What to Wear

When you are interviewing for an academic position, it’s important to dress like a professional—in business professional attire—rather than like a graduate student, regardless of how casually you might dress after you get the job. 

Here are some suggestions for your interview attire.


  • Conservative business suit in a dark color like navy blue, gray, black, or dark brown
  • White or light-colored long-sleeve shirt, with an undershirt if shirt material is thin
  • Properly knotted tie in a small pattern or stripe; a bright color is okay
  • Leather or leather-look belt worn at—not below—the waist
  • Dark socks that coordinate with your suit
  • Clean, polished dress shoes in black or another dark color
  • Briefcase or messenger bag made of leather or another good-quality material, in a neutral color

Hair should be trimmed above the collar, if short. If you have long hair, wear it pulled back and out of your face. If you have facial hair, make sure it is neatly trimmed and clean. Remove visible piercings and hide tattoos, if possible. Avoid cologne or aftershave, since many people are allergic to strong scents.

See our Pinterest pages for examples of business professional attire.


  • Conservatively styled solid-color suit with either a knee-length skirt or pants
  • Coordinated blouse or shirt that isn’t tight, sheer, lacy, or low-cut
  • Neutral or light-colored hosiery
  • Clean, polished dress shoes that coordinate with your suit; avoid peep-toe styles or anything with a heel higher than 2”
  • Purse or bag made of leather or another good-quality material, in a neutral color

Hair should be neat and out of your face, regardless of its length. Keep makeup low-key and natural.

Nails should be neatly manicured. If you wear nail polish, choose a light-colored shade and make sure your polish isn't chipped. Wear minimal jewelry and be sure what you choose isn't jangly or distracting. Remove visible piercings other than earrings and hide tattoos, if possible.  Avoid perfume, since many people are allergic to strong scents.

See our Pinterest pages for examples of business professional attire.

Types of Interviews

Phone or Skype Interview

Some institutions will use phone or Skype interviews to do initial candidate screenings before inviting top candidates for in-person interviews.

Use of a landline phone is still recommended, if possible since cell phone lines are often unclear and calls may be more easily dropped.  Turn off call waiting on your phone, if possible, so your call won't be interrupted. If using Skype, silence the ringer on your cell phone to minimize distractions.

Dress as you would for an in-person interview, even for a phone interview. Professional attire will put you in a professional frame of mind.  Plan to do the interview in a private room, with the door closed. If you live with other people, advise them that you will be interviewing during a particular timeframe and that you cannot be disturbed.

Have a printed copy of your CV to refer to, as needed, along with any prepared notes about your accomplishments that you want to emphasize.  Speak slowly and enunciate carefully in order to be understood. If your mouth is dry due to nerves, keep a glass of water nearby; don't chew gum.

Conference Interview

Initial interviews for academic jobs also take place during conferences. Conference interviews are generally short—just 20–30 minutes—so it’s important to be well-prepared. If you have a conference interview scheduled, contact the department in advance to ask which faculty will be participating in the interview. Look at the department website and research those faculty and their research areas. Look also at information about the department as a whole, including departmental news and achievements.

Become familiar with the course catalog, especially the introductory courses.

Be ready to provide a brief verbal summary (no more than five minutes long) describing your educational background, dissertation topic, research interests, teaching philosophy if seeking a teaching position, and professional goals.  The interviewer(s) will also ask you a series of questions relevant to academic positions.

Campus Interview

If you’ve made it through a phone, Skype, and/or conference interview, you might be invited to interview on-site at the institution.  The staff in the department that posted the position will typically make the arrangements for your transportation and hotel—either paying directly for these or asking you to submit receipts—and then send you an itinerary prior to your visit. 

The specific components of the campus interview may differ somewhat depending on the type of institution and the specific job you have applied for.  However, in general, your campus interview will involve one or two days of planned activities, including:

  • One-on-one interviews with various faculty members from your prospective department and other similar departments
  • Meetings with departmental staff
  • Meetings with the Dean and other administrators
  • Meetings with groups of undergraduate and graduate students
  • One or more meals with faculty members
  • Tours of the campus and/or department/lab space

You will probably also give at least one presentation about your research and, if you have applied for a teaching position, you may be asked to guest-teach a class. 

Campus interviews can be stressful.  Here are some tips to help you prepare:

  • Do your research about the campus—number of students, rankings, course offerings, etc.—and the faculty in your prospective department and college, focusing especially on those who will be involved in your interview (if you know this in advance)
  • Ask for more information if you are unsure about any aspect of your interview prior to departure.
  • Be able to discuss your research in a way that non-academics or non-specialists in your area of study can understand.
  • Know how to answer common questions that you are likely to be asked.

Common Interview Questions

Here are some questions that are frequently asked of candidates for academic positions:

  • Why are you interested in this department/institution?
  • Where else are you interviewing?
  • Which researchers in your field have inspired your interest in this area?
  • Can you talk about your dissertation?
  • When do you expect to finish your dissertation?
  • What difficulties have you experienced in researching this subject?
  • How does your research contribute to this field?
  • What are your research goals?
  • Do you have a plan for funding your future research beyond departmental resources?
  • What experience do you have doing research with undergraduate students?
  • Can you talk about your publications?
  • What is your teaching philosophy?
  • What challenges have you experienced as a teacher?
  • What do you enjoy about teaching?
  • What types of undergraduate and graduate courses would you be interested in teaching, and why?
  • Which textbooks might you use in your teaching?
  • What would be your ideal course load?
  • How do you feel you could contribute to this department?
  • How would your research area(s) of interest fit with the work already being done in this department?
  • Which faculty members in our department would you be interested in collaborating with, and why?
  • In what ways could you make a contribution at this institution beyond this department?
  • What are your salary requirements?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?

What to Ask

It’s just as important to ask good questions of your interviewers as it is to know how to answer their questions!  Since you will be interviewing with a variety of people, you will need to tailor your questions accordingly.


  • What do you like best about this department/institution?
  • What type of research support do you receive from the department?
  • What opportunities have you had for professional development?
  • In what ways do the faculty in this department collaborate?
  • How many courses do you teach per semester?
  • How would you describe the students in this department?
  • What do you like about living in this town/city/area?
  • When do you anticipate that a hiring decision will be made?


  • What are your goals for this department?
  • What challenges has the department faced recently?


  • What do you like about being a student at this institution/in this department?
  • Which classes in this department have been your favorites and why?
  • How do you think these classes could be improved?

If you are meeting with graduate students, ask them about their research projects and what they want to do after they graduate.


Engineering Career Resources & Employer Relations

College of Engineering

117 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4710

Phone: 814-863-1032