smart you are. I care more about if you can do good science and work with others.

So, what do you think? Is this advice sound? Post of comment here. Push the +Follow button to get an email every time I post.

Comments on: "What NOT to Wear – Academic Interview Edition" (7)

  1. HusbandOfScience said:

    My general rule of thumb is that you do *not* want your clothes to make any sort of lasting impression during your interview. Anything that distracts from what you are *saying* is just a bad idea. If all I remember about you is how you wore ripped jeans to the interview, I’m not going to vote to hire you; it isn’t the jeans, per se, it’s the fact that I can’t remember enough about you to do so.

    Plus, the attitude that you are too “creative” or “smart” or whatever to bother thinking about how you look is highly insulting. The very intelligent, creative faculty member, who has tenure, can wear whatever he/she wants; if you, the interviewee who is too good to think about how you look, look worse than what your interviewers are wearing, aren’t you basically insulting them?

  2. Yes. When I was in grad school, we had a theater professor come to do a workshop on presentation skills with us. When she talked about clothing, her guidelines were essentially:
    – Be professional. (No t-shirts, hoodies, not too much cleavage, etc.)
    – Dress approximately one level above your audience — no more, no less. That means you should be dressed slightly more formally than the people who are interviewing you.
    – Don’t wear anything distracting. No drape-y garments that will get in your way, no more than one pattern. Solid jewel tones are good. (Our provost has a set of enormous sparkly pins (one in the shape of a dragonfly), some of which are as large as her head. She would fail the theater professor’s criteria.)
    – Within the guidelines above, be comfortable and practical. If you’re going to totter on heels, don’t wear heels. Dress in layers so you can adjust for temperature. For women, think about where you’re going to clip a microphone.

    These seem like no-brainers, but some people really need it laid out for them!

  3. FascinatedByAcademicFashion said:

    Most memorable job interview clothing by a man: henley shirt and jeans. He didn’t get the job, stayed as staff scientist where he was, and then re-entered academia a decade later with an even shinier academic record. But he was miserable as a faculty, in part for the conformist things that we need to do to succeed, and went back to non-academia.

    Second most memorable job interview clothing by a man: tshirt + shirt + sweater (vest?) + blazer. Too many layers under the bright lights in the auditorium, and as the talk went on, the layers came off one by one. On stage.

    Most memorable job interview clothing by a woman: stockings held up with garters. You might ask: how could I tell there were garters? Short skirt, and she bent over.

    Moral for everybody: test-drive the outfit ahead of time under realistic conditions, and ask colleagues how it looks. Then again, I do experiments for a living, so this seems obvious to me.

  4. I agree entirely with HusbandOfScience: if people are thinking about your clothes, then they are not thinking about your science. You want to make a good (but brief) first impression with what you are wearing, and then have everybody thinking about your awesome science for the rest of the interview.

    The same goes for talks, too. If they are thinking about how fancy your slides are, or how distracting your slide transition animations are, or how many weird fonts you’re using… then they are not thinking about your science.

    I also agree with HusbandOfScience that once you have tenure and a solid reputation, you have a bit more leeway. Or perhaps it’s better to say, by that stage in your career you probably have a better gauge about where you have leeway, and how to keep people thinking about your science.

    But on the flip side, I do think dress standards in academia are gradually becoming more casual. I sometimes wonder if when I’m in my 60’s, some blogger will be writing a similar post telling young interviewees that they need to be wearing jeans, and not yoga pants.

  5. We had someone who interviewed this year for a faculty job who came wearing an untucked sports shirt and jeans. At the end of the interview when he met with the chair, he supposedly asked what he could do to improve his interview for the next interviews he had coming up. The chair replied, “you can start by tucking in your goddam shirt.”

  6. […] And I also have given advice about what types of clothing to wear (here, here, for the men: here), and I typically say to error on the side of modest. There is also advice about acting confident […]

  7. […] men, as well. I have had a number of prior posts about clothes (here, here, here, here, here, here – OMG, that is so many!), but I really love this one!  Thank you for your […]

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