What to wear to a job interview as a woman engineer was a question the University of Alaska Fairbanks Collegiate Society of Women Engineers asked me to address in my guest lecture. This post is a brief summary of the key elements of my talk. Read how to dress your best for a job interview as a female engineer.
- Business Attire – a Tough Dress Code for Female Engineers.
- Dress Code Varies among Engineering Fields
- Dress Codes Are about Expectations
- How Can Woman Engineers Meet the Dress Code to Get a Job?
- Try to Get Eye Contact without Wearing Pumps
- Convey the Message of Being Serious with Your Accessories
- Wear Clothes that Allow You to Climb
- Can You Wear a Skirt to a Job Interview as a Female Engineer?
- Have a Hair-Do Suitable for Hard Hats
- Further Important Things to Consider When Going to an Engineering Job Interview
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Business Attire – a Tough Dress Code for Female Engineers
There is no dress code as tricky as business attire. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Collegiate Society of Women Engineers invited me to talk about Dress for Success within the framework of their guest lecture series. When preparing my talk I came across very interesting things about work appropriate dressing in various fields that I will share with you over the next weeks on the blog. There are distinct differences in dressing whether you are, for instance, a civil engineer or a software engineer or when you are going on a field trip as a female engineer.
Dress Code Varies among Engineering Fields
While the dress code varies among fields when doing the actual engineering work, it nails down to a quite similar dress code when interviewing for the position (getting in) and meeting with clients. Meeting the dress code is so important that many top notch engineering schools even devote a web page and some even have a Pinterest board about what to wear for a job interview!
However, when looking at the suggestions, the women outfits are pretty boring. Wearing such a cookie-cutter outfit may convey the message that the wearer is not creative. The latter is not a promotional bell ringer for a job that is all about creation – engineering.
Dress Codes Are about Expectations
Historically and still today, dress code is all about expectations. Engineering is a still male dominated field. Therefore, customers have an expectation regarding the engineering firm and their employees. As a result, they actually expect a guy to show up in a suit, shirt, polished shoes, leather briefcase, and a tie looking like a business man. Well,
engineering work is the product the firm sells.
On average, about 70% of the engineering work is meeting and working with clients. Most women engineers I know, either work in some state, government, academia, clothing or food related fields. In these fields, client contact is relatively lower than on average in engineering.
Now How Can Women Engineers Meet the Dress Code to Get a Job?
Try to Get Eye Contact without Wearing Pumps
A tailored suit is a great option. Swap the pointy toe pumps that usually go with a pantsuit for oxfords with a heel not higher than 1 inch (2.5 cm). This height namely still allows climbing a ladder if you have to during the interview. Wedges are a safer alternative, easier to walk in, and allow to give you more height than low-heel oxfords.
You want to be eye height with the guys.
Convey the Message of Being Serious with Your Accessories
A pearl necklace is a woman’s tie. Make sure the length is short enough to not get caught in some machinery (that’s why male engineers wear the tie holders).
Get a men’s watch. It conveys the message that meeting deadlines and being on time are high priority for you. Go for minimalist style like Nordgreen watches as a minimalist design works with everything (Use my discount code HLSTYLE for 15%).
Cuff your sleeves (see first photo). It is stylish and conveys the message that you are ready to get your hands dirty, i.e. the job done.
Get a big structured leather tote that can hold a laptop, iPad, and/or a folder. This piece namely indicates that you are willing to take work home to finish a task in time. If your field is about going outside very often, you may even have the appropriate shoes (e.g., engineering boots) in the tote.
Tip: When a site visit is on the agenda of the interview, have these boots in the trunk of your car to swap shoes.
Wear Clothes that Allow You to Climb
Go with neutrals for the pantsuit, shoes and leather tote. Express your style by the choice of the blouse or shirt. No see-thru please. A turtleneck in silk or cashmere is a good alternative to a button-down shirt or blouse in cold climate regions. Wear nude non-opaque socks or socks matching the colors of the suit or shoes. More on styling non-boring outfits in all neutrals.
Wear a classic coat that is short enough to not hinder you picking up something or when you have to climb. A pea-coat was engineered for climbing. In summer, a classic trench coat.
Can You Wear a Skirt to a Job Interview as a Female Engineer?
If your application is for an engineering job that doesn’t involve climbing, you can wear a straight skirt with a slit in the back. Avoid skirts with side or front slits as they show too much leg when you sit. Moreover, ensure that the skirt fits well, i.e., does not ride up when you sit. In addition, it should still reach to your knees when sitting. Wide or too long skirts can get caught in moving equipment. Therefore, they are inappropriate.
Wear bikers or shorts underneath your skirt so there is no embarrassing sight when you climb metal stairs. Check that the bikers won’t show when you sit. In winter, opaque tights are a great option in cold climate regions. Meanwhile there exist opaque nude tights and very durable pantyhose. See the link for a review.
Tip: Wear durable pantyhose or have an extra pair. Runners namely are never looking professional.
Have a Hair-Do Suitable for Hard Hats
If you have long hair, style it in such a way that a hard hat still will fit. This hair-do should still look professional when you take the hard hat off.
Further Important Things to Consider When Going to a Job Interview
If you need reading glasses, have them in your bag. Hanging them around your neck conveys the message you would forget where they are. Nobody hires someone who is forgettable.
Don’t push them in your hair. It’s a workplace, not the beach.
Also check this post for makeup and grooming tips for a job interview to learn why both is important, and how to use both to your advantage.
You can find more dress code tips for female engineers in the linked general guide.
Do you work in a male dominated field? What are your dress code challenges? I am curious.
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When you like this post, and want more tips and tricks to dress for all kind of dressing situations in midlife you may also want to buy my book “How to Dress for Success in Midlife”.
Photos: G. Kramm
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