Joe Matje believes that if he is dressed in more comfortable clothing, he will likely work better than if he felt stiff and uncomfortable sitting at his cubical.

Issue: 4/02

This past week, I had an end of the year review at the firm in which I am currently employed. I am sure most readers are familiar with the employee review process, and many of you have given reviews to young engineers such as myself. But for those who do not know, a review is an evaluation of one's past year's performance. My review was positive and rather informal, with my boss expressing gratitude for the work I had done the past year. I was pleased with the review and for the opportunity to talk about my growth and potential. But there was one point of critique my superior had about this past year's work, and this is what I wanted to share with everyone reading my prose.

The area of improvement he mentioned was that he would like my dress to be more professional and to represent the company better. Also, my language choices could improve, so that I did not express myself in such a direct way with such colorful adjectives. As most of you read this, I am sure you are picturing me as some young punk, dressed as punks are perceived in your own mind, and spewing out profanities left and right to whomever is listening. If you saw me on the street, you would be surprised to learn that this is not the case--quite the opposite. I admit that I do not wear suits and ties often, and on most days I am dressed in jeans, work boots, and probably a sweatshirt or polo shirt, but I do not think this is punk-like. I spend one or two days a week in the field for my company, and this field dress spills over to the other days when I am in the office.

But the point of this editorial is not to defend my fashion statements (or lack thereof). It is to ask my more senior colleagues the following question: How big of a role does outward appearance play in the professional engineering world? Certainly, my clothes do not impact the quality or speed of my job performance. The contrary is true. If I am dressed in more comfortable clothing, I will likely work better than if I felt stiff and uncomfortable sitting at my cubical. Casual dress also helps in the field when dealing with contractors. No one likes to feel inferior or belittled by an individual to whom they are talking. If someone relates to you immediately, more will be accomplished than from a formal, stiff relationship.

But the most important impact of my dress and talk is the way in which opinions and views will be considered by colleagues both inside and outside the firm. I agree that my dress will certainly affect this and my speech will most definitely affect it, but only in some situations. The language aspect is detrimental in the office, but not so much in most field circumstances, where everyone talks the same way I do. Plus, I feel my directness of language is a refreshing change from the polite, tiptoe-around-the-point strategy used by some members of my team. As for my dress, I offer the following defense: people may look at me and dismiss me as a lackey, or someone who has no say in what goes on. Then I surprise that individual with some deep engineering knowledge, and I immediately have the upper hand.

In all seriousness, I probably will not be radically changing my wardrobe in the near future, but the language is something that I am certainly conscious of following the review. I guess it cannot hurt to think more before I speak, and to not use such colorful adjective choices. Will this help me promotion wise? Or income wise? In my fractional bit of experience I would say yes, especially when it comes to marketing our services or addressing a client concern face to face.

But I offer you this: I am too young to think about clawing up a corporate ladder, or wondering what this or that person thinks of me. I am more interested in learning and leading a positive work environment, having fun in everything I do, and treating people right. So in 10 years, when I look back on this essay and my outward appearance at the time, I will wonder who has the right idea, and who does not.