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Interviewing as a Female Engineer

March 6, 2010

So, not surprisingly, I’m trying to find a job for post-graduation. While I have a couple of leads, I’ve only had one interview so far. It was completely random, I went to a job fair at my school with zero companies I was interested in and ended up talking to one company for a while about my involvement in the human powered vehicle team at my school. Apparently he was very impressed by me, because I later received an invitation to interview for a position with them. I figured it would be good practice even though I was completely uninterested – this company does defense work for the military, basically the opposite of what I want to do with my life.

When I got to the weekend, the first thing I noticed was how few women were in the room. I wasn’t surprised, but it’s something that you can’t help but notice. I ended up interviewing for two divisions – a more testing-oriented position and a design-oriented one. In the testing-oriented interview, I mentioned that one of the reasons I had chosen my college was because I went to an all-girls high school and I was excited about going to an engineering college with a good gender ratio. My interviewer interrupted, “That’s interesting, because you know, there are not a lot of women who work here, it’s probably only about 10%.” I shrugged and said “It doesn’t bother me, I work with men all the time. I just didn’t want to go from a completely female environment to a completely male one.”

Afterwords, I wondered if I had said the wrong thing. What should I have said? “Yeah, that totally sucks, maybe you should fix that?” That’s certainly what I was thinking. Gender is so awkward to talk about in a job interview. On the one hand, I don’t want it to be counted against me and on the other hand, I don’t want to pretend that it’s a non-issue. I think it’s important to talk about gender issues and not build up this media-hyped lie that “feminism is dead”.

My next interview was for a design-oriented position. This division was very excited about students from my school in general. In fact, the man who had recommended for me to interview was from this division. My interviewer was telling me how excited he was about my school and described a student he had met at the career fair, “I met one student, you probably know him, [edited for anonymity]” My stomach dropped, he was describing one of the biggest assholes at my school. That guy who is always the first to make a sexist comment just so he can snicker with his friends in the back of the classroom. Was this the sort of person that these people hired? I’m sure this man had no idea of this background – but it was depressing to think about all the same.

Ultimately I got a job offer from the design division and not the testing division. I still wonder if the gender question played into it. I actually liked the testing division way better and could imagine myself working there. Those engineers got to spend some time at sea and having spent six weeks living on a ship for my study abroad experience, I felt that I was pretty qualified.

I feel like gender issues are inappropriate to ask about in a job interview – it’s too political. Perhaps I shouldn’t have brought it up in the first place – but that seems so artificial. That was a huge part of how I chose my college. What an awkward job interview.

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