Sunday, January 07, 2007

Dress for Success

A graduate student asks
What should I wear for an academic job interview?
Most computer scientists won't notice and will completely forget what you wore when it comes to decision making time. But the wrong clothes might make a bad impression on some of them and you might meet administrators or faculty from other department with different standards of attire. You never want to give the appearance that you are not taking the interview seriously.

On the other extreme I have seen candidates looking uncomfortable in suits they clearly borrowed or bought off the rack. My suggestion, dress as nicely as you feel comfortable. To be specific, I'd suggest nice pants and a jacket with or without a tie for men. For women the best I can say is dress professionally.

Don't feel afraid to ask the person hosting your visit about these kinds of questions. The host generally wants you to succeed and can tell you about who you will meet and any expectations they may have.


  1. Let the flame war begin!

  2. There is also a East Coast/West Coast difference here. If you wear a suit to an interview at Berkeley, you'll draw attention to your clothes. (This is not a desirable property!)

    If you do choose to wear a suit, make sure it is freshly tailored. A misfitting suit makes quite a statement!

    In my career, I have seen faculty candidates succeed who only wore tee-shirts and jeans. (In fact, on a percentage basis, those who wear tee shirts are more successful than those wearing suits -- although the sample size is too small to make any statistically significant statement.)

  3. If you wear a suit to an interview at Berkeley, you'll draw attention to your clothes.

    Interesting to hear that about Berkeley. I hope candidates (as well as invited speakers?) are told this in advance.

    As for me, if I ever get an interview for a job I really care about, I'm going to spend the money on a great outfit that I would never waste money on otherwise. If it helps me in any way to get the job, the investment will have been well worth it.

  4. Do you know of any women who interviewed in jeans and got the job?


  5. “Clothes and manners do not make the man; but, when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.” - Henry Ward Beecher

    Prof. Tygar, is the Berkeley "rule" a way to weed out pretentious/priggish candidates?

    I thought dressing up was a sign of respect for the audience.

  6. Interviews are usually two days long with a talk on the first day. Since the interview talk is on the first day, a good plan is to dress up that day and then dress (neatly) on the second day in a way that is compatible with the way the faculty you meet on the first day are dressed. That way, you will implicitly be saying 'I am also one of you' and will likely feel more relaxed. For dressing up, I second Lance's suggestions, particularly that being comfortable in what you wear is important.

  7. The last anonymous did not give good advice since what are you supposed to do, bring many different outfits, so that hopefully one matches what the faculty wears? Obviously, you have to plan all of your outfits in advance.

  8. I used the word 'compatible'. That simply meant that if the faculty tend to be dressed up then you stick with your first day attire on day two and if they aren't then you dress more casually.

  9. But then you might wear the same thing two days in a row, which could be construed as impolite.

  10. A few clarifications. First, there is no rule -- at Berkeley or any major research US university I know of. But wearing a suit in a place where faculty rarely wear suits makes you stand out.

    I do not recall seeing women candidates wearing jeans. That question touches on a very important issue: the degree of latent sexism in the "computer science establishment." This is an important topic, and one which should be discussed.

  11. Look at faculty web pages for that department. They (likely) have one of their favorite photos up though there is always the possibility they may have been caught on a bad hair day by an eager dept. web master's digital camera.

    For photos that are OBVIOUSLY outdated extrapolate a likely contemporary fashion (assuming good living practices).

    grade clothing by level of formality and fabric content. Compute a mean for each to obtain appropriate style and quality and finally choose color based on the current season.

  12. While being a graduate student who is yet to live through this experience to tell the tale, I don't think you can ever go wrong with a really decent formal shirt and trousers with dress shoes. (E.g., light blue or white shirt with full sleeves, black or navy trousers, laced black shoes.) You will not look like somebody who does not take the interview seriously in such an outfit even if your interviewers are all dressed to their tees. More importantly, it is not just the dress but also your "manners" which can make or break how you come across at the interview. I.e., somebody in a great suit can come across as impolite or snobbish or even unconfident while somebody in a "milder" outfit can still connect with the interviewers. So the bottomline IMO is to stay in the middle on the dress side but focus on how you carry yourself. In the end, confidence and comfort will benefit you the most.

  13. I'm a grad student in CS at the University of Minnesota, and here, faculty wear suits about 1% of the time. However, faculty candidates I've seen *always* wear suits.

    To me, if a faculty candidate did not wear a suit, he/she unknowingly may put him/herself at a disadvantage. It may appear that the candidate does not take the job seriously or is somehow disrespectful to the school, as compared with the other candidates.

    I formerly worked in a casual dress environment in IT at a corporation, and there job candidates typically wore suits, too. Even though they were more dressed up than those of us interviewing them, I didn't feel they were overdressed. Instead, their dress indicated they took the job seriously.

    Any thoughts?

  14. In my experience the academic garb always seems to consist more of sport coats that suits. I don't think that an interviewee would go wrong wearing a classic Navy blue blazer or sport coat, a nice tie and lighter colored trousers. I've worn this combo to what academics would consider pretty formal dinners and not felt out of place. If the VP of Academic affairs can wear it, why not?

  15. I think a casual dress would be fine because I am a middle school student and our class is dressing up about the woman we are researching about. I am thinking about wearing a a casual dress, but I don't know. Jeans and a shirt would be too plain... I wonder how an actual female computer scientist dresses?????