Advice: what to wear to an academic job interview (UPDATED)

Provocative post over at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative on what to wear to an academic job interview. Like it or not, your choice of attire signals something about you as a candidate–but it may not signal what you want it to.

For ecologists, I stand by my earlier advice to neither over- or underdress, but I freely admit that advice isn’t very specific. If you want more specific advice, I guess I’d say “dress how ecologists usually dress for interviews”, which I think basically signals “I am a professional ecologist, and am familiar with how professional ecologists conduct themselves”. Trying to signal anything more clever, elaborate, or nuanced is really risky, because different people are liable to interpret your “signal” in different ways. For instance, wearing jeans and a t-shirt (a radical option considered in the WCI post) might signal to some people that you’re a smart, confident freethinker–but it’s likely to just annoy or confuse others, who may just write you off as eccentric at best (and few departments want to hire an eccentric, even a smart one). My advice: do your signalling with how you conduct yourself during the interview, not how you dress for it.

UPDATE: Turns out WCI’s post was in part motivated by the fact that economics departments usually conduct preliminary interviews of 20+ candidates at a major economics conference held in January. Wearing something distinctive to such a preliminary interview (even just colorful socks or something) can help the search committee remember who the heck you were. Ecology & evolution doesn’t operate that way, of course, but the broader issue is still worth thinking about.

7 thoughts on “Advice: what to wear to an academic job interview (UPDATED)

  1. It also depends on where you are going to be interviewed. One is not going to use a 3 piece suit under a tropical sun. Tropical ecologists here in Brazil wear ‘jesus sandals’ and its all good. =)

  2. Its really too bad because I love to wear a nice suit, at the very least a tie! I have all these nice clothes and I never get to wear them because I’m an ecologist. I’m giving a talk tomorrow and I want to at least wear a tie, but I can’t. At the very least I always go with a sport coat or suit vest and tie. Tomorrow, its tweed with a navy tie and jeans.

  3. Pingback: Advice: a compilation of all our advice posts, and a call for new advice topics | Dynamic Ecology

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