Engineer chic
November 2, 2009 6:46 PM   Subscribe

My son asked me what he should wear to his next interview with a company with which he really wants to work.

This interview is a third contact where they are actually paying money for him to travel to their location. He is scheduled to graduate from college this coming spring with an appropriate degree.

This interview will include being inside the corporate offices and going out(side) into the [dirty, muddy] field. This time of year the weather may be wet, cold and/or snowy.

He wants a job with this company so bad he could probably make himself be composed half-naked in an icestorm....

BUT, he is a poor college student with a limited wardrobe but willing to buy new stuff.

I tried to use my Google-fu to research "engineer chic" and to find photos of office-dressed civil engineers in-the-field... to no avail.

I failed.

We have two weeks for suggestions.

BTW, I think the company will hire him no matter what because he is smart and passionate and if they do not see that they are doodoo-heads.

My question is: What can a college kid who only has a well-cut suit, several nice shirts and two cool ties, sneakers and steel-toed boots wear to an important interview?
posted by maggieb to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total)
Best answer: What he has is exactly what he needs.

Wear the suit, wear a good shirt and tie, and call them in advance to ask about footwear. "Chic" isn't really a relevant adjective here.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:51 PM on November 2, 2009

I've always heard that wearing a suit to an interview is a must, but I'm not in engineering. I'm not sure what "in the field" entails, but could he wear a suit and take protective over clothes for the field?

You say its his field though; is there a prof or other professional contact he could discuss this with?
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:51 PM on November 2, 2009

Best answer: Since there is an element of unknown about the visit and what outdoor activities would be involved, it is entirely professional to inquire with his company contact about what practicalities he might have to consider when dressing for the trip.
posted by mmascolino at 6:55 PM on November 2, 2009

The only thing left he needs is a good, polished pair of dress shoes
posted by chalbe at 6:55 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have him wear that well-cut suit. Companies want to know that you can pull out all the stops and present yourself in the most polished and professional way. People who can do this can usually dress down, but it's harder to gauge if someone can go from business casual to formal business convincingly. He can showcase his personality in shirt and tie choice (but don't go too quirky with ties during the interview process. Any quirk or unique style can be gradually introduced once you have the job). Pick colors that are good for him. Generally speaking, these colors should bring out your eyes, and when someone looks at you, they should see your face first, then the color of the shirt. Make sure everything fits well, and invest in emergency tailoring if necessary. Congrats on scoring the interview and good luck to your son!
posted by katemcd at 6:57 PM on November 2, 2009

Suit, shirt, tie. He needs shoes. There's hardly a thing like overdressing for a job interview. Not in engineering anyway. Best of luck!
posted by _dario at 6:58 PM on November 2, 2009

Suit for the interview, and he'll most likely get away with khakis/polos for going to work once he's hired for a civil engineer job, but go to the interview in a suit. Maybe just call and ask if steel toed shoes are necessary for going to the site during the interview. I think for an engineering job he wouldn't be judged badly for wearing steel toed shoes.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:01 PM on November 2, 2009

(and, if there's an office and a dirty, muddy field outside, there will be a locker room or some such where he will be able to change his clothes -- well, the shoes and perhaps put on a pair of overpants -- before going into the field)
posted by _dario at 7:02 PM on November 2, 2009

Best answer: You can bomb an interview by dressing too casual. You can't bomb an interview by dressing to nice. Like everyone else said, wear the suit...and get some dress shoes. They don't have to be fancy. Go to payless or the like. $20 will get him a decent pair of dress shoes.

If he has to walk out into a field that's muddy, that's fine! Mud washes off. And frankly, if I were hiring an engineering position and a young, qualified candidate wore a nice suit and walked into a muddy field without hesitation, I'd be like, 'that's badass. Here's a kid who wants this job, who cares about this job, enough to get his, er, um, feet wet (or a little dirty)." Besides, after he's got the job, he can buy himself some more suits.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:20 PM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

My professors told me to wear 'the dressiest thing you would ever wear to that job' at an interview. So I imagine a meeting with the superintendent, usually wearing a well cut suit with conservative matching shoes.
posted by debbie_ann at 7:20 PM on November 2, 2009

Yup, have him wear a nice suit, and some conservative captoes of this style.
posted by pravit at 7:27 PM on November 2, 2009

Best answer: I'm a manager who hires chemical engineers. I put on a tie once or twice a year when I'm meeting with executives. The college grads that I interview generally wear suits or sports coats with ties, some don't wear a coat. I don't particularly care and I can't tell you what the guy I hired in June was wearing, but the principle is you're dressed better than the person interviewing you.

The only time I wouldn't follow that advice is if it is for a company that is known for it's informal culture.

Looking around at the website of the company he is interested in might give him some clues. Fluor and Bechtel hire a lot of civil engineers. The photos probably give a feel for how people dress.

If he'll have a car keep the boots in the car, but if I'm showing someone around the chemical processing areas, I'm keeping them clean and safe so I don't think he'll be climbing too much scaffolding.
posted by Edward L at 7:28 PM on November 2, 2009

At most of the companies where I've worked (all software/internet companies) applicants were/are regularly passed on for overdressing at the interview. A suit at a casual software company sends a message that you may not be the right fit in terms of company culture.

It's perfectly acceptable for him to ask the recruiter (or whomever his regular contact is) what the appropriate attire for the office is. If it's business casual or anything more, then he should wear the suit and perhaps invest in a new pair of shoes. Otherwise, slacks, a nice shirt and tie with sneakers or boots should be just fine.
posted by memi at 7:37 PM on November 2, 2009

Although people often say you can never go wrong with a good suit, that's not always the case. As Memi points out, some companies have cultures where suits are not welcome. Touch base with the recruiter. He should say that he normally likes to wear a suit to an interview, but that he wanted to check on the company culture, as he's at home in khakis and polos too. He should also ask about footwear and considerations for going into the field.

If he wears a suit and gets the impression that he's over dressed, he can decide whether to take the jacket off and loosen his tie a little. I'd save this for situations where there is shock at the suit or some sort of chuckling comment, as it might be hard to gauge.
posted by acoutu at 8:12 PM on November 2, 2009

At most of the companies where I've worked (all software/internet companies) applicants were/are regularly passed on for overdressing at the interview. A suit at a casual software company sends a message that you may not be the right fit in terms of company culture.

I find this odd, because I know a ton of people in various tech roles, and as we've been discussing job-hunting recently, the overwhelming consensus is that even at day-to-day informal companies, underdressing at an interview is often seen as a sign that you don't understand how to adhere to standards for behavior. Suits are always acceptable and generally expected, even at places (like mine) where sneakers and a pair of jeans are a uniform and the C-level officers avoid ties. Younger folks often get a break, but an interview is the last place to focus on taking advantage of low expectations.

Dressing down on the spot is very doable - if someone comments on the suit negatively, it's easy to take off the jacket, loosen the tie and unbutton the collar, roll the sleeves up as you approach the whiteboard to work through a problem. The opposite isn't really true; if you show up without a tie and jacket, you can't materialize one out of thin air.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:40 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Many job sites in the field have requirements about clothing (like steel toed boots). He really should call and ask the person he has had the most contact with.
posted by nestor_makhno at 9:03 PM on November 2, 2009

I always ask the recruiter. The recruiter wants you to be hired, and your dressing skills are not what most engineering jobs are measuring in an interview. (note, this is as a software engineer, and I have no personal experience with other fields)
posted by jewzilla at 9:44 PM on November 2, 2009

If there is a recruiter: yes, ask.

If there is no recruiter: visit the main office, observe the people coming in and out, and make sure that under no conditions are you less well-dressed than the best-dressed of those people.
posted by davejay at 11:26 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who's interviewed for several engineering positions; suit, and dress shoes. Take the steel toecaps in a rucksack, with a plastic bag as wrapper, and change into the toecaps before going into the muddy field if the opportunity presents. If it doesn't, then mud washes off...
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:29 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Suit and tie: always. Dress shoes - preferably steel toed if it involves construction sites.

If he needs to find shoes: look at companies like Iron Age that make stell toed versions of dress shoes.

It is *always* acceptable to bring protective wear and if necessary excuse yourself to put on protective wear before entering a dangerous zone rather than go in unprepared; most companies though will provide it for you. Realistically, no company will even let you near a site without proper protective gear. The company sounds big enough that there might be overshoes or steel toed waders for visitors, just in case - feel free to call and talk to the recruiter.

And yes, your suit may get messy - that's what dry cleaners are for.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:09 AM on November 3, 2009

I only saw one person say this, so I'll reiterate: bring the spare shoes. Wear dress shoes, and have the other shoes on hand. Being prepared looks good in an interview.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 6:18 AM on November 3, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the very helpful responses... not a bad one in the bunch. If comments stay open for a couple of weeks I will post what happened.
posted by maggieb at 9:22 AM on November 4, 2009

Just chiming in to add that at the company I just started working for, wearing a tie to work would get you funny looks, but interviewees almost always wears suits.
posted by vegetableagony at 7:24 AM on November 7, 2009

Response by poster: He wore the suit, tie and good shoes. And, YAY, he starts the job in June after graduation in May. Thanks again, AskMefites.
posted by maggieb at 2:58 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

hey, that's awesome news! Congrats!
posted by _dario at 3:10 PM on December 17, 2009

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