How To Pack and Dress For Your Campus Visit (Inc. Cold-Weather Tips)

In response to pleas from clients with campus visit invitations, I am devoting the post today to a quick discussion of how to dress for campus visits , particularly in the cold weather. This post is for women (who present as women), since everyone who has written in a panic has been in that category.

The typical campus visit often involves a pick up at the airport by a faculty member, and an immediate drive to a meal with that faculty member, and possibly others. Because of that, you will need to be appropriately dressed on the airplane, in dress pants and a blouse or sweater, with a cardigan or jacket. A matching suit is unnecessary at this stage. (I will discuss shoes and outerwear below). Make sure that the clothes you are wearing are not linen or silk or any fabric that wrinkles badly on the plane. It is important that you can make the flight–>dinner transition looking as cool and collected as possible. Be sure and take a quick trip to the restroom on the flight, before arrival, to brush your hair, check your makeup and jewelry (make sure no earrings fell out), and possibly brush your teeth.

Pack your clothes for the visit in a small carry-on and do not check. Checking bags leads to awkward delays that nobody wants to deal with, and can potentially throw off dinner reservations. Carry your materials in a shoulder bag briefcase, and let that be all that you carry with you on the trip.

In terms of dealing with this first meal, be aware that in this meal and all others that follow, you likely will not be able to eat well or easily because of your nerves and the level of questioning. Therefore, be sure and eat well before boarding the flight, or on the flight. In addition, pack a number of protein/meal replacement bars, and make sure that you have at least one of those available at all times. If you have brief breaks in your schedule, or even bathroom breaks, you can grab a bite and keep your blood sugar level.

Do not order wine at dinner unless it is clear that “everyone” is ordering wine. Then follow suit, if you drink alcohol. If you don’t, politely decline, without explanation (or just saying that you are tired from the flight). Be sure and drink only one glass.

Don’t order dessert unless others initiate it.  People may be exhausted and anxious to get home.

When ordering a meal, be sure and order the easiest and neatest item on the menu. Risotto is an example. A piece of meat or fish that can be easily cut into pieces is another. Do not order pasta or soup or anything that drips. Beware of flaky rolls and croissants that scatter crumbs all down your front.

The next day is likely your big day on campus, going from 8 AM to at least 8 PM, with the job talk. This is the day you wear your actual interview suit. As I’ve mentioned before, the suit can be skirt or pants, it usually doesn’t matter, unless you are interviewing at an exceptionally conservative institution (check on that ahead of time as best you can). In which case you need to wear a skirt. You should wear a sober, low-maintenance blouse or top or sweater underneath the jacket, and jewelry that is not showy or loud.

If you wear heels (and you certainly can choose not to), have them be between 1 and 3 inches in height. Any higher and you’re tottering. I strongly advise against any stillettos or skinny heels.  Glamorous shoes with stiletto heels and pointed toe shoes stick out in university settings and often invite ambivalent comment from both women and men (I speak from experience). More importantly, they are treacherous to walk in, because they stick in sidewalk cracks and grates (I speak from experience). Find a shoe that has stacked heel, and preferably a rounded or squared toe, for comfort and ease of walking.   Don’t wear clogs, please.  Be sure your shoes are comfortable, and do not wear brand new shoes unless they have been thoroughly tested for comfort. At the same time, the shoes should be fresh and not worn down in the heel, the sole, or the overall appearance of the leather. Your shoes should be black or brown, matching your suit, and one color (no interesting patterns!) Shoes matter. People notice.

Tights are better than stockings because they stay up better, and don’t snag.

I recommend suits that are not black, because black is severe. I prefer greys, browns, tweeds, etc. Black is not out of the question, however; just make sure that you break it up with the top underneath and the tights.

Make sure your underwear is comfortable and fits! If you’re going to wear a Spanx (and I don’t recommend this, but want to mention it just in case), make sure that it is a style that doesn’t ride up and need tugging at!! Make sure bra straps are completely hidden. Make sure your slip doesn’t show beneath your skirt.  Test out your outfit ahead of time; actually move around, walk, and sit in it.

If you wear a skirt, make sure that it stays put and doesn’t twist around. I was once at a campus visit at Stanford and halfway through the day realized my skirt had worked its way around 180 degrees, and the zipper and kick pleat (and butt sag area) was in front….for who knows how long. (Is that why I didn’t get the job?)

Make sure your blouse does not gap, and ruthlessly reject any blouse that does (to the Goodwill it must go). Buy blouses that actually fit. If it is a tiny gap deriving from button placement only vis a vis the girls in a blouse that otherwise fits perfectly (and not an issue of incorrect size – be vigilant for that! The pounds add on when you’re writing that diss!  Buy the new blouse if you need it!)  try sewing up the placket inside, turning the blouse into a de-facto pullover. Oftentimes that will take care of the problem completely.  You can also use wardrobe tape.  (Here’s one that I use; 2016 update: buy from Target, not Amazon!) Make sure the blouse stays inside your waistband if that is where it belongs. In general, silky, slippery blouses are treacherous because it slides around, and you discover that it’s been hanging out from under your jacket. Avoid that by buying blouses in rougher fabric, or better yet, wearing knit tops. Thoroughly subject all ensembles to testing prior to the campus visit, not in your house, but rather in a full day of work/school.

Make sure that ALL your clothes are spotless and pristine (and as commenter below points out, freshly dry-cleaned and pressed). Do not wear stained or ripped or patched clothes to your campus visit, or any interview setting.

Returning to an earlier point, make sure ALL your clothes fit you at your current weight. No exceptions. If you’ve put on some pounds, buy new clothes. Nothing, I repeat, nothing makes you look worse or less professional than too-tight clothes. You may not be able to trust yourself on this question (denial and wishful thinking abound), and have a trusted harsh critic review the fit of everything, including the arm-raising test, the bending over test, and the reaching test.

You may, if you know that you’re a bit of a slob, pack an extra top/shell in your briefcase against the terrible possibility of spilling pizza sauce down your front at lunch. I needed this.

If you have a break after the job talk, and before dinner, possibly back at your hotel, you are lucky and have the option of changing if you wish. You may change, but downgrade in formality only slightly. You don’t know the conventions of campus and/or the type of restaurant to which you’re being taken, and it’s better to err, for dinner, on the side of dressy.

Pack all of your regular toiletries, hair products, etc.  Do NOT depend on whatever random products you find in small travel sizes at the drug store, or, god forbid, the hotel they put you up at.  They will not perform the same!  You don’t want to end up with weird, flyaway hair or moisturizer that you find out, too late, you’re allergic to, when you’re in the high stakes environment of a campus visit.  Go to the trouble of getting travel bottles and filling them with your products.

With regard to makeup:  No need to wear if you don’t normally.  But if you do… Now is not the time to experiment with new and unfamiliar makeup.  Severely test all your makeup for smearing. I am referring particularly to mascara here.  Expensive department store products are no guarantee!  Buy products that are labeled “long-wear” or “all day,” but even then, don’t just trust the packaging–test it out on yourself.  Mascaras vary quite a bit in their “heaviness” level, and you want a type for this setting that is relatively light and natural looking, and not clumpy or “high drama.”  I have always had good luck with Revlon Colorstay products.  Lipstick is the other major problem area.  It can smear onto your teeth, so beware that.  “All day” lipsticks, unfortunately, can go on as a stain, and wear off in unusual and distracting ways. If you’re not accustomed to wearing lipstick, just skip it.  Neutral, “nude” shades of all makeup, and certainly lipstick, are probably best for relative beginners. Also thoroughly test all makeup for allergies.  As I’ve grown older I’ve developed allergies to many products I could previously wear, and my eyes tear up and my mascara runs down my cheeks. Not a good look.

OK, moving on… the next day is likely a short day, but a day still filled with meetings. Sometimes this is the day you meet the Dean (on the campuses where this still happens). You may downgrade formality slightly, but only slightly, by wearing your dress pants/skirt from the previous day with a sweater, or a different top and jacket or very dressy cardigan.

Cold Weather Adaptations:

If the weather is genuinely cold, you can switch to heavy tights, if you still plan to wear a skirt. You can certainly switch to pants, and that is my recommendation. You can wear tights under the pants to stay warm in really cold situations.

Invest in a quality, stylish quilted jacket or cold-weather dress coat, if you have a number of visits in northern climes. With advances in technology, cold weather dress coats can now be quite stylish and non-bulky (look for Thinsulate). Check out Michael by Michael Kors. While the traditional winter wool dress coat is always appropriate, you can also search “quilted parka” at Zappos, etc. and you’ll see some great options in stylish urban quilted coats that are appropriate. I suggest getting one nicely fitted at the waist, or with a belt, so that you don’t look like the Michelin Man. Coats of this type can often be found second-hand, and if you can’t afford a significant outlay for what might be only one northern campus visit, it would be worth checking at quality second hand boutiques for this piece.  Conservative East Coast campuses still apparently expect the classic woolen dress coat.

A chic scarf and nice “grown-up” leather gloves make everyone look good. Hats are trickier, because they can leave you looking disheveled. Find a style that is not a knit cap or beret, but rather a formed hat that easily pulls on and off with minimal hair disruption.

In terms of the ice and snow shoe-boot question: my advice is: buy La Canadienne boots. They are insulated and made for cold northern climes, but somehow, I don’t know how, look incredibly chic. They come in a range of heeled and flat styles, are generally in suede, which is a great subdued look for academic settings (but be sure and treat to protect the suede), and several basic colors to match any outfit. They come in ankle height, mid-calf, and full length. They have rubber soles that grip the ice, but you would never know by looking at them. They have arch support in many styles, and are exceedingly well made. I wore mine through the depths of Illinois winters for years, and my feet were always warm and I never slipped! I got endless compliments on them, and still do, because I still wear them in balmy Oregon, just because they’re some of the cutest boots I own.

Readers: Other advice? Please share below. Anything I forgot to address? Feel free to ask!

Similar Posts:


How To Pack and Dress For Your Campus Visit (Inc. Cold-Weather Tips) — 185 Comments

  1. Get your suit and suit pants dry cleaned right before your visit (but give yourself leeway if the drycleaner is late.)

    After working in a majorly sophisticated suit environment I became aware of the different look of a freshly drycleaned suit with creases versus the pair of dress pants that you (errmm I) pull out of the closet for conferences and interviews.

  2. I like a really nice wool thinsulate dress coat versus a parka. I have a really cute one that looks good with both a suit and jeans that looks sort of like this:

    I also bet that you could find a coat like that at Burlington Coat Factory or something;.

    I also have this parka: and it looks vaguely professional compared to a ski jacket, but I wouldn’t wear it to an interview.

  3. I’m guessing you’d also tell us all that now is not the time to start experimenting with make-up. If I do wear any make-up, it is a little foundation, a little mascara, and a rather mild lip tint. I do this mild routine especially since I have rather large colored glasses that basically serve as a very characteristic accessory. My impression is that too much or badly applied make-up might be more of a gaffe than a slightly odd piece of clothing. Whaddaya say? Actually, any thoughts on glasses?

    • Makeup, right. Don’t experiment with new or unfamiliar makeup! Actually, I’m just going to add this to the post, instead of responding here. Thanks for the reminder.

      • I think that BEFORE interviews it is worthwhile for someone to go to Sephora or a department store and get a nice person to recommend shades of foundation and stuff.

        I am totally stupid about makeup and don’t feel shy asking “What is the cheapest X that I can get that is not going to give me a rash?” And I tell them that this isn’t for a wedding or photos, but for professional interviews. And that I have about 8 minutes to put it on.

        I ended up spending about $100 at Sephora but that makeup has lasted me for nearly a year.

        • I did JUST that! I went to Sephora and dropped about $112, but I got a nice gloss with a tasteful pink tint, a light eyeshadow that brightened up my eyes, eyeliner, and a brow pencil in the correct shade for my complexion. I look WAY more put together now!

        • But I hope that people do not invest our precious time in going to Sephora before this significant academic event. I rather present myself as I am, perhaps with minimal daily makeup if you don’t feel comfortable showing your bare skin. Trying shades, foundation, mascara before interview… seriously? I would be at the office preparing materials, not at a shopping mall.

          There is absolutely no need to link our appearance with academic capacity IMHO. If the university complains about my no-makeup, I won’t want that job. As long as we dress professionally and makeup professionally (or not put any), I think that would be a-ok.

    • I don’t really have thoughts on glasses….. I didn’t wear them when I was interviewing. In general, glasses are the default for academics, so we always kind of expect them and take them for granted. Oddly shaped and colored glasses are quite common nowadays, and look hip. I suppose if they’re REALLY hip and edgy, and you’ve spent your entire graduate school carreer in NYC or San Francisco, and are completely out of touch with the ethos of the rest of America, and you’re interviewing in Des Moines or Lincoln or Baton Rouge…..then, yeah, think about getting a more subdued, less conspicuous pair of glasses for interviews.

  4. Stunning advice, yet again! I’m not in the campus-visit stage of my profession yet, but I still feel like this is utterly useful to know. I am, however, gearing up to head off to the big convention in my field, so I will certainly be drawing from these suggestions!

    I will, nevertheless, throw this in: I was recently given the advice to never wear a skirt to a job talk. At first, I was put off — I love skirts — but then the advice-giver explained that you never know what kind of seating you’ll be in during job talks, interviews, meals, etc., and that you might have to, say, sit in a big overstuffed chair, or on a couch, or on a high bar-stool, or in any manner of places. Aha! No one want to have to awkwardly perch on some horrible armchair, ankles tightly locked and thighs clenched, while trying to impress people. To that end: pants. I have to say, I was convinced by this word of warning, so I’m going to immediately invest in dress pants as a fail safe!

    My last note: always check the weather ahead of time and plan accordingly. In rainy Oregon, I’ve seen way too many visitors get caught without an umbrella. It never hurts to plan ahead when it comes to rain-resistant clothing (suede can be a problem, shoes without good grippy soles can be a problem, silk skirts can be a problem) and other weather-related precautions.

    • LOVE this!!!!!! And yes, don’t forget rain!!!!!! BTW, be aware that those adorable tiny fold up umbrellas that they sell nowadays can be *too small*! You look kind of like a clown with an itty bitty umbrella perched over your head. Fold up umbrellas are fine, but get one that is a dignified size. (I know what I’m talking about. I brought back a collection from Japan, land of the miniscule, and then was horrified when I caught sight of myself in a reflection! Tiny umbrella somehow made my ass look even bigger!)

      • This actually happened to me!! I had a hotel room interview and was made to sit on a couch. My skirt kept riding up my knees and I was very, very uncomfortable. I am going to wear dress pants next time.

        • Sure. I revised my suit-centric advice at one point (not sure if it’s in this thread or not), and have come around to dresses with jackets or cardigans as being an excellent alternative. Typically with a heavy tight and boots.

          • So, a dress with a cardigan is ok? Is it ok if you do not wear a blazer with the dress? Having a hard time this time of year finding a nice blazer/jacket to go with a dress

  5. I love this. Reminds me of the job-talk that won me my current position. Coming from a part of the country that has a real winter (northern New England) I found that I was totally overdressed for the Pacific Northwest. So I sweated like crazy through the whole stay, though not because I was particularly nervous. Fortunately, they gave me the job despite what must have been a sticky, shiny palor.

    • you raise a crucial point. This post was written for southerners heading into the north (the gist of all my requests so far), but I neglected the northerners going south or west! It was actually snowing when I came to Oregon for my campus visit. But I’m sure that’s not the norm!

  6. Two other principles:
    Keep your breath fresh.
    Take care of your voice.

    Carry on your person an altoids-type tin loaded with your preferred breath mints and herbal throat lozenges. (No gum; no boozy-smelling breath spray.) Sip water at every opportunity to keep yourself hydrated, but avoid hot teas unless you know you’ll have time pee. (Hot water with lemon and honey is best.) Coffee and booze can be awful for your breath, voice & bladder during a campus visit, so consume both mindfully (especially if you’ve gone from a low to a high altitude). And no smoking. At all. Even if you’re dying for a smoke and the chair asks you to join them on the smoker’s bench outside the back door.

    • The point about being careful so that you don’t have to pee all the time is excellent. There’s a social aspect of drinking coffee if everybody else does it though. Caffeine also wakes you up and improves your performance, and beyond that people seem to be more likely to be persuaded after having some caffeine and that is probably what you want in these kind of situations. Here’s a short blurb written by a journalist. The real paper seems to be available as well.

  7. Another excellent post! As a seasoned northerner, I’d suggest a nice wool dress coat (knee- or even ankle-length) rather than a parka for a formal situation like a campus interview. They’re surprisingly warm (worn with a nice scarf) and look much more “grown-up” and appropriate if you’re wearing a suit. We know you might bust out the long parka once you’re hired, but it’s nice to wear a wool coat to your interview at least. (These go drastically on sale later in the winter at places like Macy’s or JCPenney’s, or you might find a nice one secondhand.)

  8. About makeup: your “true-to-yourself-but-polished-and-professional” ethos would seem to make this one a no-brainer. If you already know what brands of long-lasting mascara work for you, then chances are mascara is a part of an effective “true-to-yourself-but-polished-and-professional” look for you. If not, maybe it’s worth thinking hard about whether mascara is a necessary addition–there may be better ways, more in keeping with who you are, to present yourself as serious and professional.

    About winter interviewing: footwear seems to me the tricky one here. If you don’t already live in the climate that requires boots, spending several hundred dollars on functional dress boots for one or two interviews may be impractical (particularly if they have to be mail-ordered and then broken in during the tiny window between the invitation and the interview). Yet adequate footwear isn’t really negotiable–if there’s ice and snow on the ground, and a lot of walking to be done around campus, and no guarantees that walks will have been cleared adequately, NOT wearing boots of some kind could be disastrous.

    I had just such a campus interview, and no time or money to get dress boots, so I ended up wearing my usual clunky casual winter boots, carrying my dress shoes around in my shoulder bag and changing when it seemed appropriate (two or more consecutive hours scheduled in one building). I didn’t get the job. Much as I’d like to blame the footwear, my terrible teaching demonstration, general cluelessness, and lack of enthusiasm for the job were more than enough to sink me. That said, I’m not sure what alternatives I had! And the people interviewing me were wearing footwear that was clearly chosen with the weather–and NOTHING else–in mind.

    Are there latitudes/months where it’s okay to err on the side of safety and comfort?

    • you can find some styles of La Canadienne on sale, about half off, at Sierra Trading Post and, and other such online shopping sites. They are wearable in any climate so they won’t languish in your closet once done with interviews. I don’t recommend going the shoe-change route—that would be looked at oddly, I suspect. I’m not sure that unattractive footwear would cost a person a job….but in my own case, unattractive footwear would utterly undermine my sense of self-confidence and overall sense of self, which COULD cost me a job.

      • Hi Karen! I am planning to take your advice and purchase a pair of La Canadiennes. My question is- are knee high ones with or without a slight heel okay? Or should I purchase mid-calf or ankle boots instead?

        • knee high boots are great! So are mid-calf or ankle boots, although personally I think of ankle boots as a bit more “night-out” and/or casual and less workplace. But it’s your call!

          • Hi Karen,
            Do you think that knee-high or ankle-boots (I already have both, comfortable and not too flashy/sexy) are appropriate with a sheath dress and matching jacket for a first-round interview? I am way more comfortable in a dress, but first-round academic interviews with be in Chicago in January. Please help!
            Thank you!!

          • Sure, that sounds good. With heavy tights (you can find fleece-lined that are still sleek; i just found a pair for $6.99 at TJ Maxx).

  9. I second Meg’s comment about the wool coat. I’m in a humanities department at an Ivy, and no one would be caught dead in a parka.

  10. I’m not sure if anyone else suffers from this affliction, but when I get nervous I tend to sweat. I haven’t interviewed in an academic setting yet, but when I do I will be packing an extra shirt in my briefcase, just in case. It might even come in handy as a way of quickly “freshening-up” before dinner.

  11. Great advice, as always! I would definitely agree with the commentator above…check the weather forecast in advance, and if you’re going to a region where snow is likely, consider packing an emergency pair of boots, or wearing them and packing your dress shoes. I was on a campus visit a couple of years ago in a southern US city, and the day before my interview a freak storm dumped six inches of snow on the campus (which of course didn’t have any snow-removal equipment whatsoever). I had to ditch my carefully-chosen dress shoes for less-than-attractive winter boots, which definitely affected my confidence level. (I got the job in the end, though, so I guess the fact that I wasn’t slip-sliding on the ice and and snow during the campus tour probably worked in my favor!)

  12. A few comments:

    I want to second Dr. Karen’s emphasis on footwear. I once attended a job talk where the candidate wore OPEN-TOE shoes/sandals. Granted, the candidate had a nice pedicure and expensive looking shoes, but faculty were talking about how unprofessional her shoes were for weeks afterward! Keep your toes covered.
    Also- women should avoid excessive straps (i.e., mary janes, t-straps, etc.) Stick to a classic pump.

    TALL WOMEN should not wear heels. As a tall woman, I am proud of my height, however I was once advised that height can come across as intimidating, especially in women. (Tall, serious looking men get bonus points for this! And they can afford to be extra-congenial in spite of it!). For tall women, I suggest a dressy flat. Complementing Dr. Karen’s advice about high heels with pointy toes, flats CAN and SHOULD have pointed toes (square is also acceptable, if you are wearing a loafer style). Rounded toes signal youth and, while perhaps cute, do not signal a ‘sharp’ intellectual.

    LOTION! No one likes to shake hands with someone who has DRY, CRACKED, SCRATCHY hands. Lotion daily during the week before your interview if you are especially calloused. And consider a manicure (this certainly applies to men).

    For ‘kg’ who sweats- try underarm shields. You can buy disposable ones (which can be switched out in a bathroom) or cloth ones to absorb sweat more fully. Carry a handkerchief in your purse for your hands.

    • One more thing, a note on bags and purses.

      While women may want to bring a smaller purse and a professional tote/work bag with them, women should not bring two bags to their actual campus interview day. Negotiating 2 bags often looks sloppy. Just put any personal necessities in the side pocket of your work tote (which, ideally, can sit on your shoulder. It should not skim the ground if you hold it by the handles in your hand).

      Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should either men or women wear a cross-body bag. Even if it’s made of expensive italian leather. If you have a bag like this, adjust the strap so you can wear it carefully over one shoulder. It looks entirely unprofessional to take a bag off, over your head in front of the interviewing committee. If you must walk long distances, you can carry the bag across-body, but be sure to switch it to one shoulder before you see anyone.

      And, liptsitck wearers, NEVER apply at the interview dinner table (even though Ann Landers says it ok. Ann Landers is talking about DATES not about interviews!!!)

      • Wow, ProfessorPlum, hats off to you! Subtleties I had not even thought of. And totally right—no second purses, no cross-body bags, no applying lipstick at the table (Granted, in all my years of searches, I never did see a candidate apply lipstick at the table. ).

    • Second the point about rounded toe flats, or, god forbid, ballet flats—they shout “juniors”! My 12 year old daughter wears them. Stylish flats for adult women have pointed toes, secondarily square toes.

      Here is a good flat. BTW, the neutral color will lengthen your leg and give the illlusion of height, if you need that.

      Here is a bad flat. Which, incidentally I could *totally* see some well-intentioned but misinformed job candidate wearing with enthusiasm. Way too juvenile. Hip Spanish provenance notwithstanding (and btw, I adore this brand—but this shoe is wrong for interviews)

      Another bad flat. Avoid anything with gathers, especially those flats that curl up when you’re not wearing them, like potato bugs.

      I just found this terrific post on “Worst Shoes to Wear for an Interview”!

  13. Another option for gappy blouses is a small safety pin. That way it is temporary and you can take it out to simplify putting it on and taking it off.

    • Must disagree! The safety pin is usually a really bad idea! It just adds two mini gaps where there was one large one, AND often makes a weird dimple in the placket, AND sometimes pops open and stabs you, AND sometimes shows through the fabric! And sometimes you don’t match up the inside and outside layer evenly and you end up with a new weird gap. Long years of struggle have convinced me of the superiority of a) ruthlessly jettisoning all blouses that don’t fit perfectly; b) the sewing method for the occasional blouse that slips through the cracks (so to speak, lol).

      • There is a product called “Hollywood Tape” that will keep your blouse shut (depending on the fabric). You can purchase it at a sewing store in the notions department (frequently you can get notions on sale). You will want to test it on the fabric first. The lighter the fabric, the more likely you will not want to use it. (It will not stick to all fabrics.) You can cut the size of the tape you need and it will do the trick. Again, do a run through. Personally, sewing a blouse shut will not work for me, I opt for knits rather than buttons. I have successfully used it multiple times.

  14. I second (third, fourth) the gratitude for this post. So useful to have all of this spelled out explicitly.

    I also recommend fashion tape (something like this: If you’ve followed all the advice above, you’ll probably never need it, but in case you discover on the morning of your job talk that the blouse you thought was gap-proof is not or you have a hem goes haywire or inconspicuous button pop or tear, they’re much easier and faster to use than trying to find a needle and thread.

    I also use them to stick bra straps to the inside of sleeveless tops in the summer. For an interview, might do that even if I was wearing the top under a jacket or cardigan I had no plans of removing, just in case.

  15. Pingback: Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Campus Visit |

    • wow!!!! how did I not know about this?? I’m going to try it out, and I’ll let everyone know.

      Update 11/28: ordered. will let you know.

      • Oh marvelous. That’s really good news since I’d be eager to hear a review from a reliable source.

        Thanks for trying before I do the buying!

        • Wow. All I can say is Wow, It really works! It has two hidden internal buttons over the bust, along with the regular external buttons, so that you end up with 4 buttons, about 3/4 inch apart, over the bust area, thus invisibly preventing any gapping!

          It also has a terrific, strongly tailored high collar and generous sleeves, and a substantial fabric, and easily stands alone as a top with pants or skirt, as well as standing up to jackets and cardigans.

          I am a busty size 12/basic L in tops, and the L-size in “The Shirt” fits me like a glove. Any larger and you’d need an XL.

          Not cheap, but I’d say, totally worth it. Furthermore, I signed up for the Newsletter and within a couple days got a 25% off coupon code to use in my order.

          • Delighted to hear it! I’ve been checking back obsessively to see your verdict. I’m glad to hear that it lives up to the hype. Thanks, again, for testing it.

  16. Great advice, but I have to disagree with one poster’s comments re: skirts. I wore a shift dress to several conference and four on-campus interviews, with tights and very professional knee-high boots, and got three jobs. Not that those two things are necessarily related, but skirts will not damn you. Here’s why I wore a dress: In my normal, everyday teaching and non-professional lives both I wear skirts and dresses nearly exclusively. I rarely wear pants. Its a body-shape thing, and I just don’t feel comfortable in them. I decided whatever risk came with wearing a knee-length skirt would be outweighed by wearing something I was uncomfortable in. My rule of thumb for dressing for job interviews was to be the best-looking version of myself. So, dresses, tights, boots, and scarves/brooches it was. My Clark’s Cardy boots got me around campus in ice, snow, rain, and shine, and they were professional, stylish, and comfortable to boot.

    • Finally! A voice of reason. While many of the tips and suggestions here are all worth thinking about, you really can’t beat feeling comfortable with yourself. All the nitpicking listed here has made me realise yet another reason why I hate the academic merry-go-round – it makes us internalise the results of a completely and stupidly competitive system as somehow down to wearing the wrong shoes. Now, the wrong shoes can certainly raise some eyebrows etc, but really, if you don’t wear what you’re comfortable in, then you still won’t get the job. Wearing a pair of shoes that you hate, that make you look ugly or walk funny, and make you feel like you are selling out are not going to make you give a good interview or network at all those campus events. And it they really care that much about your shoes, what are they hiding about the job that you will hate?

        • I just returned from a campus visit and read the “NO over the shoulder bags even if they are Italian leather” rule. Guess what I had? And I bought it in Florence! But my overall outfit was comfortable, stylish, and I felt like myself. If I’m going to be dismissed over a handbag when I knocked my presentation and the Q & A out of the park then I really am in the wrong profession. What concerns me here is the nitpicking, and potential self-hate that can result from all this over-analysis of What Not to Wear. What women need the most is confidence.

  17. Bring an extra change of clothes. You might actually need them. When I was on the last bit of my interview, there was a blizzard brewing. Since I drove to the campus interview, I had to check into a hotel on the drive home. Good thing is that I had a spare shirt, spare socks, and a spare pair of underwear.

  18. If you are a studio artist you must wear pants on the visit. It has become a given in art disciplines that art historians interview in skirts or pant suits and studio people always interview in pants. There is a physicality to studio teaching. Artists and teachers often have occasion to use power tools and other machinery, lift objects, or use chemicals and other sloppy substances. Skirts communicate the sense that you might not be vigorous enough (too wimpy or too “girlie”) for the job or simply don’t want to get your hands dirty.

    I had several clothing disasters on one campus visit. Always, ALWAYS, check and double check your fly twice before jumping into the car with the search committee chair. I will never trust my future to a safety pin again.It is also important in art not to show up with an the all black wardrobe many people on the art scene in New York wear. It doesn’t play well in the provinces where people regard it as very pretentious.

    Bring earplugs or sleep aid to safeguard your sleep. Once I walked through the entire visit in a foggy daze because there was broken fan in the ventilation system next to my room making a subtle but persistent rhythmic noise and I was awake for about two days. I did not get the job.

    Once, a faculty member took mercy on me (we are still friends) and gave me the best advice ANYONE has ever given me. Come a day early at your own expense (the extra night in the hotel) so you can acclimate a little to the sometimes dramatically different climate and/or the time change. If they are making your hotel arrangements make it clear that you are staying the extra night at your own expense, not requesting special treatment.

    Go to campus the night before and get the lay of the land. Talking with students you see on campus can provide valuable information. You can usually see examples of student work hung in the hallways.

    • I actually totally agree with this, especially the earplugs and the go early. If you go early, be sure and check out the room you’ll be speaking in for the job talk, as well. And also visit the student union and get a sense of how the students are, what they talk about. And pick up a copy of the student newspaper, as that speaks volumes of the political, social, and cultural bent on campus. If I had picked up the student newspaper at the U of Illinois, I NEVER would have mistaken its campus climate the way that I did.

  19. I was wondering if you have any advice on how to deal with food allergies at campus visits. I have celiac disease and hence cannot eat wheat which hugely limits my options at any venue. Is it appropriate to tell this to the institution beforehand or will I come off as “whiny”? I’m afraid of being sit down to a sandwich lunch and not being able to partake in it.
    Any thoughts?

    • The most important thing you can do is tell them as soon as you’re invited to the visit, about the allergy. Clearly inform whoever the official person is who invites you, as well as the office manager/department secretary. Explain that it is celiac disease, and that this means you can eat xxxx and cannot eat xxxx, and that the best options for dinners out are, say, indian and thai, and NOT American or italian. Also clarify that pizza and sandwiches are out for you, unless there is a gluten free option (which there increasingly is at various restaurants). This highly medicalized and pro-active approach will likely be taken seriously indeed, and will not come off as whiny.

      • Thank you so much for answering this! I’m an ABD celiac on the job market this year, and this may actually be what I’m most nervous about. Even just a little bit of gluten wreaks havoc on my concentration/reasoning abilities, and the only departmental advice I’ve received has been ‘don’t tell anyone – just power through it.’

        If we do say something to the appropriate individuals yet still find ourselves at a sandwich/pizza lunch, any advice on how to refuse to eat anything without seeming rude, high maintenance, or generally being memorable in a bad way? Will pulling my own pre-packed meal out of my bag leave a bad taste?

        • Gluten intolerance has reached the level of national recognition as a condition. do NOT pack your own meal, but make very clear that you are “celiac” (be sure and call it that, which is a legit medical term) and that all meals must be gluten free. Then give them a clear (but friendly) list of what is gluten free because most people just don’t know. For ex, most people don’t realize that things like meatloaf have breadcrumbs in them.

          So clarify– I can’t eat sandwhiches, etc. The kinds of restaurants that are ideal for me include basic American cuisine (ie the meat and potato option), Indian, Japanese (depending on if you can eat soy sauce or not—it WOULD be ok for you to pack a small packet of your own gluten free tamari), etc.

          My partner is gluten free so I”m quite famikliar with this. Ask for more clarification if you want.

          • A heard great advice from a professor in another department, who happens to be vegan. She told me that telling them upfront, as soon as you are invited for the interview isn’t being “needy” or “whiny.” It’s being an adult who can take care of him/herself.

  20. Two quick questions:

    1. You mention stockings or tights. Is there something wrong with going bare-legged? I dress professionally, but I abhor stockings, and I’ll only wear thick tights (which do not look very mature) in the dead of winter.

    2. I take your point about suits, but is there anything wrong with a business-like, tailored dress (with blazer/jacket)? My wardrobe is mostly tailored dresses, and, to be perfectly honest, in the three job searches I’ve sat through as a grad student, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman wearing a full suit.


    • I would absolutely not go bare-legged to a campus visit! I think it just falls short of conventionally accepted professional dress! Bare legs say ‘summer’ which says ‘not academic.’

      A tailored dress with jacket would likely be fine. I never saw dresses on my searches, but this could be a regional thing. Any chance you’re in the south? I expect it might stand out a bit on the West Coast, but not so much that it would impact the search!

      • I’m actually from the northeast, and I tend to go barelegged well into winter, which might just be my quirk. Your points are well noted – thank you so much!

  21. Just to update this thread, I noticed that a lot of the shoe choices were no longer available. This pair has gotten me through several conferences and will be my go-to choice for interviews this year: The kitten heel is enough lift to look professional, but never looks slutty or weird. We had one job candidate interview with us recently who was wearing black boots, black sheer stockings, and a just-less-than-knee-length suit skirt — BEWARE….ALL of the grad students and faculty were tittering about how weird she looked. My problem is that my legs are so pale that I need VERY sheer stockings – they look almost more like evening stockings. So at conferences, I’ve made sure to wear longer skirts so I could not be perceived as “evening-looking.”

  22. Question about eyewear — I usually dress pretty conservatively (I have a work wardrobe of pre-PhD conservative skirt suits), but I wear bigger (not the gigantic ones the 20-year-olds wear, but a little smaller) wayfarer glasses that are kind of “hipster”-ish. I’ve seen men pull off this look VERY well when they dress conservatively – it’s like a little nod to looking cool, which as far as I can see has served job candidates well during my home dept’s searches. I wear my hair in a tight bun, wear nicely fitted suits (always a touch dressier than the minimum, even in real life), and like glasses better in general for a smart look. What are y’all’s thoughts about wearing glasses that are kind of on-trend while you’re on the market? I feel like they make me look pretty cool and accentuate my features, and are a million times better than people’s glasses with stupid crystals, designs, or (absolutely the worst) glasses which are broken or ill-fitting in some way.

  23. I would highly recommend boots from Ecco if anyone is planning on investing in formal looking boots. They’re a bit pricey, but warm and look wonderful. The more expensive ones usually come with Goretex, so are waterproof. My boots, although formal looking, has no actual “heel”, just a nice arch. I love that I can run for the bus in the boots and still look superbly feminine in them.

    I’ve worn them with dresses and skirts and dress pants, and get compliments left and right, including from people in the department. If you plan to buy them though, it’s a good idea to invest in the leather-care kit to keep your boots in good shape.

  24. I just wanted to chime in on this to say that if your field does NOT wear suits for on-campus interviews, then don’t feel like after reading this post that you have to be the one to buck that trend and step out in one. I’ve been at some of the top R1 universities in my field for 12 years (West coast and Midwest) and never, ever have I seen a female in a suit for a job interview. I think I’ve seen one man in a full suit, and he looked pretty uncomfortable.

    Having said that, when I think about the candidates I’ve seen I recognize that they were clearly dressed-up and following many of the other “rules” of grooming Karen has listed here, so there is a lot of good advice to follow.

    I personally wore a patterned blouse, black dress pants and skinny belt paired with a black cashmere cardigan with a ruffled edge. On my feet were black ankle boots with a kitten heel. All the faculty I interviewed with (male and female) were predictably wearing jeans. I felt appropriately dressy, confident, and I got the offer, so I’d second what was said earlier about the importance of being comfortable in what you choose!

  25. Karen,
    What’s your take on wearing “ethnic” clothes when one is interviewing for an “ethnic” position (ie studying parts of the world that are not the US or Europe or “other” peoples)? We had a (white) job candidate wear an ethnic-ish jacket during the campus visit.

  26. What is your opinion about dressing for interviews/the campus visit for a position at a Canadian university? I am wondering about potentially different expectations concerning level of casualness/formality in general within the humanities there. Coming from Australia, for example, I can tell you that Australian academics, and candidates for jobs as well!, dress considerably more casually than the posts in this thread indicate concerning dress appropriate to the US situation. So, what’s the story about Canada?

    • People might dress more casually in some places in Canada (as is the case at my current university), but you will never go wrong by wearing a suit and dressing nicely. You might be able to “get away with” more casual wear, but it’s not worth the risk.

    • As an ABD in a Humanities/Social Science program in Canada, I can tell you that dressing professionally for the interview is very important. Suits (full or mixed) are important. Just like everywhere else, faculty (and students) will talk if you dress too casually.

  27. Karen,

    The mixed messages I’ve gotten are really confusing me. Your suggestion to wear an interview suit for the interview portion of the campus visit makes sense, but when I previously asked the university department admission coordinator about appropriate dress, she said that a suit/tie are unnecessary, and that a sweater and dress pants are fine for the interviews. However, a friend of mine who has extensive experience on both sides of interviews tells me that I can’t trust what anyone in the university staff tells me, so I’m left as confused as when I started. What are your thoughts on this?

    Also, on the matter of dress pants, this friend has also told me that he feels there is just something really off about wearing the dress pants that comes with a suit, without wearing the suit. On the other hand, an employee at Nordstrom who helped me select clothes for my campus visit said that she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with wearing just the dress pants that comes with a suit. What do you think?

    Thanks for your help.

    • Never trust anything a campus admission or career services person tells you. I have a blog post, “Never Ask Career Services for Help on Your CV.” Men can wear a jacket and pants and a tie, rather than a complete suit, depending on the location of the campus and its style and the style of your discipline (poli sci and econ, for ex, are formal, while art history and comp lit may be less so). But a man should not wear a sweater to an interview.

  28. Thanks a lot Dr. Karen for your helpful posts. I have a question regarding the outfit for an interview in a cold weather. I think I definitely need a wool coat or parka as you suggested, however, most of the interview will be inside the building where the weather is not that cold. Is it alright to wear a suit under a wool coat or parka and take it off inside the building?

  29. Is it acceptable to wear a sleeveless top under a suit jacket? I am not planning to take off the jacket during the day, but want to make sure this is an acceptable option.

  30. Wonderful post. I was just wondering, what if I have to check out early from the hotel (the time being 11 am), and then attend the interview. My concern is my luggage. I believe I will be carrying a small trolley bag for the visit. In that case, do I carry a portfolio/file folder instead of a second bag(I see some suggestion above not to bring two bags)? Any suggestions please!

  31. Hey there,

    Can you wear the same thing to your campus visit that you were to your conference interview? My suit/shirt/shoes/necklace are perfect and I don’t want to change them, but I don’t want to look like a loser who only has that one special outfit.

  32. Dr Karen, I used to have a fantastic interview wardrobe, of which you would have been proud. I looked great, felt comfortable and I even got compliments from faculty when I was on campus (“I’m sorry, but that is a really great suit. Where did you find it?” or “Wow, I’ve always wanted a leather bag like that…”). I happen to like tailored clothes and I feel great in a well-fitting suit.

    But now I’m pregnant and I’ve got campus interviews. What do you suggest? Nearly all maternity clothing is stretch jersey. The only maternity suits I’ve found have been cheap, badly cut and uncomfortable. They scream, “Hey! I’m huge and wearing a cheap, awful suit!” This is not the message I am trying to get across. I am not hiding my pregnancy (I couldn’t if I tried) but I am not trying to draw attention to it, either. Also, I can definitely not wear heels.

    My current plan is to wear a dark maternity dress – like a heavy sweater dress – with a dark jacket. The best I’ve found is a slightly stretchy regular women’s jacket which has a single high button, in three sizes larger than I used to wear. It looks okay. But I still feel frumpy and underdressed; I’m used to my clothes making me feel good, and this feels just borderline acceptable.

    Could you either give me permission to wear this, or suggest something else? Can I also ask your readers to take pity on the pregnant woman interviewing, because she really has very little choice of what to wear?

      • I’ve not had success with them, sadly. But thank you for the permission, all the great advice on this site, and the opportunity to make a public service announcement on behalf of pregnant academics trapped in uncharacteristically frumpy outfits.

  33. Hi Dr. Karen,

    I have an upcoming campus visit, and I have a few questions.
    1. I’ve been told conflicting things about jewelry — some people say that I should wear small, simple, but nice earrings, necklace, and watch, and other people say that as a young woman, it’s better to not wear jewelry at the risk of looking overly feminine. Will I look underdressed if I don’t wear a necklace?
    2. I’d really, really like to wear my favorite black heels, but then I’d need to put on boots for the campus tour. Is it better to suffer through the frigid outside in heels, or to wear nice boots all day even though they’re just not as nice as my heels?

    Thank you!

  34. If I get boots for my upcoming campus interviews, I assume I can wear them with pants still, and wear my pants outside the boots?

    Also, is it okay to wear my wedding ring?

    Thanks for your help!

  35. I’m a man and I usually wear a single earring in one ear. It also happens that I’m bisexual, although I know sexual orientation questions are supposed to be illegal. Should I leave my earring out on the campus interview for the sake of professionalism (I’m in the humanities in a discipline where people regularly wear jeans to give talks) or leave it in because they’re getting a guy who wears and earring if they hire me? It shouldn’t be a big deal, but because sartorial choices often indicate other features, it feels like a bit of one.

    • This would hinge on your field and the geographical location and culture of the dept; my general recommendation is to keep it in. Read my blog post, “How To Dress for an Interview as a Butch Dyke.”

  36. Thanks for the excellent tips. To elaborate on a question that’s already been posed, sort of: for a female candidate in the humanities, is it *really* necessary to wear a suit? A (male) friend of mine wore jeans and a sweater to an interview and got the job, at a high-end Ivy League institution. At the last set of job talks I attended, all the female candidates sported cardigans over career dresses, or blouses tucked into dress pants. No suits in sight. Personally, I think I look old-fashioned and dumpy in suits; I don’t feel comfortable wearing them, and I never *teach* in them. Isn’t there something to be said for looking and feeling, rather, what the British call “smart”? Or, as another commenter wrote above, isn’t it more important to show up as your best-looking, and therefore most confident, self?

  37. Thanks so much to everyone for the excellent advice.

    Does anyone have specific travel bags to recommend for a campus visit?

    And certainly, we would be bringing two bags–one for clothes, etc., and another for laptop/purse? Any recommendations for a briefcase or professional-looking bag?

  38. This article and responses are all very helpful. I have a medical condition that makes wearing anything other than sneakers for a few hours painful. I do not use crutches or a walker, so it is not an obvious problem. When I was younger I toughed it out and wore flats to campus interviews, but that’s not an option anymore. I have a pair of black sneakers to wear to my upcoming interview–after reading through everything, how do I handle the seeming faux pas of wearing sneakers with a suit?

  39. Just to double-check – “boots” are inclusive of knee high boots, correct? Even if worn with a skirt or a dress, i.e. the fact that they are knee high shows?

  40. So, I’ve intuitively (thank god) followed most of these suggestions – even as a man th, bey make sense in their broad points. The footwear has been my dilemma – I packed dress shoe s with rubber guards, BUT the polar vortex and the amount of snow has dramatically complicated things. I wore a pair of nice leather Keens (like ecco) because they were going to give me enough grip for the campus tour, be warm enough for the crazy temperatures, etc. By far they were the most professional shoes in the room – I was the only person in dress pants, and a suit jacket. We had faculty in jeans, and winter boots with sweat shirts, etc. There’s weather, and then there’s weather.

  41. Dr. Karen, this site is exactly what I needed . . . wow.

    I had planned to wear this jacket with matching sleeveless shift dress, but maybe it’s too formal for the southwest?

    I do feel confident and comfortable in it.

    My go-to dressy dinner outfit is black trousers and black cashmere sweater with discreet gold jewelry, but I don’t want to come off as too “East Coast.”

  42. Do you have any suggestions on how to keep a suit looking fresh if all you are taking on the flight in terms of luggage is a small carry on bag? Am I supposed to fold the suit in the bag??

  43. This post and the comments have been so helpful. However, I have a bit of the opposite problem – I’m going to a campus visit in SE Asia in February, and am trying to figure out how to manage the extreme change in temperatures (I live in Iowa) and what constitutes professional in a culture where women tend to dress much more ‘feminine’ for professional positions than back in the US. I’m wearing my suit with the pants and a long-sleeved (but very light) blouse for the first day of the visit, but am a bit flummoxed about what to wear the second day. Complicating the situation is that I’m a new mother, and will need to pump during the visit. I was eight months pregnant during the first interview in person by one of the committee members, so they know I recently gave birth, but I’m not sure how to broach the fact that every 3 hours I’ll need 20 minutes to pump. It’s also making sartorial choices more difficult. I’m thinking a wrap dress would make pumping the easiest, but I’m worried it will seem too informal or ‘sexy’. My regular professional clothes don’t fit yet with my changing, post-pregnancy body (and most don’t work for pumping), so I’d be happy for any tips.

  44. Hi Karen,

    I’m a voyeur of this blog; it’s proven very helpful. Thank you!

    I have two questions about interview presentation:

    1: Tattoos: should we cover them, or at least attempt to? I have two that can I can envision easily covering (bracelet that won’t move; some sort of neck scarf or collared shirt), but another on my inside forearm would be awkward to keep covered in warm weather. And the image is completely innocuous, pretty even.

    On the one hand, these things will become apparent eventually if I’m hired, so might as well as not try too much to keep them under wraps, right? Also, how much would I like a working environment with colleagues seriously put-off by them? On the other hand, they may introduce a level of negativity into the consideration that, while arbitrary and silly to me and probably to most young people these days, may be very real (especially for older, more conservative folk). And we all need jobs.

    2: Make-up: what are the expectations, really? I’ve never been much of a make-up person, though as I’ve gotten older have used some eye stuff and dabbling with lip color. I’ve been unsure whether presenting as a “professional woman” in the academic setting really requires conventional make-up (ie foundation, full eyes), if they’ll think I’m not dressing up by not using mascara (I can’t use it, irritates me and gets all over), or if the expectation is just to present how YOU individually feel more dressed up, even if it’s much less than cultural average for “dressed up woman”? This is academia, not the corporate land, after all. I figured there would be more leeway here. It also seems there might be a fine line between looking professional and “looking too good” ie not smart or superficial. It’s the perennial problem for women but I don’t know how it plays out in academia (at least in the job search context).

    Any thoughts would be very appreciated!

    • I have the same tattoo questions/sentiment. I only have 2 innocuous tats visible–on the inside wrist and forearm. The tip of the wrist tat tends to show even in long sleeves. I plan to wear a blazer, but I get hot easily (especially with heaters cranked plus possible nerves). I’m wondering if this happens, should I just sweat it out?

      • At this point in time, I don’t think tattoos are a make or break issue at interviews. They’ve gone from margin to mainstream, to a great extent.

    • i always make that clear; and also that you can get last year’s models on sierra trading post for $160 or so. Still pricey but less so.

  45. Hi Karen. Interesting, but since I’m male, it leaves me feeling rather clueless. I have never (not once!) worn a tie, I have never found a pair of shoes other than sneakers that did not give me blisters within minutes, and I tend to overheat when overdressed (and then I sweat, and I become unable to perform well mentally). When I give conference talks, I generally do so with my shoes off, otherwise my feet get really hot and I lose my focus. Perhaps it will clarify things if I say that before I switched to academia I was a software engineer for more than a decade, and I probably am somewhere along the Asperger’s syndrome spectrum; these kinds of things do not come naturally to me, to say the least. :-> My question is basically: how low can I go? I realize that people do judge others by their clothes and shoes, but I personally find this incomprehensible, inconsiderate, and very difficult to accommodate. If I were dressed in a fancy suit, with dress shoes, I would be extremely uncomfortable the whole day, and it would quickly exhaust me. On the other hand, I know that my attire of choice (jeans and t-shirt) will not go over well. I am willing to write off extremely stuffy, traditional departments where people take offense at anything less than a suit and tie, I think; I would not be at home in such departments anyway. But for the rest, what should I do? Please spell it out very concretely, as you did for the women in this post; I have no idea what terms like “dress casual” and “semi-formal” and such mean. This is probably my biggest worry with the campus visit, since I’m fairly confident that I will interview well and will give a good talk. Thanks Karen; I’ve been reading your website all day, and find it incredibly helpful for its frankness (especially since understanding the unspoken nuances of standard social norms can be difficult for people like me).

  46. Hi Karen and other posters!
    I just landed my first (and only–ever) campus interview. My question is a bit, personal? Many of you have declared the skirt a no-no. I see your point, and would normally be gung ho about wearing pants. Only, I’m a bit on the short and (very) round side. Objectively speaking, and I know this will sound strange, but on my build, pants aren’t very flattering. A pencil skirt actually looks leaps and bounds more professional. So, the question is: do I go for practical but frumpy or do I go with a more flattering and professional look–even if that means wearing a skirt?

  47. Pingback: You Better Work (that dress code), Bitch! | The Saucy Scholar

  48. I have a dilemma, and hope you might have some advice: I just got my schedule for an on-campus interview, and the first day has the bulk of 30 min meetings, lunch at the faculty club, dinner out, and my teaching seminar (30 min + time with the undergraduate curriculum committee). Day 2 is a partial day: a few 30 min meetings, lunch with grad students, and my job talk in the morning.
    Do I just wear a suit for both days? Day 1 would be the more visible, search-committee wise, but doesn’t have the job talk in it! Should I downgrade slightly for day 2, or for day 1?

  49. I have a one day on campus interview in January in the Maritimes (Canada), so it will be cold and probably snowy and slushy. What do I do about boots/shoes? Do I change them? Put on my heels for the job talk? Put boots back on for the walk across campus? Do people do that?!?

    • This is why I am such an advocate of a stylish cold weather boot like La Canadienne, although full disclosure–they are quite expensive. But if you can find a sale version or a lower-end but similar brand, you get a dress boot (inc with a low heel if you want) that is stylish enough to wear all day but holds up to snow and ice and cold.

  50. Greetings!

    I am an overweight male professor of Theatre. I have a few on campus interviews lined up in the South in January. It will be fairly warm and I tend to sweat. Is a suit still the norm in this situation for the big day?


  51. Should I take my laptop or my tablet? Also, due to back pain, I had to go back to a backpack, but I could handle a bag for two days. I am a performance artist/scholar, so I would rather go for something fashionable and colorful than conservative. Any suggestions of stores or brands??

  52. Hi Prof Karen,
    This is a great blog on what to wear. Just a quick check, can someone wear business dresses/work dresses that have a pencil skirt like fit. Many of these dresses are half sleeved and have a thin belt at the waist. These are easy to wear and the issues around the shirt popping out of skirt or skirt moving around the waist can be avoided.
    Please let me know.

  53. Pingback: Conditionally Accepted | Should You Dress Up For A Phone Interview? That’s Absurd!

  54. Pingback: Academic Job Market Timeline | Tracy Perkins

  55. What type of bag do you advise for someone who has a medical condition that makes shoulder bags painful? Backpacks distribute the weight, but err toward the side of feeling/looking like a kid; while rolling bags draw attention to my condition in unpleasant ways. Leather briefcases always seem so heavy and also poorly distribute weight across the body. Any advice would be wonderful!

    • I’d get one of those hipster stylish backpacks, the kind that urban bike commuters wear. You’ll look like you’re from Portland.

  56. I’m wondering what to wear to a summer interview? I realize this is not common but the odd posting does come out very late in the cycle and lead to a summer interview. I think I would melt if I wore my job interview suit in July on a campus tour. Can one dispense with a blazer under these conditions? Must one still wear nylons and clunky fall/spring shoes in the middle of summer in order to look proper?

  57. Karen, do you have any advice on how to dress for academic job interviews if you’re a woman whose shoe options are very limited? I have severe, chronic foot problems, and the only shoes I can wear are athletic shoes, Birkenstocks, and western boots.* What should I wear? I tend to go for a pair of plain but dressy western boots in brown or black, and wear a full-length skirt to mostly hide the fact that I’m wearing cowboy boots, but I’m not sure whether it would be better to wear more of a conventional women’s suit (but that would show off the boots) just go the pants/atheletic shoes route (in case it would help people realize that I was wearing this out of necessity, not out of laziness or a style choice).

    *At this point, most people tell me to try X, Y, or Z, but…I’ve had these foot problems for roughly twenty years. I’ve put hundreds of hours into searching for other shoes that will fit and not result in debilitating pain. This really is it for shoes for me– the problem isn’t that I haven’t tried hard enough, but that the design philosophy of women’s dress shoes is fundamentally incompatible with what my feet need.

  58. Pingback: The Mechanics of Applying to Your First Faculty Job | Ivory Tower UnlockedIvory Tower Unlocked

  59. Hi Karen,
    The forecast says it will be 95 – 105 degrees all week. How does one dress professionally in such weather? Is more casual wear appropriate in this case?

  60. Hi Karen,

    I have an interview in the Canadian prairies in February. The interview will include a campus tour, and the weather typically gets as cold as -20 to =30 celsius (-4 to -22 F). The advice here says no parkas, but I’ve never found a wool coat warm enough below around -10, and my leather boots would also be too cold, heck, I’m going to have to wear a toque (knitted hat). I get that none of this looks professional. Is there any accommodation for outerwear, a place to stash boots, etc.? Where I currently teach everyone leaves their winter boots outside their office door and changes into inside shoes, but I don’t know how this works in interviews.

  61. Clarification on checking bags and how many bags to take. I understand the not checking bags thing, and I’m flying Southwest so I can have two items with me. If I have my small wheeled suitcase (with my toiletries, coat, and my laptop bag/briefcase packed in it) and a garment bag to keep my business clothes fresh, is that okay? Any specific advice on strategically packing carry-ons so everything stays uncomplicated?

  62. Any advice on wearing the same suit for on campus interview as you did in the conference interview?

    One part of me says, oh they will never remember I wore the same suit! The other part says, oh they will notice and think xxx….!

  63. Hi Karen,

    I’m going to midwestern cold places.

    Non-skinny dress pants seem to need to go with shoes rather than boots. i’m thinking of wearing the following pants, below-the-knee leather boots, and a collared sweater to the interview?

    Is that okay?

  64. Hi Karen,

    First, thank you so much for your blog and book, they’ve been a godsend.

    I have questions regarding men’s footwear for campus visits in New England, etc, where there could easily be inclement weather. Would a rubber slip on cover over the dress shoe suffice? I suppose it could be removed and stuffed into a plastic bag and put in a briefcase upon entering a building, though this seems to be an awkward thing to do.

    Or is there some kind of men’s dress boot which could be worn the entire day of the visit, including the job talk/teaching demo? I can’t imagine wearing any boot with a nice suit, but I don’t know.

    Switching between dress shoes and boots could be an option, but it seems unprofessional to be walking around carrying footwear all day!

    What do people do? Thank you!

  65. My daughter has a college interview, not for a job but as a student. What is appropriate for a student to wear in the Pacific Northwest where it rains. Scholarships are being awarded as well.

    • Hi Lorid,

      Possibly too late for this to matter for your daughter, but if others are out there they may find a reply helpful. I expect that the dress code for a student scholarship interview is a little more casual than Dr. Karen’s suggestions for faculty candidates. The PNW is also more casual than other parts of the country all around. For a fall or winter interview, I would suggest something along the lines of a knee-length corduroy skirt with a sweater or a simple top and accessory scarf (tights if needed). There are a lot of options for cute waterproof (and warm) boots. For a late spring or summer interview, it may actually be sunny! In this case, I would suggest light colored slacks and a nice blouse or button down with a light jacket (it can still be quite cool even in summer unless she will be in the inland NW). Alternatively, I think that a conservative cotton dress with an accessory scarf or simple necklace could be appropriate considering it is a student interview (e.g. Either of these outfits could be paired with waterproof shoes or boots if necessary and would also pair well with flats or low-heeled wedges. Culturally, most people in the PNW don’t carry umbrellas but instead wear rain jackets, but no one will bat an eye at an umbrella and that may be preferable if there’s concern that a rain jacket would throw off the nice outfit. Unless you know that more formal attire is needed, anything that is smart casual is probably appropriate.

  66. Dr. Karen,

    I’ve applied to a few small community colleges and small teaching colleges in rural parts of the mountain west. I’ve read your book, but still could use a little guidance on what to wear to campus visits (should I be so fortunate). The visits will likely be in April or May, which would be variable weather / mud season for many of these places. Additionally, the culture at these colleges is casual (the better dressed faculty [and even some lower-level administrators] look like walking Patagonia advertisements). I am torn on how to make the impression that I would be a good cultural fit; be comfortably dressed for 35-60 degree weather with rain, snow, and sun all in one day; and still look professional and smartly dressed.

    Of course guidance specific to my situation would be helpful, but I’d also love to hear a bit more detail about dressing for the community college/ casual-rural college interview than you offer in your book.

    Thanks for your time and effort

  67. What advice would you give for hot weather climates? I’ll be interviewing in Florida in July and with the heat and humidity, wearing a suit or even a jacket over a dress or blouse would be extremely hot. Is a tailored dress without a jacket acceptable? Alternatively, what about lighter colours? Would a business style dress in a colour other than black, brown, or grey be acceptable?

  68. I saw a couple of comments concerning how tall women should not wear high heels. I assume whoever made the comments is not tall, because I can tell you a women’s size 11 shoe generally only comes in flats and high heels. By flats I mean mostly flip-flops and tennis shoes. Heels are always a problem as they tend to be very high (3″ plus, I have no idea why) and regardless will always be slightly higher the larger the shoe size. I’m 5’8″ which means I just fall into the “tall” category for women. Would it be inappropriate for me to wear 3″ stacked heels with pants? I tower over most women regardless, including those in my family. I’ve recently decided to embrace the fact I’m tall and stopped trying to find flats to make those around me more comfortable with my height. I feel much more at ease wearing whatever style of boots or pumps anyone else would wear, but I wonder how this will be perceived at conferences and on the job market. I always wear pants that cover most of the heel so it’s not noticeable. Never skirts, because they are never long enough to be business appropriate. Any suggestions?

    • I think you should wear what makes you feel confident and strong, whatever that is, and allows you to operate without being self conscious about your clothes as a distraction. Only you know what that is, but if it’s the 3″ stacked heels–then go for it!

    • Some of us are naturally three inches taller than 5’8″ and don’t really think much of towering over others…So I wouldn’t worry about heels bumping you into the 5’11” range . 😉

      I always just wear what’s comfortable…and buy skirts/dresses in size tall.

  69. Hi Dr. Karen,

    I am doing a campus interview for an Acting teaching position. The theatre world is really dressed down in general, and we often wear ratty jeans to teach in. Do I really need to wear a suit? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a theatre person in a suit. I’m planning on nice jeans, a button down, a blazer, and boots for now.

  70. Hi Dr. Karen,

    I have two on-campus interviews coming up, in Maine and Missouri, and am wondering about a few elements of my wardrobe:

    1) My wool coat (from my years as K-12 teacher) is bright red. It is very tailored and dressy (Talbots), but bright red. Is this acceptable?

    2) I absolutely never wear traditional dress flats/heels, and I am wondering if dressy ankle boots can fill the same function when worn with pants.

    3) I had planned to wear coordinating blazer and pants but not a suit until reading more here and elsewhere. I am interviewing in environmental studies and geography, but am guessing I should still invest in a matched suit for the most formal day of the visit? My blazers are nice, but not new, and do not match any of my pants (i.e. not the same color).

    • I think the coat is fine, the boots sound fine (as long as they’re not too high!) and don’t wear a matching suit! I thought I updated this post, but perhaps I only updated the content in the book version (hope you have my book!) that matching suits are outdated and a coordinated but not matched jacket and pants are fine!

  71. My job talk is scheduled for the second day. Do I wear the more formal suit on the first day (for first impressions), or on the second day for the talk? On the second day I plan to wear nice trousers, a white button-up shirt, and a tailored tweed sports coat.

  72. Any advice on second visits? At the first visit a month ago, I wore black pants, a black “jardigan”, and a cream colored blouse. I felt great in it and think it read as a somewhat less severe version of a pant suit. Would it be bad to wear the same thing with a different blouse this time? I’m worried people may recognize the outfit.

  73. This is all such helpful advice – thank you! I instinctively gravitate towards black suits because I like how they look on me, but having read your bog I might need to rethink that when I get to the job market…

    I’d really value your opinion on something: I usually walk with a stick, which makes umbrellas very challenging! (I find it makes a surprising number of everyday actions while out-and-about far more challenging to negotiate gracefully. Don’t get me started on carrying trays in coffee shops.) I’m also UK-based, so rain is semi-constantly on the horizon.

    The upshot of this is that I only have one hand free at any given time, so it’s a choice between umbrella *or* briefcase/on-the-shoulder bag *or* an ability to open doors, shake hands or indeed anything else requiring my hands. Negotiable in ordinary life, but horribly faffy and awkward in an interview situation where I want to feel and look confident. Awkwardly trying to open doors while juggling stick, a bag sliding off my shoulder and possibly an umbrella doesn’t exactly scream “I have my life together!”

    I could in theory jettison the stick for a day, but being rapidly exhausted and in constant danger of walking like I’m drunk and/or wobbling over inelegantly isn’t my preferred professional look either! Usually I go for a raincoat for this reason, but they seldom look smart enough for an interview. What’s the lesser combination of evils in your opinion – a backpack or bag with across-the-body strap, no umbrella, raincoat, or having no hands free without awkward juggling?

  74. Hello Karen (and all),

    I am in a little bit of a panic for my upcoming interview, because I found out that what I had planned to wear doesn’t seem to be a good choice…

    My idea was wearing black pants with a white top (either buttoned or a blouse) or a classy patterned blouse, with oxfords or 1.5 in pumps (I usually wear something similar at semi-firmal meetings or conferences.)

    Will this work, or I should necessary add a jacket/blazer (which I don’t have, but I can buy one)?

    As an alternative, I was considering an A-line ponte dress (the color is black and muted blue) with knee-high black boots.

    I probably should add the interview is in Southern California, an area that I don’t really know, since I live in New England.

    Thank you very much for your feedback!

Leave a Reply to Meg Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.