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I have an interview for a PhD position (engineering) at a Central German University. I am not sure what to wear (formal wear for woman). Since certain countries are very particular about what you wear to an interview, I want to make sure that I don't look out of place. Any suggestion about formal wear for woman would be appreciated.

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    Maybe you wish to ask at workplace.stackexchange.com – tjati Feb 15 '17 at 18:46
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    When interpreting the wide range of answers, be sure to consider your own feelings on the matter. For example I'd be more comfortable overdressed than underdressed in an interview, though I'm not exactly smart the rest of the time; others get nervous just from dressing formally. (This is a male perspective, so you may want to discount it) – Chris H Feb 16 '17 at 9:06
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    I would copy what you see the professors wearing in the department. Being overdressed as well as underdressed can unfortunately mark you out as academically less serious. – Lembik Feb 16 '17 at 12:14
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    Just to give my two cents, I know maths and engineering people in German universities. Engineers are in general more conservative than mathematicians, so I would not come in jeans if I am not sure about the style in the department you are applying. Better as others have said, a little bit overdressing the first time you meet them. – Karl Feb 17 '17 at 9:55
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    One important point is that whatever people in the department usually dress in may not be ok for an interview. I know of specific examples in which faculty members expected interviewees to dress up nicer (more formally) than what people in their department would wear for everyday work. – Bitwise Feb 18 '17 at 19:55

10 Answers 10

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I think this is highly field dependent, but in general overdressed is better than underdressed. In fields close to mine (math, computer science) things are quite relaxed, so no one would expect a (skirt) suit (although this would be ok) and nice trousers (usually including jeans) and shirt are most probably ok. Ragged jeans and t-shirt may not always work, though. Avoid wearing something revealing.

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    Ragged jeans and t-shirt...This sounds almost like how my mother described the University of Texas Philosophy Department during the 1970s, when she was a secretary there. – NZKshatriya Feb 15 '17 at 17:38
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    "Ragged jeand and t-shirt" is exacly what I what I wore ... – FuzzyLeapfrog Feb 15 '17 at 17:41
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    @FuzzyLeapfrog And how did things turn out (and what were you applying for lol) – NZKshatriya Feb 15 '17 at 17:47
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    PhD in Atmospheric physics at a German University (Mainz) and ETH Zurich. Went very well, got the job and my PhD. But I knew the professor, his daily dress, what he wore for more important meetings (nearly the same) and he knew me. For an unkown professor, I would have woren a jeans and a blouse. I've seen this a lot. – FuzzyLeapfrog Feb 15 '17 at 18:05
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    In France in physics, I was way overdressed in a suit. But overdressed isn't really a bad thing. – la femme cosmique Feb 16 '17 at 6:42
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I can tell you that as a female grad student in Sweden in mathematics, I wore a nice pair of jeans, a (ironed!) white shirt, ballet flats, and discreet jewelry (small gold studs and a thin gold bracelet) for my interview. I got the position. I did not stand out in any way from the other interviewees or professors.

In general, I would perhaps switch the jeans for a pair of slacks, and if it's cold outside, switch the ballet flats for a pair of (freshly polished!) boots. Then you would blend, but be on the nicer side, in any northern European science department I've ever visited.

  • Johanna, I think you got the position thanks to your merits, not for your clothing. // My impression is that Scandinavians put a great deal of importance on not standing out, and are very good it at. Congrats if you achieved that! But really, blending in is, I would hope, at most of minor importance. One only need demostrate with the outfit that one cares about getting the position. – aparente001 Feb 18 '17 at 4:15
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    @aparente001 I'm sure I got the position because of my qualifications :) I'm merely trying to say just what your comment does: that the clothes I wore helped show I was serious about my application and would fit in at the department. – Johanna Feb 18 '17 at 9:29
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Scientific academia in Germany is very informal these days; dress codes barely exist at all, and there is no expectation to dress up, or to dress gender specifically. This includes engineering.

In general, for interviews, the rule “better overdressed than underdressed” applies of course. However, in my experience it’s even more important that you feel comfortable. I’ve been in a very similar situation to yours and felt uncomfortably overdressed, which made me nervous and certainly didn’t help my chances in the interview.

So: if you feel comfortable dressing formally, do that. If not, I’d suggest dressing slightly less formally rather than facing discomfort. At any rate, as others have noted, I’d avoid a too casual/careless clothing style, as for any interview.

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From Germany here. Generally at the Math department things are less formal. Most of the time people are wearing jeans.

At the Engineering faculty it seems like professors always are wearing suits so I'd suggest that. Trousers and white shirt with a jacket should do the trick.

Good luck!

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Here are two tips:

1) Look at the current faculty's (or PhD students') departmental headshots and webpages online. If most people dress in a suit or blazer for the photos, then I would suggest you dress in that way for the interview.

2) If you wear a pantsuit or slacks/blazer, try to wear a shirt underneath that would also be perceived as appropriate without the jacket (i.e. no sleeveless shirts). Then you will be able to remove the jacket and leave it with your luggage if you perceive yourself to be overdressed.

I know these don't precisely address the German context, but I thought the ideas might be helpful to the OP.

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    I can confirm that this strategy would work well in a German context. – Konrad Rudolph Feb 16 '17 at 16:10
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Wear the same kind of clothes that is worn at a conference in your field. At most a slight bit more formal if you want to be recognized from a distance as the applicant.

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You can't go wrong with a pants suit. That's why women politicians favor them. You don't look overdressed in a pants suit; yet they also fit when the men in the group are wearing a suit and tie. You would only look overdressed in a pants suit if you were attending an informal outdoor party! And even there, you'd be okay, by just taking off the jacket.

The top worn under the jacket should be a simple knit top (not form-fitting as you might wear to a nightclub, but not baggy like a T-shirt you'd wear for sports). It can be long sleeved in the winter if you wish. Avoid anything sleeveless. Make sure that even when bending forward, no under garments or straps are visible.

Wear comfortable shoes in case there's a lot of walking to do. (Thank you to Robokaren for this advice on another clothing question.) Don't wear perfume or scented personal hygiene products (e.g. deodorant). If your shampoo or conditioner has a subtle perfume, that is okay, however.

Note, if you are a person who likes wearing a skirt instead of slacks, that's fine too.

Blouses are a bit unusual these days, but you could wear one if that's your style. However, please avoid ruffles, lace, garish colors, or partial transparency.

Don't forget to let your personal style come through. If you are someone who enjoys wearing a warm Scandinavian style sweater in the colder months, go for it! As long as the sweater is still in very good repair (no pilling or thread pulls). If you wear a pullover, make sure you have a formal sort of top on underneath, in case you find yourself in an overheated room and need to take off a layer.

To play it safe, do not wear jeans. Once you know the group better, you'll know whether jeans are okay or not.

Make sure your winter coat is warm, clean and tidy.

If the weather is bad, do not hesitate to wear sturdy boots that will keep you warm and dry.

  • As a woman who has interviewed for PhD programs in engineering in the USA, I find this answer the most accurate and helpful. There is nothing wrong with wearing skirts instead of trousers, and that is stated clearly in this answer. Skirts can be worn with practical low-heeled shoes that are good for walking. They can also be worn with wool or cotton opaque stockings rather than nylon hose. Opaque stockings are preferable for warmth. – Ellie Kesselman Feb 18 '17 at 17:56
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    @EllieKesselman - And in winter, thick tights could be helpful. – aparente001 Feb 18 '17 at 21:30
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EDIT: In Germany

Women also dress conservatively, in dark suits and white blouses or conservative dresses. This form of dress is observed even in comparatively warm weather. Do not remove your jacket or tie before your German colleague does so.

I would dress professionally. You are interviewing for a job at a university, not a tech startup. So for a woman I would wear something more conservative - perhaps a nice skirt and blouse? However, the important thing is to be comfortable! That's how you'll do your best.

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    Herein lies the issue. What is considered professional dressed differs from culture to culture. Hence why OP is asking for advice on attire that matches the cultural expectations in Germany. – NZKshatriya Feb 15 '17 at 17:36
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    I have seen quite some women being interviewed for a phd position in Germany. I can't remember any of them wearing a skirt. Nice pants (not jeans) seem to be the norm. That should apply for life or earth sciences and most of engineering. – Roland Feb 15 '17 at 18:42
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    Business culture (as described in your link) can be considerably different from university culture, depending on the field. – O. R. Mapper Feb 15 '17 at 21:55
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    I would advise against a skirt in engineering. You want to give the impression that you wear clothes that are practical (?) for the job even if you rarely have to work with machinery. – Sumyrda - Reinstate Monica Feb 16 '17 at 7:51
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    @Sumyrda You are assuming that it is something like mechanical or civil engineering. She could be applying to a software engineering position. – Michael Feb 16 '17 at 12:09
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The dress code in engineering in Germany varies widely. I know one institute where the professor forces his PhD-students to show up in suits every single day. At the other end of the spectrum are institutes where even professors just wear normal clothes all the time, even for interviews with candidates.

I would recommend to look at the homepage of the institute you're applying to and check out the pictures of your potential supervisor and his/her PhD-students. If all of the students are wearing suits on their pictures, wearing something similar for the interview is definitely a must. If even your potential supervisor wears something very casual, you should be fine with a clean t-shirt and jeans. For the cases in between, I would recommend a blouse combined with a skirt or slacks. (I would even recommend this for the casual supervisor, just to be on the save side. You will never appear as overdressed if you dress like this.)

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First, as said by others, do as "they" do, whoever they are. We don't really know what's en vogue at your place.

This triviality aside, I would strongly suggest for you to look past this interview and, along with a possible new job, decide on which style you are seeing yourself sporting in the future. Do you wish to come accros as a hands-on "techie"? Do you see yourself in a management position in 5 years?

Put yourself in that mindset, and wear appropriate clothes. I know you are asking which the appropriate clothes are, but I suggest that it is most important four you to decide which image you want to portrait. Google "woman business clothing" and switch to the image search, everything you see there will be appropriate for about any professional setting in Germany, from universities to companies.

Looking at said google image result, not being a woman myself, I believe the most important choice you have to make is whether your clothes end above or below the knee, or at the shoes. That is a personal choice for you, as in Germany, most everything will be accepted (with a certain minimum height which should be pretty obvious). And it will also depend on your character a bit, and what makes you comfortable.

Being comfortable is of the utmost importance, so if in doubt, do as you really want to!

protected by Wrzlprmft Feb 17 '17 at 7:43

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