I have an interview coming up. I have an MS and one of my friends from the program at the same time as me recently got his PhD. He is in what would be a managerial role were I hired. We knew each other in a not totally heartless capacity, but we weren't best friends. Should I refer to him as "Dr. _" or by his first name, as we previously knew each other?

2 Answers 2


This will depend on the part of the world you are in and the preferences of your friend. Based on your profile, I'm inferring that you're in the United States. Generally, in the US, people don't use the title "Dr." unless they are referring to a medical doctor. If you were in Germany, on the other hand, people tend to get offended if you omit a title. Unless your friend has expressed a preference that he be referred to with a title (which would generally be considered a bit pompous in the US but hardly unheard of), you would generally just use his name.

Hopefully, of course, someone in the interview will tell you the proper form of address by using his name first either by introducing you two (i.e. "And you know Dr. Smith/ Joe, I believe") if he's going to be in the interview or by referring to him in conversation. If they do, it would make sense to follow their lead.

  • The cultural difference on this is HUGE (you are spot-on regarding the German-US difference). Fortunately, in my experience as an American, people in those sort of "meaningful title" cultures are aware of the differences in culture and less offended than they would be if a fellow German did something silly.
    – enderland
    Feb 6, 2013 at 22:44
  • In the US, academics and researchers are often particular about their Ph.D.s, so it's not just medical doctors who like to here that term, especially in an introduction or interview setting.
    – cdkMoose
    Feb 8, 2013 at 18:21
  • @cdkMoose: I'm in the U.S. and work with Ph.D.'s every day. Several have told me something like "I only use the honorific when dealing with doctors and lawyers." FWIW, I work in scientific environments; maybe it's different in other fields.
    – GreenMatt
    Mar 22, 2013 at 21:01
  • @GreenMatt, I have seen the same in less formal settings , i.e., working environments and/or co-workers, but the OP specifically referenced an interview scenario, which I would view as a more formal situation.
    – cdkMoose
    Mar 22, 2013 at 21:30

My approach would be:

  • If your calling for a phone screen, or addressing the person's receptionist, front desk, or other entrance checking person - go with the formality. In the US that's "Dr. Firstname Lastname". "Dr. Lastname" will work too, but risks confusion if the office is informal and the entrance person only knows the person by his first name or nickname.

  • When you meet up, say "how should I address you?" - there's no harm in asking and it lets them know that you're considerate enough to ask and not make presumptions on a relationship that isn't all that close. If you guys were pals, you can even say it with a smile, recognizing that you both were peers, and now you're in different relationship.

Justin's right - the US is pretty casual - we mostly go by first names in most office settings, but once and while, you'll run into someone who's a bit more formal, and then the informality can be offensive. Asking is rarely, if ever, offensive, especially when it's done confidently.

After you have an answer from him, you'll probably feel 20 times more confident, which should help the interview process considerably.

  • 1
    This is a great answer from a US context but really misses the possibility that for some cultures even asking "how should I address you?" really may be a big "no no" culturally.
    – enderland
    Feb 6, 2013 at 22:43
  • Fair enough - but most times when dealing outside my culture, I haven't lost, bigtime, with actually asking. If the option is ask vs. make a potentially really bad assumption - I still see "ask" as the lesser risk. Feb 8, 2013 at 18:20

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