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Dress Like an Administrator

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A few years ago, at an interview day at a university, a school administrator commented to me that most candidates were dressed appropriately for interviews, but it appeared some visiting from another university had been advised to "dress like a teacher." Fifty years ago, that might have been a compliment, but with more relaxed dress in educational settings in the twenty-first century, interview wear should be dressier than "like a teacher."

When candidates ask me what they should wear for a teacher interview, my response is always the same: a suit. As in any career field, you want to make a positive impression on the interviewer. Or, more importantly with dress, you do not want to make a negative impression. Ask any recruiter about their interview stories, and you get an idea of what they remember about candidates. Almost without exception, they remember the outrageous violations of convention far more than those who made positive impressions.

The thought behind "dressing like a teacher" is that most PreK-12 educators rarely wear dress suits in the classroom, so wearing a suit for an interview is not necessary. To make the best impression, however, you want to dress conservatively and professionally – dressier than everyday attire for the position. Take into account what the interviewer is likely to be wearing. In educational settings, your interviewer will usually be wearing business attire, and so should you.

Look for sale racks in your favorite stores for bargains on dress attire. A decent interview suit need not cost $600. I shop for men’s separates, which are available in more and more places these days. Select classically-designed outfits; these tend to remain in style longer (or at least in the range of "in style"). Accessorize conservatively – you do not want to become part of interview lore because of the big red flower in your hair.

Think conservatively – gray, blue, black. Brown is still sometimes seen as a "weak" color, and is not as dressy. Black used to be considered too "powerful" for interviews, but it has become very popular. My father remarked in Washington, DC a couple of years ago that if he were a young person moving there, he would be sure that he had at least one black suit – everybody he saw, male and female, was wearing one.

I feel like I should not have to address grooming with prospective teachers, but I will in the next post. In the meantime, if you have not already done so, check those after-holiday sales for good buys on appropriate interview attire. For your interviews – and for job fairs – dress like a professional – a central office administrator!

--Kent McAnally,
Director of Career Services,
Washburn University

4 Comments

I wanted to add to the admonition to wear a suit at an interview. Those in busines tell me to not wear a skirt that is to the ankles nor above the knee. Knee length skirt. Also, there are many tops that people wear with suits that are revealing. That adage of being "conservative" is a good one. Remember that many an administrator is a Baby Boomer who does not enjoy seeing many piercings, gaudy earrings, tatoos, etc. They are looking at you as someone who sets an example for students and what you wear and how you dress reflects your good judgment or lack thereof.
In the summer an administrator may be dressed more casually. Still take the time to dress in a suit. It shows that you care enough about the job for which you are applying to go the extra mile.

I've always been told, and I tell my college students you should look at the position level higher than your current one and dress to that level (assuming that person dresses appropriately). For the interview itself, dress up. It's always better to overdo it than to look too casual in the interview. You never have a second chance to make a first impression. Be careful about wearing too much jewelry (men and women); one ring on each hand is generally recommended. Remove all piercings and cover tattoos, if possible. Also, wear business-type shoes that are comfortable; a new pair might not be broken in and your feet will kill you!

Thanks for information!

I think that the way we dress is a way of communicating something about ourselves, is our subconscious attempt to express how we feel and who we are at the moment.

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