As many of you know, my daughter Ella is a second-year construction management student at Boise State. Given that I taught construction management for over 20 years, I am used to getting late-night calls about homework. Once Ella’s friends found out my prior profession, I get even more questions. Increasingly, the questions are not about homework (I think they are tired of my 30-minute soliloquies on glorious nature of estimating), but careers. With contractors starting the recruiting process for project engineers and interns earlier in the year (seriously…September?), I should not have been shocked when I was asked: what should we wear to job fairs and interviews?
This question caught me off guard. I am not sure why, as I have been to many career fairs and have interviewed for jobs several times in my life. However, for better or worse, our styles and formalities are changing. As I waxed philosophically about this question, Ella snapped me out of my dialog and said “we need to know now! The job fair is tomorrow!” So I gave some snap advice that I was able to summarize in the matrix below (which, I might add, I’m kind of proud of):
In spite of giving the best answer I could under the pressure of time, I could not stop thinking about this question. Specifically, are ties preferred for an interview…do they look professional or desperate? Do CM students get a pass because the wardrobe necessary to work in the field is a lot different than working in an office? Does the advice change for interns versus PEs? What about women? And on and on and on…
So rather than leave this to my speculation or chance, I reached out to some professionals who hire interns and PEs for a living. I have known each of these people for years and they are really good at hiring. They represent general and specialty contractors and work around the country. In other words, trust what you read below. The experts are:
I am going to start with the advice that best supports my diagram. One of the experts agrees that the chinos and long-sleeved collar shirt are appropriate for both career fairs and job interviews. In fact, they take appearance seriously enough that they will score candidates down if they are not dressed professionally with chinos and long-sleeved collar shirt being table stakes. Not wearing something as nice as chinos and a button-up shirt will not eliminate people from consideration, but it does not help. And before I go further, everyone assumes college students do not have unlimited budgets for clothing, but chinos and a button-up shirt should not break your bank and you will (should?) have opportunities to wear them outside of job interviews. These are pretty common elements of an adult wardrobe. If you buy from Banana Republic, J. Crew, etc. and avoid overly “stylish” forms of clothing (super tight skinny pants, drawstrings, etc.), you will be fine. And nice pants and shirt work just as well for women as it does men.
Having started there, the overwhelming majority of the experts stated that HOW your present yourself matters more than what you are wearing. There are many shades of gray to their advice, but it can be summarized by this statement: “I let their personality and resume do the talking”. Many of the experts said they are looking for builders so that should come through in your interview/conversations. That said, let’s dig into those shades of gray:
So it is not totally cut and dried. To be on the safe side, err on the side of more dressed up than not. However, if you do not have access to chinos and a nice button up shirt, then wear your best jeans, a clean polo shirt, and dazzle them with your capabilities!
Here are some more timely and accurate pieces of wisdom from the experts:
Here are a few things to AVOID:
If you are comfortable knowing what to wear, here are a few more nuggets of wisdom about how to interact with people who may be recruiting you:
There you have it, valuable advice from the experts. Good luck!
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I teach people who will be building our country's infrastructure.