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Are there expected dressing norms at faculty interviews? Will a casual tee-jeans be discouraged?

In the same vein, what is expected when a student visits the campus for an interview?

6 Answers 6

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While its not mandatory to wear a suit for a faculty interview, it doesn't hurt, and may actually be expected in certain disciplines. Best to ask around beforehand. I've never heard of a dress code for student visit, but something semi-formal doesn't hurt.

As a general principle, it doesn't hurt to be more dressed up than necessary. The reverse can often be embarrassing. But as with most such thing, the departmental culture is the most important factor.

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    The general principle stated here is exactly right. Within reason (e.g., not a tuxedo), the worst case scenario for dressing too formally is that it will be amusing in a charming way, while not dressing formally enough may offend someone. For example, I think 90% of mathematicians would have no problem with a faculty candidate wearing a T-shirt and jeans, but I wouldn't recommend that anyone do that, since you do have to worry about the remaining 10%. And I think dressing informally would be a big mistake at a business school interview. Commented May 24, 2012 at 12:10
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    Short answer: Be the second best dressed person in the department. (Even in math departments, there's always some weirdo who wears a tie every day.)
    – JeffE
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 15:52
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    It is also very easy to remove your tie and jacket if you find yourself in a casual environment. Or to, say, remove then after the talk and before going to dinner. Commented May 24, 2012 at 18:56
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    As an addition to @dmckee's comment, if you go out for dinner with someone for your faculty interview and they say, "It's okay, the dinner is casual, you don't have to wear your tie" then I do recommend that you do as they say and do that. :)
    – Irwin
    Commented Jun 3, 2013 at 17:07
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    Do not forget that, in addition to meeting the department, you will probably have time scheduled with a dean and maybe a provost or vice president for academic affairs.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Jan 18, 2015 at 22:42
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The best advice for any interview dress code is, one standard of dress higher than what you would be wearing if you got the job. eg if jeans and a t-shirt is what most people wear around the office, then business trousers and a shirt is fine for the interview. If its business trousers and a shirt, then for the interview a suit and tie.

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    For industry interviews, I have a similar but slightly different take - wear what you would wear for the most formal daytime situation that could occur on the job for which you are applying. In some cases, that may be more than one step more formal than normal around-the-office. Commented Jan 18, 2015 at 14:45
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The only single right answer is that it varies.

However, there are methods that you can use to establish what the right answer might be in the particular case you have in mind.

Here's my method.

  • As with pretty much all human contact, the person you meet will have norms and expectations, conditioned by their culture, their quirks, the organisation they work in, the physical location of the organisation, your gender, their gender, your age, their age, and so on.

  • There is no general answer as to what those norms and expectations are, so research the specific person, organisation and country.

That's half the story. The other half is:

  • what impact do you want to have?
  • Do you want to meet their expectations, or challenge them? The latter is high risk, but with potentially high reward.
  • How do you want to project yourself to them?
  • How strong is your position - are you going from a position of strength, or one of weakness?

And if in doubt, wear the clothes that are smart clothes within the business world (rather than the academic world) in your own culture.

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    Exactly right. But keep in mind that there are academic cultures in which a clean T-shirt and jeans qualify as "smart business clothes".
    – JeffE
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 15:55
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    @JeffE and those are the only academic cultures I can live in :)
    – Suresh
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 16:03
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    @Suresh: ...until you become department chair. (Bwa ha ha.)
    – JeffE
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 16:43
  • @JeffE - thanks, I've edited to clarify what I meant by "business culture".
    – 410 gone
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 17:16
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    @EnergyNumbers: I agreed with your answer before you edited it. I don't any more. Some academic cultures view anyone who wears a tie with deep suspicion.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 17:21
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If you know who the person(s) you will meet with are, try to find photographs of them on their faculty pages.

The way they want to be seen by other people is usually pretty close to what they expect of you.

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At the SLAC where I used to teach, there was a circulating story of a job candidate who showed up in a t-shirt and jeans. They were summarily shown the door.

This is even though it was a pretty casual place -- I wore a t-shirt and jeans most days during the warmer months.

Dressing nice without looking like you are going to a funeral, the prom, or a beach party is the tricky thing -- especially for women. Men can wear a dress shirt, necktie, and casual sports coat. Women have fewer dressy options so we tend to default to pantsuits.

Final thoughts:

  • Dressing more formally than is the norm means that you misread the university climate or that you might have been nervous and overcompensated.

  • Dressing less formally than is the norm means that you misread the university climate or that you might not being thinking seriously about the position.

Given the dangers of the latter, it's clear that dressing too formal is safer than dressing too informal.

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  • At the SLAC where I work, we had a male job candidate around 2018 who did his interview wearing jeans and a long-sleeve t-shirt. All the other male candidates I had ever seen wore a suit. He did an amazing job and got a job offer. No one mentioned his choice of clothing at all. I think that's the way it should be. Commented Mar 29 at 2:25
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First of all, I'd be unlikely to ever evaluate someone based on what they wore for an interview. But second of all, insofar as I did, more points go to the dressed down person than the dressed up one -- after all, people who dress up might expect me to do the same, and I most certainly do not want my department to become a place where there's any pressure to look "professional".

Though to be fair, I followed the above advice of "one step up from usual" when I went to interviews myself -- my daily wear is a tee-shirt and jeans, so for interviews a I wore a shirt-with-buttons and jeans.

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  • people who dress up might expect me to do the same - what? why would they expect that?
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 18, 2015 at 22:36
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    this is an empirical fact; see all comments and responses above from people who think it is a bad idea to come to an interview underdressed. in any case, someone who dresses down to an interview is certain not to be a person who would ever complain about my tee shirts; someone who dresses up for one may or may not be. Commented Jan 18, 2015 at 22:55
  • I thought formal and smart suit would be a sign of giving the respect to an interviewer whatever (s)he prefers. It's interesting that some people can think of that as kind of persuasion to do the same and losing points by doing so. I'd vote down if I could.
    – Celdor
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 16:00

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