What to Wear to Your Campus Visit and Other Advice For Human Specimens on the Job Market

So, I was on the academic job market this year and the stars aligned and did someone sacrifice a goat? because against all odds, I got a job. A real tenure-track beauty with amazing colleagues in a beautiful place. Basically, I won the lottery. But getting there meant going through some crazies. These crazies will not be unfamiliar to anyone who has ever been on the academic job market. They include but are not limited to: a quasi-superstitious belief in whatever (If I don’t wear the same blazer to the campus visit that I wore to the interview, I will not get that job), neurotic checking of job websites, anxiety about how one’s name shows up on search engines, an obsessive and upsetting combing of one’s job materials to discover weak links, like really stupid spelling and grammatical errors, strangely phrased ideas, and easily misconstrued/political words and terms (I used the word experimental instead of innovative. No wonder they didn’t shortlist me.), etc. Basically, the job market makes you feel like you are under a microscope and generally, sorely lacking, for reasons you can only guess at in all sorts of paranoid and unstable ways. Adding to this anxiety are boatloads of websites about how to behave like a humanoid robot in case of campus interview and can I just say: OMG. Terrible. Do not go to there. My good friend N, also on the job market, also blessed with a job this year, commanded me not to look at the campus visit advice sites before my actual campus visit. “I cried,” she warned, “for hours.” These sites advised things like not using the bathroom after your plane lands because you might annoy your faculty host with your time-wasting urination antics. There were complicated lessons about drinking and dressing and talking and looking and using the bathroom. I only know this because I looked after the fact out of sheer, prurient curiosity. Sure enough, they were like lessons in how to be, not to be a human being exactly, but a very close, life-like replica of a human being. A replicant maybe, except with less acrobatics and murdering. In short, these websites with their micromanaged advice, they were terrifying!

For what it’s worth, I just wanted to take a few minutes to put forth my own advice, with the idea of counteracting a little of the nutso stuff, just in case anyone besides my mom and Carolyn ever read this blog (although of course I include them if they ever decide, god forbid, to go into academia).

So, forget the noise. Here is the actually, no-kidding valuable advice I really got or figured out myself and am happy to pass on about campus visits:

1. Don’t say anything negative. (Did I break this rule? Yes, I did. Sorry, unfunded graduate programs in publishing. But I’m still glad I was told to ABP (always be pos)).

2. Ask them about themselves. Questions will make you less nervous. Plus, you will learn shit.

3. Besides teaching-demo materials, take in your bag: meds, gum, water bottle, watch, multiple protein bars. You will have many meals scheduled but you will be talking throughout all of them, plus sweating out how many calories teaching, worrying about teaching, talking, worrying about talking, etc. Karma allotment: Your watch will stop working but not if your phone dies. Okay, maybe also take your charger, JIC.

4. Exercise. This one was not exactly advice I heard, but after I talked with a friend about how we both performed well at prelim interviews after running on hotel treadmills beforehand, I figured running would help me work out some nervous energy during my campus visit and I was right. Three miles the night of arrival. Three more miles the morning of the campus visit. Or walk outside, swim in the hotel pool, chill in the hot tub. It all depends on your comfort and ability levels. Bring your gym shoes or your swimsuit or just be ready to move around a little, if you can.

5. Bring your meds, all of them. Anything you think you might turn into a blubbering mess without, take extra. Anything student health gifted you with before exams, pain pills, sleepy tea, your everdays, your once-in-awhiles, take it all. Even if you don’t use them, it will make you feel more secure to have them on you.

6. Take cash. There may be hotel shuttles and bellhops. Without a car, you may find there are only vending machines after hours (and you *will* be hungry). There may be a department dinner where food gets comped but drinks do not. Have cash on you just in case you need to offer it.

7. Umbrella.

That’s the main list as it stands anyway, until I traumatically remember some awkward moment and add to it.

Besides the first two items above, I have only one real item on the General Decorum list: Be the best, most professional version of yourself. That does not mean acting like a robot. That means making the dumb punny joke you just cannot keep yourself from making. That means having a drink if you feel like having a drink with everyone else at dinner. That means not swearing accidentally. That means trusting your instincts as a socialized human being in the world. These people are not thinking of you as a giant blinking brain (unlike your committee members, god bless them), they are thinking of you as a person they will have to work with for the next twenty to thirty years. Act like a person you would want to work with for the next twenty to thirty years, as long as that person is still mostly yourself. Okay?

It’s strange to admit, but clothing/costume took a not-inconsiderable amount of time to think through. You know when you’ve looked in your closet and felt like, Man, I have nothing to wear? This is like that but times a thousand. You don’t have professor clothes in your closet because you are not a professor yet. If you’re a grad student, you probably have professor-like clothes in your closet that don’t fit well or have moth holes or still smell like the thrift store from which you liberated them, etc. It behooves no one to be overly capitalist when speaking of academia, but I will say: if you’re going to spend money on this whole endeavor, spend some on clothes.

The initial interview is easy: wear a suit. If you can’t afford or find a suit (and I have friends whose suits have come from Goodwill and Forever 21), wear nice, professional separates in tailored and thicker materials. No jersey knits; the less polyester, the better. Think wools, tweeds, thick cottons, etc.

The campus visit is different though. You *can* wear a suit, but keep in mind, you’re trying to seem professional but also collegial. And a suit is kind of…inflexible, slightly stiff. Most of us aren’t used to wearing them every day. In short, a suit is fine but you don’t *have* to. Think comfort: If you are interviewing somewhere warm, you might be unhappy in your wool beauty after only a couple of hours and remember, the average campus visit day is like eleven hours long. You need to stay as comfortable (but professional) as possible. You, my semi-finalist friends, need options.

Here’s what I wore to my campus interview. I’m not saying it got me the job, but I am 100% positive the department was like, “Did you see her gray sweater? We obviously have to hire her.” Just kidding. But in these outfits I felt confident and comfortable all day. And they weren’t particularly expensive and they weren’t suits.

1. Arrival dinner: I only had a couple minutes to throw this together since my faculty host was waiting in the lobby for me after I checked in. I wore a black blazer over a loose-fitting dark blue silk tank top (Forever 21) with dark bootcut jeans (Gap Curve–and a sidenote: I am really not a bootcut jeans person, but in a very dark wash, on me, they looked so much more professional and put together than straight or skinnies) and my travel shoes: men’s black oxfords, with my go-to tote bag, a black canvas Baggu. FWIW, my old classic black leather teaching bag gave up the ghost at MLA, and I LOVE this interim replacement bag–it’s a perfect size and shape for me (fits folders, binders, a laptop; professional but somewhat funky, not too big). Canvas Duck Baggus are only $25 online and they come in a ton of colors.

2. Daylong interview: I wore super comfy, ponte, Banana Republic, wide-leg trousers in a medium brown. I give a special shout-out to Banana Republic here because they got me through the job season. Though their regularly priced clothes are expensive, their sales are so amazingly good, especially if you sign up for a BR credit card, I’ve now bought two gorge suits there plus a few separates, for a tiny fraction of their original sticker prices. I wore said pants with a black cotton 3/4 sleeve Gap top and a vintage Burberry brown striped blazer I found at a vintage clothing store, plus black suede kitten heels and a black leather belt. Comfortable shoes are important because you have to be in them all day. I have long hair now, with bangs, and I should note that I kept my hair up in a casual ponytail all day. Probably, no one noticed, but if they did, I hope the ponytail read as practical and down-to-earth. But really, no one noticing is sort of the whole goal of your entire fashion schema for the campus visit.

3. Department dinner: I had another few minutes between my daylong interview and my department dinner to change again. I kept the pants but changed back to my men’s oxford shoes and lost the jacket. I put on a close-fitting, thin gray cotton sweater over my shirt and literally let down my hair, losing the interview-y feel and transitioning to a more casual space with my hair and clothes.

Again, I’m pretty sure that my clothing was invisible to my interviewers, but that’s really the whole point. Clothes, like decorum, should be the best, most professional version of your real clothes. For me, a lover of black and neutrals, this was easy. If you really love color, you might tone it down a bit for the interview. Maybe “the best, most professional and somewhat monochromatic version of yourself” is a thing to aspire to? Let them appreciate your tattoo sleeves or tongue ring or obsession with Patricia Field after you get the job, unless you’re being hired in cultural studies, in which case: fucking go for it.

Anyway, since clothes were the thing I was most puzzled about before the interview, I hope knowing my wardrobe choices might bring you some ease so you can worry about the actually important stuff, like wtf story you are going to teach to a room full of strangers, including students and an entire department’s worth of professors, the first time they ever meet you. Yay!

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