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nhhistorynut

Interview (attire) Advice

13 posts in this topic

I have an interview Monday with the director of graduate studies. I've read through all the threads, gone through google, searched reddit, etc. I have a pretty general idea of what kind of questions I will be asked, how to answer them, and things like that. But what has not been clear is how to dress, particularly for women. I've heard conflicting advice on this. Some places say a pant suit, some say a dress or skirt with a blouse, some say nice slacks and a sweater. Everyone seems to suggest heels.

So here is my dilemma. I am a very tall woman, already 5'10. I have never in my life, not once, worn heels. And to make it worse, I wear a ladies 12 shoe, so it's a HUGE challenge finding nice shoes. So needless to say, heels are out.

Any suggestions from people who've already had their interviews? Any opinions about pant suits vs slacks/sweater?

Thanks in advance!

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Dressy casual is always a good bet. I wouldn't do a pantsuit; much too formal and aging. A nice oxford shoe or a dressy flat is good enough if you don't wear heels.

Do you use Pinterest? It's an excellent resource for example outfits for various occasions. 

And honestly, you should put your best foot forward--that is, show a bit of your own personal style, not some stiff suit and heels that will only make you feel uncomfortable. 

Edited by NoirFemme

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I agree with "dressy casual." Nice slacks and a nice sweater sounds perfect. Don't even worry about heals. 

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10 hours ago, NoirFemme said:

Dressy casual is always a good bet. I wouldn't do a pantsuit; much too formal and aging. A nice oxford shoe or a dressy flat is good enough if you don't wear heels.

Do you use Pinterest? It's an excellent resource for example outfits for various occasions. 

And honestly, you should put your best foot forward--that is, show a bit of your own personal style, not some stiff suit and heels that will only make you feel uncomfortable. 

Thanks, and good tip about pinterest. I did not have one but have been scoping it out for a few minutes now and there are lots of ideas.

I think it's going to be a delicate balance of being myself and showing my abilities to be a professional. The Prof. I am meeting with has already been very casual and cracked jokes in emails, so we'll see how it goes.

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9 hours ago, KLZ said:

I agree with "dressy casual." Nice slacks and a nice sweater sounds perfect. Don't even worry about heals. 

Thanks for the advice! I looked at the weather for Monday for the university and it says "blizzard" lol. So I might be wearing snow boots!

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Have you considered searching for photos of the DGS and other members of the department either at mixers or at academic conferences? (Examples of the latter are often found in newsletters for professional associations.) If such photos are available, that could form a baseline and then you could decide to dial it up or down as you see fit.

I would recommend that you wear shoes you already know well unless you're good at managing your facial expressions. One never knows when the interviewer is going to change things up ("Let's walk and talk," "I'll show you around the department," "How about a tour of the library system?"). All of sudden, the shoes that looked and felt great at NORDSTROM'S (obligatory jab at POTUS), have a hot spot or two which you discover at the exact same moment someone turns to hear your reply to a pivotal question.

Here's the first of two pivots. Please do your best to leave what ever concerns or doubts you have about your skills and potential behind. You are a historian having a conversation about the craft. You have worked very hard to earn an opportunity that you absolutely deserve. You have done important work and you're going to do more as the decades unfold. While you're looking for someone to support, to teach, and to mentor you, do not lose sight of the fact that YOU are going to bring additional prestige and honor to the historians who figure this out.

Here's the second pivot. Please do come back and provide a debriefing of the interview.

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Well gosh @Sigaba that was a fantastic pep talk. Now I just need to play Eye of the Tiger while jogging in place and reading that to myself while staring into a mirror on Monday before the interview. I kid, but seriously. Thanks. I am a longtime sufferer of imposter syndrome, so reminders are sometimes necessary.

Also...

36 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

Have you considered searching for photos of the DGS and other members of the department either at mixers or at academic conferences?

I had not considered that before. A quick google search shows him as a sweater vest and cardigan kind of guy. I'm thinking not-too-dressy-but-still-nice will be best. Plus I like sweaters.

40 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

Please do come back and provide a debriefing of the interview.

Will do!

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I don't think I can add much more to everybody's wonderful responses! Incidentally, I found this thread very helpful as I also scored an interview (over Skype, but still) next Wednesday and I'm a little anxious, but, as always, this board has alleviated my anxiety a little bit.

But I want to second @NoirFemme's "be yourself" advice. Of course, you'll want to look especially nice and professional but I know that, in my case, wearing clothes I would never ordinarily wear makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable and thus makes me act accordingly. Wearing something that makes you feel like yourself (albeit maybe a dressier version of yourself, depending on your every day style) and comfortable in your own skin would be your best bet, I think.

I mostly just came to wish you luck, I'm sure it's going to go great! :) And yes, do keep us posted after the interview.

Edited by Karou

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In every job I've ever won in my professional career, I've gotten the position from interviews where I have worn what makes me comfortable. I ditched formal pantsuits a long time ago. I always felt like a kid dressing up (I have your exact opposite problem - I'm short and hippy, pants suits never fit because my hips are larger than my top, so jackets always look like I'm swimming in them unless I get them custom tailored, and ain't nobody got time for that.) I go with separates now. When I had preliminary meetings with profs before I applied, I wore a tweed blazer and a brown pencil skirt. I felt amazing and I think that helped my nervousness. i wore the same outfit to a job interview a week after my grand campus tour this fall and got hired. IF that rambling answer is at all helpful

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Hi! Mainly a lurker, but this is my expertise so whatever. I'm not in a PhD program l yet but I've done the professional range of Intellectual Business Casual™--library job, high school teacher, interviewee--and I've mastered the Look. I also attended a conference in my field a little while ago and took notes of womenswear. My advice to people (a bit too late in your case, but I'll leave it here anyway) is to take the long sartorial tradition out of undergrad, get yourself used to dressing a little upward instead of maintaining strictly separated casual, off-day wardrobes and academic, professional wardrobes. (I have no idea how old you are or what your professional experience is, this is just my generalized suggestion.)

Everybody in this thread is right: be yourself, be comfortable, be able to walk and sit and stand. The fact is that if you look uncomfortable and act uncomfortable then you aren't going to sound or seem confident in your claims and your intellectual direction, which frankly sucks and I hate it. But it's the truth.

Sarah Beth makes an important point, I think, about "swimming in" clothes and feeling like a "kid dressing up." The unfortunate thing is that suiting looks cheap when it is cheap, and that sort of thing is (ugh) really obvious to people on the other side of the payscale. It can make you look more "early career" or "internish." (I hate even saying these things.) This is why I advise against pants or pantsuits unless you have a pair that you love and look killer in (probably either tailored or you're the luckiest person on earth!) It's my opinion that you cannot go wrong with black leggings (yes, leggings!) or tights, a skirt, some sort of top and a cardigan. Cardigan! When in doubt, pretend like you're cosplaying the coolest librarian you know. (There is lots of good inspo on http://librarianwardrobe.com/.) (There are lots of "academic style" blogs of varying class and socioeconomic positions out there.)

Heels? Never. I mean, unless you love them. Boots, pretty much September through May. Boots! It's probably a bit late in the season for a lot of shopping (also, $$$) but for the sake of future readers, I always recommend a comfortable, under-decorated pair of leather or faux leather boots with not a lot of heel (depending on your tolerance)--ankle boots, riding boots, etc. It's what everybody teaches in! (Well, here in the midwest, with the long cold seasons.) This is gonna be extra tough for a size 12 (or maybe extra lucky at a thrift store? not a ton of competition?), and size is always the mitigating factor--sizeism means you have to spend either more money or more labor to maintain even the minimum of professionalism.

For people that don't love fashion and find it oppressive--which it absolutely is, even if you like it--I think it helps to think in formulas: leggings and tights, one or two skirts, tops you like and cardigans. Pick your favorite colors and you can wear them all together forever. Take the guesswork out of it. 

Final suggestion: sometimes around these parts I hear people say that women should, like, suppress their love of ornament and jewelry and all frivolousness lest they be outed as Superficial Women or whatever, and it's bananas. Anyway, every professor I ever had was a Statement Necklace kinda woman :). And don't feel like you necessarily have to sacrifice your gender identity (etc.) in dress for an interview--Academia is oppressive but it's not Wall Street, you know?

Hope this helps--feel free to PM me for specific sartorial advice/solidarity.

P.S. I don't even buy things that need to be ironed vs. tossed in the dryer or steamed in the bathroom. 

Edited by landscapes-of

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Thanks everyone for the advice. The interview ended up being via skype because of the blizzard, but I still wore my interview outfit, which helped with the confidence.

I think it went really well. He said they are admitting 3 funded PhD students next year and that I am considered a strong candidate at the top of their list, which is why he wanted to talk. We talked about all sorts of stuff and he was extremely friendly. The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes. Overall I think it went well.

He said he will email me their decision by Friday at the latest. Wish me luck!

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8 hours ago, nhhistorynut said:

Thanks everyone for the advice. The interview ended up being via skype because of the blizzard, but I still wore my interview outfit, which helped with the confidence.

I think it went really well. He said they are admitting 3 funded PhD students next year and that I am considered a strong candidate at the top of their list, which is why he wanted to talk. We talked about all sorts of stuff and he was extremely friendly. The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes. Overall I think it went well.

He said he will email me their decision by Friday at the latest. Wish me luck!

Awesome. Good luck!

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9 hours ago, nhhistorynut said:

Thanks everyone for the advice. The interview ended up being via skype because of the blizzard, but I still wore my interview outfit, which helped with the confidence.

I think it went really well. He said they are admitting 3 funded PhD students next year and that I am considered a strong candidate at the top of their list, which is why he wanted to talk. We talked about all sorts of stuff and he was extremely friendly. The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes. Overall I think it went well.

He said he will email me their decision by Friday at the latest. Wish me luck!

That sounds really great! Best of luck! :)

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