I recently got a comment from a reader who asked me to share some tips on what to wear for a first interview with some engineering companies. Having a little experience in that department, let me try and offer some advice.
1. Be prepared
Possibly the most important thing you can do before an interview is your homework. The interviewer wants to see that you know enough about the company, and that you really want to work for them above all other companies. Research the core business of the company and have a good idea of what they produce or manufacture. Know in which regions the company operates and where their head office is situated. All of these facts can be easily found on their website or company profile.
Also be ready to answer technically specific questions to the field you are applying to. An operational or manufacturing company is vastly different from an engineering consultancy and the possible career-paths in each of these environments are worlds apart. For an operational position, depending on your level of experience, you may be asked to answer technical questions, whereas in a consulting environment, they may quiz you on codes and standards related to design. In project management, you may be questioned on schedule management and quality assurance.
Make sure you are prepared to tackle a question of a technical nature or a small, problem-solving exercise.
Write down a few questions that are likely to come up in the interview such as:
- Tell us a little about yourself.
- Why do you want to work for this company?
- Why should we hire you for this job?
Practice your answers, out loud, several times until you are comfortable with them. Your answers should be short and to-the-point and should not drift from the topic. Each answer should be no longer that about a minute long and should cover a few important things about you that you want them to know.
You can find more common interview questions on the web.
3. What to Wear
I think that engineers get confused as to how formally to dress for an interview. Although in most cases, an interview always calls for neat, business-formal attire, there are some engineering companies where the dress code is more relaxed.
A good rule to follow is to rather be overdressed than underdressed.
For a female engineer, you should apply the same logic as a woman applying for a job in sales or banking. In exceptional cases, you may be called for an interview on a site where a safety dress-code is required, but this is not the norm and they will inform you of this beforehand. Wear neat and well-fitted clothing that is not too small or large for you. Rather buy something new that fits well than swim in something of your mother’s. Stick to neutral, professional colours and neat lines without distracting flourishes and detailing. A pants or skirt suit with a crisp, white shirt is always a winner.
Wear heels! Just don’t wear crazy stilettos or anything that you think belongs in a club. Make sure you can walk comfortably in them. I like a wedge heel which is far more stable for me since I don’t wear heels on a daily basis.
Try and look attractive, but don’t break the cardinal rules of showing too much skin, cleavage or being to fashionable. The people doing the interview may not appreciate your efforts! Check out this earlier post for more tips.
4. Accessories, Make-up and Hair
I would encourage the use of accessories and make-up, but in moderation. Wear small, silver earrings or a dainty pendant and stay away from anything that dangles or distracts. I have a habit of continuously removing and replacing any watch I wear so get rid of anything that could cause a similar distraction. Carry a small handbag with only what you need for the interview. Fumbling for documents in a large, oversized handbag may give the impression that you’re disorganised.
Make up should be light and tasteful. Think of a classy business women going into a meeting. Use foundation and blush sparingly, stay away from coloured eye-shadows and dark or bright lipstick. A little bit of eye-liner and a tasteful lipstick which you can rely on to last the interview is almost all you need. Go all-out on the mascara (I love mascara!). Don’t ever apply make-up in front of anyone, unless it’s a clear chapstick or labello if you absolutely need to.
Make sure your nails are neat and clean although you should steer clear from flashy French manicures and bright, trendy colours. I once interviewed a girl with half chipped-off, red nail polish that she chipped away at during the interview. This did not give a god impression and was very distracting.
Your hair should be neat and swept or pinned back. It should be professional and you shouldn’t constantly have to sweep it away from your face. Grown-out highlights may be really hot right now in Hollywood, but simply looks trashy in a professional setting.
When you walk into the room, greet everyone with a smile and a firm handshake. Especially if you are a woman, offer your own hand and make sure its firm. I repeat, make sure you offer a firm handshake while looking the person in the eye. As you know, this is something that is foreign to most women and certain cultures in particular. (In my industry, everyone greets everyone with a handshake every day. This is still difficult for me, but I’m getting used to it).
Introduce yourself with your first and last name and try your best to remember theirs. Don’t beat yourself up too much if you don’t get them right the first time.
Sit up straight and be as relaxed and natural as possible. Sitting in interviews can make you really nervous, but try not to be. Try not to fidget or wobble your leg or anything like that.
Look people in the eye when you talk to them and maintain good eye-contact. This may be difficult if it’s something you don’t naturally do, but try practicing with your friends to get over the fear. Acknowledge what they say and keep your answers and comments short and to the point.
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