Thursday, November 18, 2010

Well Suited

Here is what I have learned so far from the comments in my recent Scientopia post about What To Wear for an interview for a faculty position, keeping in mind that for some fields there is only one comment, and some comments didn't specify field:

Unless you happen to know that your field or the institution at which you are interviewing is rather formal and is festooned with people wearing suits, you apparently can't go too far astray by wearing comfortable "business casual" attire. As I hoped, commenters seem to agree that there is a wide range of acceptable professional garb, so everyone (men and women) should be able to find something in which they feel comfortable, confident, and unselfconscious.

In the following fields, at least one commenter cautioned against wearing a suit as "overkill", especially with a tie (men), or noted that you will look like a sales rep (men) or administrative assistant (women), and that's not good:
  • MATH
  • ASTRONOMY (but see comments and list below for indication of lack of agreement)
It might be OK or expected (depending on subfield/geography) to wear a suit in ASTRONOMY, CHEMISTRY, COMPUTER SCIENCE, ENGINEERING (many sorts). (agree/disagree?)

Speaking as an old(ish) professor who has seen many interviewees wander through my departments over the years, I can say that I don't notice what interviewees or any visitors are wearing (men or women), with the exception of the woman whose feet were bleeding in her uncomfortable new shoes. In that case, I only noticed because she kept slipping the shoes off.

It would be great if others continue to comment and provide more data, but can we now consider this pressing issue mostly dealt with, resolved, sufficiently addressed, and/or defanged, at least in this corner of the blogosphere?


Anonymous said...

FSP, do you think that a lot of the anxiety over 'will what I wear affect my job prospects' has its roots in the general 'will they hire me' anxiety, and not worries about appearance per se? But then one of the other undercurrents I caught in the comments was that different individuals could have wildly varying and even contradictory opinions on what constituted professional, which is worrisome in and of itself.

Chemprof said...

In my experience this depends significantly on what country you are being interviewed in. I interviewed in several places in North America about 8 years ago and was surprised at how casual it was. In one case where I was wearing smart business clothes and didn't feel particularly dressed up, one person showing me around felt the need to let me know that it was a very casual place. I assured her that I preferred casual too but didn't think that jeans and a t-shirt quite cut it for an interview.

I've interviewed twice since, the last time for a tenured prof position 2 days ago. In both cases all the men involved in the panel were wearing suits and ties and I would have felt uncomfortable if I wasn't dressed to a similar standard. Whetheer it really makes any difference in getting the job, other than feeling more confident, I am not sure. I've also served on many selection panels and never really cared about what the candidate was wearing, as long as they didn't look scruffy.

Anonymous said...

In computer science, at least in France where I come from, the only time people are ever expected to wear a suit (and I'm not even talking about a tie) is for their PhD defense. I don't know about women, though I am one, because I unfortunately never attended a female PhD defense in Computer Science. As to other occasions (conferences, lectures...), it doesn't differ from daily life: you wear what you want... especially geeky tee-shirts and shorts, as it turns out... If I extrapolate from what I could see, you don't even need to wash your hair. But I do not advocate it. As a woman, you have even less constraints, since there are so few women in the whole department... My opinion is that in CS, noone will judge you by the way you dress, even if you have been wearing the same dirty tee-shirt for the last three days, as long as you can talk about your subject.

Chris said...

Wear a suit in astronomy? HAHAHAHAHA! uh, no, don't do that.

If you see a suit in an astronomy department, somebody's trying to sell you a textbook.

Anonymous said...

This is actually quite interesting, here in the UK it is mostly suits and formal attire for interviews, at social events though I dress on the formal side everyone else is rather informal...siding towards scruffy. However, it was mentioned that we should really be dressing formally. Rather than for the reason to look smart it actually tells others that you take the situation seriously. Other times, to hell with formalities.

Anonymous said...

I have to be honest -- the idea that people might be critiquing what I wear *never* occurred to me (I'm in astrophysics, so I've applied to physics and to astronomy departments, depending on the university). Maybe that's because I'm one of those women who tends to pay very little attention to my own clothing, who doesn't wear makeup, etc.? I wore business casual, which is definitely dressier than the people I was meeting with, except for deans. And I've gotten job offers at both the postdoc and the faculty level from good places, so apparently the lack of suit did not reflect badly on me.

The only clothing-related gaffe I had was at a postdoc interview, where they took me for lunch to a dining hall that was serving pasta w/ marinara sauce as the main course. Of course, I dropped a big glob of sauce right on my breast (and since I was a nursing mother at the time, these were the breasts that ate Manhattan, and the stain was very apparent on my off-white shirt). So I had to talk to people all afternoon and give my talk like that. From then on I had a rule, no sauce at meals during interviews... but FWIW I got a job offer at that place as well. ;)

Anonymous said...

female, new TT prof, chemistry:

I had two interview outfits for two geographies:

West Coast: softer, stylish gray suit, seemed more casual and fun, less pretentious, comfortable to wear

East Coast: Classic style black power suit.

It may sound silly, but I think the subtle difference helped me present the correct "vibe" for the institution.

For interviewing in places like Florida, I also made sure that my top underneath the suit jacket was nice enough to wear to take off the jacket, if temperature/ambiance appropriate (often the case and can help 'dress down' if everyone else is in shorts).

Anonymous said...

I am a late 29 y/o female interviewing for Assistant Professor positions in Engineering departments. However, I am commonly mistaken for being a 21 year old undergraduate.

Even though wearing a suit is fancier than the professors that I have been meeting with, it seems to be the only way to look age/job appropriate.

Anonymous said...

I am in earth science. I wore a suit to interviews (10 years ago) on the philosophy that you never offend anyone by overdressing. I got a job. It is true that one doesn't have to wear a suit and many candidates do not but I don't believe the perception of overkill will cause any problem.

Anonymous said...

In economics, wear a suit, at least for the job talk. More established or high flying folks do wear the upper end of business casual sometimes (e.g. a suit that doesn't have matching pieces, or a nice skirt/shirt/jacket combo with pearls), but generally just a boring suit will mean that folks will notice you instead of what you're wearing.

Anonymous said...

Call me old fashioned, but i believe that females should wear something a little sexy and wear some subtle makeup. I really think this helped me with being accepted to 3 TT jobs in earth science.

Anonymous said...

I second that you should not wear a suit ever in astronomy. I think even a tie for men might be too much (I have only ever seen men over 60 wear ties in astronomy). As a woman, I actually do not wear skirts deliberately in fear of being too dressy as an astronomer. I think business casual (button-down shirt and non-jeans) or slightly less dressy is appropriate for astronomy.

Astro said...

I can only think of one time that I noticed what the person was wearing during the interview. I was on a search committee for a TT position in astronomy. The candidate in question wore *very* casual clothes. I think she may have had jeans on and was carrying around a worn backpack. We definitely commented on this lack of professionalism in the search committee. Maybe if the rest of her research and presentation had been spectacular it wouldn't have mattered. But when candidates are very close in ranking, this can taint the SC's view of the candidate.

Aside from that, I've seen plenty of nice business suits (women) and jacket+ties (men) in astronomy candidates as well as tie-less men and women in blouses and slacks. All of which seemed fine to me. Just don't dress like a grad student would be my recommendation.

Bashir said...

With men, suit or no suit the main issue is wearing something that fits right and is kept neat.

I've seen a few men wearing off the rack suits that clearly weren't quite the right size. You'd do better to get something fitted right, even if it's just business casual (or even a t-shirt for that matter).

On a more general note, I don't quite get the disdain for dressing up that some academics seem to have. I enjoy occasionally dressing up for work.

Anonymous said...

biomedical engineering - suit seems the norm.

I did wear a suit w/ snow boots to one interview. It snowed 7inches during the day and I went for practical rather than heels. Still got an offer.

Anonymous said...

A suit in computer science would definitely be considered overdressed. People come to conferences wearing jeans and T-shirts. I once saw a faculty interviewee give a talk wearing jeans and a hoodie. OK, the airline had lost his luggage, but he just made a joke about it and moved on and no one cared as far as I could tell.

Anonymous said...

Think of how you dress as another expression of whom you are. Are you the type that will just get a calculation done, or do you redo them for public consumption by the most elegant mean you can muster? The same applies to dress. If you live in sweats and sneakers, then it may be hard to carry a suit with ease and grace. When interviewing candidates, it easy to spot those that dressed up for the part. I have gotten a better impression from candidates that have shown up in purple streaked hair, coat no tie, feet clad in jika-tabis, than I have from candidates wearing an ill fitted, out-of-fashion suit. It may sound illogical to stereotype this way, but in the few hours anyone can devote to deciding on a hire, stereotyping is all that will be done. When dressing for an interview, dress the sup of your daily wear, not in that special outfit, because that is what it will look like, an outfit.

Anonymous said...

In astronomy, for research universities, no suit (casual, shirt with or without a tie, and slacks or jeans). In
small liberal arts colleges, you must wear a suit!

Anonymous said...

I have seen a definite cultural variation in how candidates dress. I have been on very many hiring committees over the years in my (small European) country, and find the way people dress varies enormously with where they come from.

To generalize (now I'm really stereotyping), Asian candidates dress up the most (always a suit, usually a tie for men), followed by Americans (often but not always a suit, rarely a tie), followed by other Europeans (never a suit but never jeans either). Local candidates (from our specific country) are the most casual, with jeans being nothing unusual. I'm not sure if that means we're an unusually casual country or just that local candidates feel most comfortable being themselves.

The upshot is, what they wear has absolutely no effect on how we judge them. We already know where they come from and time has shown this has no bearing on how well they'll do in the job, so it's just one of many personal variations that may be noticeable (as I said I have seen a vague trend) but also irrelevant.

For the record we're an interdisciplinary engineering department; most candidates have physics or chemistry backgrounds.

Personally, I'm unlikely to be interviewing for a new job, but if I were I don't think I would actually want to work at a place where they judged me by my clothing - as a woman in a male-dominated field, such attention to appearance will never work to my advantage.

aceon said...

Somewhat off topic, but all this reminds me of something - I was surprised while browsing our student forum to find how much time our students spend critiquing the fashion choices of professors. I wonder if professorial dress has an impact on student evaluations.

Ann said...

Most of my colleagues would stare at you blankly and would not have the slightest idea if you asked then what a job candidate had worn. But i have one colleague who would notice, and be pleased if you dressed up. He wouldn't hold it against you much if you didn't.

The dean would notice, but is used to all sorts.

Anonymous said...

In political science, the norm is a suit for the job-talk day of the interview. Women seem to gravitate toward Ann Taylor Loft-ish outfits. Men wear suits with ties. Maybe a jacket & dress pants for the non-job-talk days for the men. For the women, probably a nice sweater or blouse & dress pants. This is typical attire for our large conferences too, though you aren't required to wear a suit (but wouldn't look odd if you did).

Alex said...

So, all these anti-suit and anti-tie comments. Let me ask you this: Would you hold it against somebody if he (or she) wore a formal suit? Could you actually see yourself arguing "You know, great scholar, great potential, but this person is clearly very formal and stuffy and will not fit in"?

I always wear suits to job interviews, even though I dress more casually than most people in my daily work. I figure, well, it's a job interview, a formal and important thing, so I should look business-like. It may be overkill, but I always thought I should err on that side. Am I making a mistake?

Anonymous said...

@9:29 - I don't think this opinion necessarily makes you old fashioned, just kind of creepy and sexist.

D M Gaba, MD, Stanford said...

In the U.S. in academic medicine (clinical departments) I would definitely wear a "coat and tie" for a faculty job interview. It doesn't have to be a "suit." I think the range of clothing for women is broader and harder to categorize but whatever the equivalent of "coat and tie" for men would be would be the norm. Maybe its different in the bench sciences in Bio-xyz but not in academic clinical medicine. Of course I'm a 56 yo tenured professor, so...... on the other hand, I'm probably more like many of the people who will make the decision, so.....

mathgirl said...

@ Alex:

Would you hold it against somebody if he (or she) wore a formal suit? Could you actually see yourself arguing "You know, great scholar, great potential, but this person is clearly very formal and stuffy and will not fit in"?

I have to confess that I do think like this in my heart but I know it is unfair and I never made any comment to other members of the hiring committees where I've been.

People who overdress give me the impression that they are unconfident about their skills and they are trying to compensate. I know no one thinks like this and I wish I didn't either, I can't help it.

(Sorry for repeating the comment I made to the scientopia post)

Alex said...

People who overdress give me the impression that they are unconfident about their skills and they are trying to compensate.

Or, maybe it's just a combo of:
1) Caution when trying to navigate an uncertain landscape where over-dressing may be bad but under-dressing is far worse.
2) Dealing with that uncertainty by defaulting to standards common in (many but admittedly not all) other professions.
3) Being a bit old-school. (Which is not always bad.) I get this from my mother, who told me to wear a tie to make a good impression when I was a teenager applying for minimum wage jobs. With that sort of background, it's hard to not wear a suit when interviewing for a job that requires an advanced degree.

EliRabett said...

What you want to do is to take clothing off the table. Dressing well will not get you the job, but dressing poorly will. That argues for a suit, but use color to soften or harden the impression.

Also, for many interviews you talk to the Dean and the Provost. At a minimum you want to be as well dressed as the Chair

quasihumanist said...

@aceon: One of the standard pieces of advice for men trying to improve their teaching evaluations is to wear a tie to teach.

Anonymous said...

"I second that you should not wear a suit ever in astronomy... As a woman, I actually do not wear skirts deliberately in fear of being too dressy as an astronomer."

I disagree slightly. There is a subset of astronomers who wear suits, particularly ones in political positions, associated with NASA, etc. Dressiness in astronomy appears to be strongly correlated with proximity to D.C.

I am a female astrophysicist who always wears skirts, makeup, even (gasp) heels. I do it because I want to look somewhat more formal and because it makes me look older, but mostly because I like to. Many of my European colleagues are also tres chic. I haven't noticed that it matters much either way in how your colleagues interact with you, so I consider it a perk of the field that there is freedom to dress in a way that makes you comfortable.

Bagelsan said...

i believe that females should wear something a little sexy

What kind of jobs were we talking about interviewing for, again?

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest going to the department website and perusing the faculty photos to see what folks are wearing for "dress-up day" or university picture day when faculty are either wearing what they usually wear or taking it up a notch (as you would for an interview). I'd agree with the comment that there's some regional variation as well.