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I have an interview with the department head of a tech company who is a former University professor that left academia and joined the industry two years ago. As I always try to be formal at the beginning regarding addressing the people at such meetings, I'd like to use either Dr. X or Prof. X. But, I'm not sure which one is more appropriate, and I do not want to make an unwanted misunderstanding by choosing any of the above options!

P.S. I may not have a problem regarding the above at the workplace, but I face the dilemma in my initial contacts with such a person, especially in the recruitment process. I even realized sometimes the recruiters do not care about the title, not even the Dr. title and just address the person in the email as Mr./Ms. X. But, I want to be cautious and respectful regarding the above.

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    You should address them however they were introduced to you. If they are introduced as Dr. Zahidi, then use that. If they are introduced as Sheila, then use that. – ColleenV Apr 28 at 12:48
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    Why not ask him how he would like to be adressed by you or in general, maybe he prefers just to be adressed in an unformal way, for example by his fistname.. – iLuvLogix Apr 28 at 15:23
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    Dr. X is very commonly used in such cases – PagMax Apr 29 at 5:47
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    Might I suggest "WHAT UP NERD" to break the ice. – Paul D. Waite Apr 29 at 10:36
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This is actually an interesting questions because of whether or not a former professor retains the title "Prof." after leaving the university. In Germany, it depends on several factors (mostly length of tenure) which also differ by Bundesland (State/Province). So nobody will expect you to know whether or not you should address them "Prof. X". One option would be to contact your recruiter (if you have one) and ask them how the person in question prefers to be addressed.

Here's a German source that addresses the first part.

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  • Can you add some sources for the claim that a Prof. would retain their Prof. title after leaving academia for industry? The second issue is whether such usage (even if supported by some legal "status") actually agrees with the social norms. – user2705196 Apr 29 at 14:10
  • @user2705196 I have added a source for that claim but it's in German. Whether or not this is social norm obviously depends on the people involved and you can't make a general statement there. Certainly when addressing someone in formal correspondence for the first time you would use Prof. or Prof. Dr. – Peter Apr 29 at 14:19
  • Great. That helps a lot! – user2705196 Apr 29 at 14:29
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  1. Rule #1: Local norms and culture differ a lot from company to company and industry and industry. If in doubt: Observe what everyone else is doing and do the same (unless you find it personally objectionable or inappropriate but that's a different question).
  2. In most places in Germany calling someone "Professor" would be viewed as overly stiff and formal. These days it's a toss up between "Du" and "Sie" even at a fairly high level and titles are rare. In Germany the Ph.D. (Dr.) can actually be officially part of your name, but I can't remember the last time someone actually called me "Herr Doktor". In Austria using academic titles is still more customary but in Germany it's not that common anymore in the workplace (unless it's a show-off occasion like press conference, high profile client/visitor, etc.)
  3. 25 years ago I worked in academia and my boss had multiple Dr. and lifelong tenure (emeritus) but he still just was "Mr. B".
  4. If you still don't know it may be safest to stick with "Mr." Being overly formal can also be interpreted as a tease or slightly cynical and it's highly unlikely than someone will take offense for omitting an academic title.
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    I feel like omitting the title is only appropriate after you've been offered the Du or Sie which professors will usually do but just assuming that is a faux pas. – Peter Apr 28 at 14:20
  • Fantastic real-world info! mfg – Fattie Apr 28 at 16:13
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    Omitting the title applies when you are working with doctors and professors. In the question OP speaks about having an interview. – Bernhard Döbler Apr 28 at 22:48
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    I would point out the big difference between addressing people in person versus addressing them in writing like in an email. Addressing someone in person as Doktor is very rare. If you write an email, especially in an official capacity, throwing in the title (at least in Germany) is not uncommon. – quarague Apr 29 at 7:58
  • @quarague "Addressing someone in person as Doktor is very rare". No it's not, e.g. physicians or hotel staff will address people with their title if they provide it. – Peter Apr 29 at 14:22
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There are already great suggestions in other answers, however one important point is missing:

In such formal events people generally start with introducing themselves, the way as somebody introduce themselves will be a good indication who they'd like you to call them.

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I think this question deserves a slight frame challenge: they will either introduce themselves or be introduced by someone else. There are certainly valid reasons not to address people as they request, do you expect to encounter such a reason during a job interview? And if you did, do you still want to work there?

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From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_honorifics#Academics), emphasis mine:

While actually not an academic rank, but an office (or a honorific for former holders of this office), all professors are regularly addressed as Professor X or Herr Professor (X) (abbreviated Prof.). Female professors are addressed as Frau Professorin (X) (using feminized version of Professor comparable to the no longer used professoress) or as Frau Professor (X); if the title is used without the Frau, then it should always be rendered as Professorin X. If they hold a doctorate (which is almost always the case), the full title is Prof. Dr. X, possibly enriched by further doctorates they hold, and may be used in this form in the address on letters, in very formal occasions such as the beginning of speeches or introducing a person, and so on. Otherwise, unlike in English it is the title Dr., not the title Prof., that falls away.

So according to this, you should generally use Professor, but you can also use Professor Doktor.

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Aside from the question whether the person holds the title of professor after leaving academia, it is completely acceptable to address even an active professor simply as "Dr.". What's more, not doing so might be considered impolite, and I'd be a bit miffed if someone would address me simply as "Mr.", especially someone from HR who might not be a peer in that regard. Also, it doesn't hurt to show a little respect. I've noticed some HR people think of applicants as supplicants, which certainly is not true at that qualification level...

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