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Make A Great First Impression With These 7 Interview Attire Tips For PhDs

In academia it is the norm to dress casually.

Sure, for special presentations or conferences you might wear a button up shirt or not wear sneakers.

This was all I thought I needed to do for an industry interview.

Just throw on a shirt with a collar and some dress shoes and done.

Thinking about that now makes me cringe.

I thought that the quality of my work and the experience that I had as a PhD made things like the way I dressed in an interview unimportant.

It shouldn’t matter what I wore to an interview anyway.

Why would an employer care about what I looked like or the clothes I wore, these things have no bearing on the quality of my work.

So I spent all my time practicing interview questions and researching the company, putting no thought into the clothes that I would wear.

Of course, I wanted to look nice at the interview, but I wasn’t overly concerned.

However, when I walked into that first industry interview I realized immediately that I was under-dressed.

My ‘dressy’ blouse just wasn’t enough.

I felt like I was still a student when I was standing in front of the hiring manager and the other interviewers.

It tainted the whole interview.

My confidence faltered.

I forgot to ask the questions I had prepared and I stumbled over my words.

Some of that nervousness was normal for an interview, but I knew that I was uncomfortable because of the way I was dressed.

Because my attire did not match the level of those people working at the company, I felt like I didn’t belong before anyone even said a word.

This was not going to happen again.

For my next interview, I put thought and effort into the clothing choice I made and it made a huge difference in the way that I felt during the interview.

I felt confident, I felt like an industry professional.

Why The First 90 Seconds Of Your Interview Are The Most Important

From the moment you enter the grounds of the company, your interview has begun.

Everything from the way you act to the way you are dressed will factor into the hiring decision.

And you don’t get a second chance.

According to an article published in Psychological Science, people decide if someone is trustworthy within 100ms.

So the way you present yourself the very first time you meet someone is of the utmost importance.

A first impression is actually an incredible opportunity.

It’s your chance to shape what someone thinks of you, and you have control over how you act and how you dress.

You just need to make good choices.

For example, Business Insider reported that pictures of men in tailored suits were seen as more successful than those men in off-the-rack suits.

Paying close attention to what you wear is one small thing you can do to boost the impression that you give to your potential employers.

7 Tips For What To Wear In Your Industry Interview

Yes, as a PhD you are talented.

You are valuable and can do great things for a company.

But none of that matters if you show up to an interview looking disheveled or even just looking mildly unprofessional.

At an interview you need to look like an industry professional, because that is what you are asking them to hire you as.

So, do the work and look the part.

Here are 7 tips to guide you in putting together the clothing that you will wear at your industry interview…

1. When in doubt call up and ask about what you should wear.

When you don’t know, ask.

If you have an upcoming interview and you feel very unsure about what to wear, find and ask someone.

If you have a connection at the company you can ask them what you should wear.

Or you can ask the human resources person that you have been in contact with leading up to your interview.

You could even call up the company’s general human resources department and ask them what you should wear to the interview.

This will give you a guide for how to proceed.

They will probably tell you to dress in business professional clothing or in business casual clothing.

You could ask for an example of what other successful job candidates have worn to interviews if you need more guidance.

But in general, business professional means that you need to wear something formal, most likely a full suit, and business casual means you need to dress professionally, but that a full suit is not required.

For business casual you might want to wear a nice blazer or button up with a nice pair of slacks or a skirt.

If they tell you to just wear casual clothing, this means that you should wear business casual clothes.

Never show up to an interview in casual clothing.

The company might have a casual dress code for employees, but at an interview you are making your first impression and your appearance is important.

So even if they say to dress casually, be sure that you have a business casual look.

2. Wear clothes that are wrinkle-free.

This might seem like an obvious point, but it is incredibly important.

The clothes that you wear to an interview need to look sharp.

They need to be clean and have zero wrinkles.

Wearing clothes that have wrinkles or stains on them makes you look unprepared and like you are not taking the position seriously.

You can iron the clothes yourself, but if you have a really important interview coming up it’s a great idea to get your clothes dry cleaned.

Choose the material of the clothes you wear carefully, as some material will wrinkle easily.

If you have to travel in order to get to the interview, your clothes could become wrinkled on the way to the interview.

Additionally, if you are driving to an interview, it’s a great idea to have a spare outfit in the car with you.

What if your coffee spills on you?

What if you get a flat tire and end up with grease on your pants?

There are many scenarios that could play out and ruin the clothes you are wearing, there is no harm in being prepared.

And if something does happen and you have a spare set of clothes to change into, this is a brilliant story to tell as a part of your STAR method answer to a behavioral interview question.

3. Pay attention to the shoes that you wear.

Don’t forget to wear appropriate shoes with your business outfit.

You should not wear a pair of Vans or sandles with your suit.

Wear a pair of appropriate dress shoes.

A few tips for choosing shoes:

  • The color of your dress shoes should match your belt
  • Wear long enough socks so that when you sit down your bare legs don’t show
  • Keep the height of your heels below 2 inches
  • Don’t wear open toed shoes
  • Don’t wear shoes that have scuff marks

If you don’t already have a nice pair of professional dress shoes, it’s a great investment and will take your interview attire to the next level.

4. Keep accessories to a minimum.

When putting together your interview outfit it’s important to not over accessorize.

Wearing a simple watch, or a minimal bracelet or necklace is fine.

But large or multiple bracelets or necklaces can be distracting.

Similarly, if you plan to wear a tie, keep it simple.

Choose a color or pattern that is not loud or distracting.

You want your clothes to support you in your interview and help you convey confidence, you don’t want your clothes to distract from what you are saying.

5. Keep your hair looking clean and tidy.

At an interview you want to put forward the best version of yourself.

This means not only should you research the company and prepare answers to interview questions, you should also prepare and put effort into your appearance.

Like it or not, your interviewer is going to make judgements based on how you look.

So take control and think through how you will look the day of your interview.

When you go into your interview you can style your hair however you normally wear it.

There is no need to change what you look like, the only thing you need to do is make sure that however you style your hair it looks neat and tidy.

If you have short hair, getting a trim before the interview is a great idea so that you look crisp.

If your hair is long, just be sure that however you style it doesn’t look messy.

The same is true if you have facial hair.

If you always have a beard and/or a mustache, it’s okay to go into the interview with that facial hair.

Just make sure that you have styled your facial hair and that it looks good.

If you are clean shaven, shave the same day as your interview to avoid any stubble which can make you appear a bit disheveled.

6. Get yourself a great suit.

If you are still uncertain about what to wear to an interview then your best bet is to just wear a suit.

For color, a navy blue suit is the best and most versatile option.

No matter what your gender, a suit is a great and very professional option to wear in an interview.

If you don’t have a suit, now is the time to go out and get one.

And, if you have the time, get the suit fitted to you by a tailor.

This is a small extra step, but it will make the suit fit you perfectly and will make it look even better.

A good suit is a great investment.

It’s something you can confidently wear to all your interviews, to networking events, and even to social gatherings like weddings.

Think about examples of powerful or successful people, what are they wearing?


So go out and get yourself a good suit that you like and that fits you well.

7. Wear something that makes you feel confident.

The final thing about your interview clothing is to wear something that makes you feel confident.

If you have a red tie or a blue blouse that you know you look fantastic in and wearing it makes you feel great, wear it to your interview.

As long as it is a professional piece of clothing.

Wearing clothing that makes you feel confident can completely change the tone of an interview and increase your chance of getting hired.

Employers want to hire confident people.

You should even wear these professional clothes if you have a phone interview.

Because the tone of your voice and the assertiveness of your answers will change if you are dressed in a way that makes you feel confident.

The moment you set foot into your industry interview, the interviewers are making judgements about whether you should be hired or not. From the quality of your interview answers to the color of your shirt, everything about you will come into play when they make a final decision. You don’t want your clothing choices to hold you back in any way. So when in doubt, call up and ask about what you should wear, wear clothes that are wrinkle-free, pay attention to the shoes that you wear, keep accessories to a minimum, keep your hair looking nice and tidy, get yourself a great suit, and wear something that makes you feel confident.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Cathy has a PhD in Medical Life Science and Technology and is COO of the Cheeky Scientist Association. Cathy is passionate about science communication including translating science to lay audiences and helping PhDs transition into industry positions. She is Chair of Cambridge AWiSE, a regional network for women in science, engineering and technology. She has also been selected to take part in Homeward Bound 2018, an all-female voyage to Antarctica aimed to heighten the influence of women in leadership positions and bring awareness to climate change.

Catherine Sorbara, Ph.D.

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