What to wear to a skilled trade job interview within local government?
May 17, 2015 5:55 AM   Subscribe

Men: should my husband cut his beloved ponytail for a job interview in local government? Also some attire advice would be welcome.

He has had a ponytail since he was a teenager. He has an interview for a job that falls in between skilled trade and professional (electrical inspector - requires some college but not a bachelors).

We are not originally American but moved here some time ago. There are several things we are clueless re:job hunting culture in the US. We are in Richmond, VA and the job is with the City of Richmond.

- Would it be inappropriate to show up to an interview with a 12 inch metalhead ponytail? We considered braiding it, cutting it shorter but not short enough to not need a ponytail, but ultimately we really want this job so should we just go ahead and get him a conventional look? :( He would hate to cut his hair and not get the job, but he also doesn't want to not cut it and not get the job because of that. He is very well qualified for this position.

-About the attire, he will be wearing dark gray pants, a white shirt, a burgundy tie and a black sweater. Something like this but with a burgundy tie. We are not sure if the sweater is a good choice, or if he should go for a blazer. He thinks a blazer might be too much for this type of job interview. What do you think?

Thank you!
posted by Tarumba to Work & Money (23 answers total)
I don't know Richmond culture. I'm in upstate NY and in my city, the ponytail would be fine and I'd go for the blazer. (At least near me, overdressing is far better than underdressing for interviews, and you'd have to go pretty far over the top to get dunned for it.)
posted by metasarah at 6:10 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: He might get informally penalized for the ponytail, and he will almost certainly not get penalized for having a "regular" haircut. Better safe than sorry, I'd say.

Ditto the blazer vs. the sweater.
posted by Etrigan at 6:14 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think a big part of this comes down to what level of experience he has for the job. If he's been an electrical inspector for a long time, worked for some really reputable companies, and is seeking out a new job on his own (rather than having been fired from a position), his hair will likely be of little concern to anyone at the potential new job. He would have already proven his skills, personal qualities, etc., in previous jobs. People who are really good at what they do are often 'allowed' to have more quirks.

If I were in your husband's shoes, and wanted to keep my ponytail, I'd put it in a braid - neat, tidy, less visible, and obviously not going to interfere with his ability to do his job (i.e., his hair won't blow into his face if he were working outdoors). But I am speaking as a person with purple hair who has thus far refused to dye it to a 'normal' colour for the sake of employment - and who remains employed due to being good at what I do.
posted by VioletU at 6:27 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Business and government culture in Richmond, VA is pretty damn conservative. I've been to tech industry networking events in Richmond and 3/4 of the attendees are wearing suits. If getting the job is really important I'd probably play it safe and cut the ponytail. He can always grow it back, whether he gets the job or not.
posted by COD at 6:50 AM on May 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

I work in local government in California. There are lots of guys in my department who have long hair - but none of the interviewees had long hair when I applied 8 years ago (over 2000 applicants btw). I think first impressions count, and unfortunately first impressions can be petty. I would say he might have a better chance interviewing overall, no matter where he interviews, if he cuts his hair for now. He can grow it back later.
posted by vignettist at 7:02 AM on May 17, 2015

Blazer, no sweater, and yes, get a haircut. The ponytail will in no way help him to get the job but it could hinder him.
posted by myselfasme at 7:13 AM on May 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Rule of thumb is dress one step better than you would normally wear in the job you are applying for day-to-day. If the ponytail is neat, I doubt it will make a difference.
posted by frumiousb at 7:24 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I work for the government, though not your state government. Wear a suit, no sweater. I wouldn't cut the ponytail for the job interview but if you really need the job, I'd go for a conservative haircut (e.g. a traditional men's haircut).
posted by arnicae at 7:28 AM on May 17, 2015

Swing by the city offices and see if there are a lot of people wearing suits. There are plenty of reasons to be there, for example go in to pick up a paper copy of the building permit forms (i.e. for a hypothetical addition on your house). Are the people wearing suits the ones behind the big desks, or is it petty much everybody? Is there a sense of different dress codes for different jobs?
posted by aimedwander at 7:32 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I agree with commenters saying it is safest for your partner to cut his hair and wear the jacket.

I'd also advise that the haircut should happen soon, and you should be willing to pay for a good one at a stylish salon. I'm guessing your partner may be tempted to keep his ponytail right up to the last minute, but that's a bad idea -- it'll take at least a few days for him to figure out how to style the new cut (what product, how much), and until he does it won't look great. Same goes for the jacket: he should wear it around the house a little and get comfortable in it, before wearing it to an interview. Essentially, he wants to turn up able to ignore his clothes and hair, not distracted by them. Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 7:34 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

My husband has a low-level managerial position in the skilled trades (HVAC supervisor at a community college). He interviewed with a substantial ponytail and wearing khaki pants and a long-sleeve oxford shirt. He now conducts interviews in the same dept. and beyond being clean and neat, the people responsible for making hiring decisions (who are all facilities department people and not HR people) give absolutely zero fucks about hairstyle or attire at interviews. He says at the upper end he's had only a handful of interviewees in suits, and at the lower end some interviewees in clean neat jeans and a collared shirt but most people fall somewhere in between. In the end, they make hiring decisions based on knowledge/skills and ability to interact/communicate, and even in today's economic climate they have a hard time finding candidates with all the hard and soft skills that they'd like in an ideal candidate.
posted by drlith at 7:50 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I work in a government setting in Canada and interviewers are prohibited from taking personal appearance into account when scoring candidates (like, I could wear pyjamas and still get the job if I scored well). I suspect the employment laws in the US are not that protective, but you might want to look into this for your area.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 7:52 AM on May 17, 2015

Best answer: My husband worked corporate Richmond for 20+ years. He says keep the ponytail. Wear a blazer. In part (he says), it's an asshole test. Do you really want to work at a place where you aren't accepted?
posted by slipthought at 7:57 AM on May 17, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: My feeling is, a Ponytail Guy is not going to enjoy working at a place that would not hire a Ponytail Guy just because of the ponytail. There are thousands of reasons he might not get the job (better qualified applicant, nepotism, last minute budget cut), but if he is well-qualified, part of the interview is determining if the job is right for him. Stay true to who he is and let his resume speak for itself.

/former ponytail guy
posted by Rock Steady at 7:58 AM on May 17, 2015 [18 favorites]

Best answer: I work for government but not your government. I would recommend wearing a blazer and tie and making sure his ponytail/facial hair is neat, clean and well groomed. Practice tying it back in different ways (eg. braid) and wearing it that way for a few hours before the actual interview so it feels and looks comfortable.

People saying he can grow back a 12 inch ponytail probably underestimate the slow frustration of growing back beloved hair after an unhappy haircut.

I don't wish to pre-judge your husband but I think that if he takes steps to minimise any other signs of metalhead-dom (minimal jewelry, covers tattoos as appropriate) and balances the ponytail with nicely laundered, pressed clothes, shined shoes etc nobody will have any reason to hold a neat ponytail against him.
posted by bimbam at 8:29 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: After a little identity crisis during which my husband considered getting a haircut but felt horribly unhappy we have decided to go for blazer with a ponytail and impeccable behavior and appearance.

He will bring up the hairstyle during the "do you have any questions?" part of the interview and directly ask if it will be an issue. We figure at least that way they will know he is aware his hairstyle is not the norm.
posted by Tarumba at 9:28 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Definitely don't talk about your hair during the interview. As an interviewer, I would find that much more off-putting than the hairstyle itself.
posted by decathecting at 9:44 AM on May 17, 2015 [29 favorites]

Best answer: He should not discuss his ponytail during the interview! This has a good chance of making the interviewer uncomfortable, and it calls attention to his appearance! Looking professional means being confident and comfortable -- and this means not discussing his hairstyle.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:56 AM on May 17, 2015 [12 favorites]

I agree with decathecting. If it's an issue, they'll bring it up.
posted by ApathyGirl at 9:58 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The ponytail will in no way help him to get the job but it could hinder him.

Oh, it could help him get the job — by making him feel comfortable and normal. And cutting it could hinder him by making him feel unhappy and unenthusiastic about the interview.

Definitely don't bring up his hairstyle in the interview! And never wear a sweater to an interview.
posted by John Cohen at 10:40 AM on May 17, 2015

Best answer: Hi, I interview people for a living. Please, please don't talk about your hair during the interview and especially not at the "do you have any questions?" part. What you ask at that point indicates to the interviewer what you are thinking about as you make your career decisions. You should ask questions like "what do you think it takes to succeed here" or "what does a typical career track look like for someone starting in this role" or even "do employees socialize outside of work," if that is your priority. If the thing you're focusing on is your hair, that is going to be extremely off putting.

Wear a suit or sports jacket to an interview on the east coast. I have never seen a sweater worn in an interview.

I don't know about the ponytail. Your husband seems really attached to it. I think it's a possible liability but since he really loves it, it probably doesn't make sense for him to cut it off if it will add an extra element of stress to the interview process. Interviewing is stressful enough.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:36 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Super confused about the "don't talk about it!" responses.

While my wife covers her visible tattoos and wears flesh-colored plugs in her interviews, she always takes the time to ask about a dress code. This is precisely so that if she's hired her superiors cant claim they were misled when she wears short sleeves. Facts are better than conjecture.
posted by Octaviuz at 7:42 AM on May 18, 2015

He would hate to cut his hair and not get the job, but he also doesn't want to not cut it and not get the job because of that.

If he doesn't get the job because of a ponytail, that's not going to be the reason they give. He won't know if it's because of the ponytail or some other reason.

One thing about job culture in the US that comes up with some public sector employment is that some employers are required to interview candidates for a position even if they already have someone in mind to take the job. So he could be a great fit for the job and not get it, ponytail or not.
posted by yohko at 11:08 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

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