wearing coveralls to a job interview

A reader writes:

My question is about job advice my husband received from his technical school’s career adviser.

He is studying to become certified as an aircraft maintenance mechanic. However, this school attracts a lot of students who don’t care much, are not known for continuing to seek certification after graduation, and are mostly lazy. Even the professors have proven to be poor teachers who sometimes don’t know how to demonstrate mechanical procedures to students. However, this is the only school in the area where he can learn these skills. We’re also riding on his prior maintenance experience with the Air Force, and his hard studying to make him a good candidate in the future.

His career adviser recently told the students that when they go to job interviews they should go “dressed for their profession.” Not in a suit and tie, but in coveralls. I disagree. I feel that if he wants to be seen as nothing but a grunt he can go dressed in Dickies and roll around a puddle of grease before meeting with HR, but if he wants to be taken seriously for his prior maintenance experience, certifications, and professionalism, he should dress up.

The idea behind dressing as a mechanic for the interview is that HR can picture him ready and able to do the job. I believe that his experience and credentials will speak for themselves when one looks at his resume. I also don’t trust the advice of this school run by knuckleheads. 

He should ignore the career advisor.

Granted, I don’t know anything about this particular field, and there are some fields where interviewing in a suit is seen as overkill, but I feel confident telling you to ignore the advisor’s advice in this situation because there’s no field where it would make sense to put on coveralls for an interview. You put on coveralls if you’re doing work where you’re going to get dirty; assuming that the interview won’t involve actual demonstration of maintenance skills (it won’t, right?), there’s no reason to be wearing coveralls.

Also, employers are perfectly capable of picturing someone “ready and able to do the job” without the person being dressed in that occupation’s typical clothes. Surgeons don’t show up for interviews in scrubs, and fire fighters don’t interview in fire gear. So this career advisor’s logic is crappy enough that it undermines the rest of her advice.

In any case, wearing a suit for an interview in a field where you won’t be wearing a suit on the job generally says the following: I take this interview seriously. I care about making a good impression. I am a conscientious person.

These are all the messages that you want to send in an interview.

To be really sure, your husband could ask someone in his field who does hiring, but if that’s not an option, he should err on the side of a suit (or, if it’s more field-appropriate, something just one step down from a suit).

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Colette*

    A suit seems like overkill to me – too far removed from what the job actually is. However, there’s a lot of ground between a suit and coveralls. I’d be inclined to say he should choose somewhere in the middle (i.e. maybe a shirt & tie, but not a full suit) – something that wouldn’t be totally out of place but is still a step up from what he’d actually wear on the job.

    Having said that, I’m not in that industry, so I could be way out to lunch.

    1. Mike C.*

      I work in the industry, and you should wear a suit. Some may get away with not, but you won’t be punished for a suit and I don’t see why anyone would take the chance.

    2. carHR*

      Suit is never an overkill. I work in the car business and it says a lot to us when technicians come in suits, or at the very least, nice pants and a tie.

  2. Kate*

    Having been a tech type, I would recomend a white shirt (neatly pressed) and khakis. Dress a little neater and be immaculately clean. Look like the person you wish to be- an intelligent man who works with his hands , but understands the social niceties enough to dress ‘up’ a bit for interviews, meetings, etc.
    Maybe a nice sportcoat as well.

    1. JT*

      “intelligent man who works with his hands”

      That’s the look to aim for, but not a white shirt. White is great for an office. For this job, the shirt should be blue, or perhaps tan or gray.

  3. Boina Roja*

    Taking the “if it looks like, walks like a duck” analogy a bit too literal, eh? I find this advice a bit inulting to the intelligence of HR proffesionals.

  4. ChristineH*

    I too think a suit might be a bit much for this industry. I was going to suggest a nice button-down shirt, khakis, and good shoes, but Colette’s idea above is even better.

    1. nonegiven*

      I think a sport coat might be the way to go, but it really depends on the atmosphere at the company. Not a mechanic, but my son was advised to wear a suit and tie for 2 interviews and advised to most definitely avoid a suit for 2 others for software developing jobs. Every one of those jobs were at companies that were willing to pay all expenses for the onsite interview. The dress code at the place he works now is “wear clothes” and they regularly have contests about who can wear the most different t-shirts without repeating one.

  5. Greg Blencoe*


    I definitely don’t think that showing up in coveralls is the best way to go. And I think you make a great point here:

    “Surgeons don’t show up for interviews in scrubs, and fire fighters don’t interview in fire gear.”

    However, I agree with Colette, I think wearing a suit and tie seems like it’s a bit too much. I don’t think it would be a really big deal to do this, but I believe a really nice dress shirt (with or without a tie) and really nice dress pants would be better. It’s showing respect for the interview without going too far.

    But I’m also not in this field, so I may be wrong.

  6. Summer Camper*

    My parents owned a tractor dealership for years when I was growing up. As the daughter of a small business owner, I ended up seeing all parts of the business – including the hiring process. I remember my folks interviewing a mechanic who showed up at the dealership wearing a full suit and tie. My parents were turned off by his appearance… his conspicuous overdressing made them uncomfortable, and they wonderered if he understood the work he’d be doing (mechanic jobs are far from glamorous) and if he would be a hard worker. My dad actually made the comment – and I remember it because it was so strange – that the applicant’s hands were far too soft and clean. It seems stupid, but in a profession where physical strength is important, calloused hands are a sign of experience and hard work.

    Aircraft mechanics is likely different than farm machinery, but my parents always considered khaki pants and a collared shirt to be the “perfect” interview outfit. It’s dressy enough to show that you care about the interview and consider yourself a professional, but not overdressed.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah. I mean, they’re certainly not the only ones — they have plenty of company there — but this is no different than interviewers who won’t hire people who turn down a glass of water or who don’t hire people who don’t call aggressively after the interview or any of the other arbitrary interviewer behavior we complain about here.

        1. Anon...*

          wow. way to attack a commenters parents! it was a small business, they had to be comfortable working with him as well as feel that customers (perhaps non-suit wearing ppl) would be comfortable with him too. sometimes going with your gut IS the way to go. if they felt something offputting in the overdressing/uncomforable with be overdressed candidate they were likely correct that it would be a bad fit. And we talk about good vs bad fit allll the time here on AaM, don’t we? This was obviously not a good fit for them or their business!

          1. Anonymous*

            If you parents didn’t like the clothes he wore, that is a very easy thing to fix in a business situation. Also, given the nature of this particular job, it was highly illogical to assume that a guy wearing a suite to the interview would also wear fancy dress clothes to fix tractors. The only possible justification for this kind of policy would be if you parents told him, ahead of the interview, that they would be asking for a demonstration of his tractor-fixing prowess in the field. It should’ve been obvious that he was attempting to be respectful of your parents by wearing a suite, not trying to make fun of them or something.

            When AAM talks about fit, she means things that are more intrinsic personality traits rather than easily changed superficial details. You probably won’t be able to make someone who questions authority into an obedient foot soldier, or vise versa. You probably can’t change someone who’s garrulous and outgoing into someone reserved. You can always change a guy in a suite into a guy in coveralls.

            1. Summer Camper*

              I don’t think it’s necessarily unreasonable to consider an applicant’s clothing in the interview. Imagine this in the reverse: what if I was interviewing at an extremely conservative organization – say, a lawyer’s office or the US Senate – and I showed up wearing jeans and a t-shirt? Would this count against me? Probably. While a fair interviewer would still give me a chance and listen with an open mind, it would be reasonable for him or her to wonder about my professional decorum, and I’d have to work a lot harder to convince him of that in the interview.

              For a farm equipment mechanic, who wrestles manure spreaders for a good part of the day, wearing a suit is just as inappropriate as wearing jeans in the Senate. Unlike the tech/IT industry, where professional dress is known to vary based on the workplace, you’d be hard pressed to find an ag mechanic who wears anything nicer than coveralls to work.

              While I agree that dressing inappropriately, one way or the other, shouldn’t automatically loose you the job, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for it to be considered in the hiring process. Given two otherwise equal applicants, I’d take the one who dressed according to industry-specific norms over the one who significantly missed the mark.

              1. Mike C.*

                Except for the fact that

                A. It’s a widespread and understood tradition that one wears a suit to a job interview here in the United States. This is regardless of what is normally worn at work. This is the standard, the convention, the tradition for decades across multiples industries. Also, with such a convention, there’s a huge difference between dressing more than less. I don’t care if some hip Silicon Valley startup doesn’t wear suits, nor do I care if suits won’t ever be worn on the job – you wear a suit to an interview unless explicitly told otherwise. To secretly penalize a candidate for not doing so is arbitrary and capricious.

                B. Your parents subject the hands of potential employees to a visual Rockwell Hardness test. That is dumber than the handwriting samples I’ve heard other places ask for. That is stupid criteria for a “hard worker”. It says nothing as to how determined an employee is, how long they’re willing to work, how productive they are or how they’ll be able to go above and beyond their job role.

                1. Another anon*

                  I don’t think summer camper (or her parents) is off base. While a suit is the standard for MOST jobs I don’t think that necessarily applies to all jobs. Having grown up in a farming community and then apending my career in corporate America, I think there is a huge difference that you may not be able to appreciate.

                  Anyway, I agree that overalls would seem a little odd in OPs case.

          2. Mike C.*

            I stand by what I said. It’s a terrible policy and the idea that someone’s hands are “too soft” is the craziest thing I’ve every heard of.

            1. Spiny*

              …except that when you work with your hands doing this type of work, your hands reveal this.

              And it’s a widespread and understood tradition in the US that men wear suits to job interviews for office jobs.
              And while wearing a suit should not be a red flag, it also shows not understanding normal practices in one’s own industry.

  7. AnotherAlison*

    Speaking as someone who knows, don’t wear a suit. Eek!! I agree with what summer camper said.

    My husband was a maintenance mechanic, owned a maintenance company, and now runs an electrical business. Nice jeans with a collared shirt tucked in would be okay. Khakis and a collared shirt wouldn’t be overdssed, but I would stick with something like a traditional dockers or even Dickies khakis. Flat front Express for men khakis would be too hipster (although thats how my husband dresses after hours).

    1. EM*

      I agree. I’ve worked closely with folks who wear coveralls/hard hat and boots to work, and I think khakis and a polo is what most people in that industry wear to interview.

  8. Chris M.*

    +1 to not wearing a suit.

    Lots of professions nowadays do not call for suits during interviews. My husband and I are engineers and if one of us showed up in a suit for an interview, I’m sure the recruiter and hiring manager would find it very strange (as I would have when interviewing candidates myself).

    No shirt and tie either! This is what I believe would be the best choice: either just a clean shirt and pair of pants, or, depending on the weather, also a jacket, as in this picture: http://us.123rf.com/400wm/400/400/nyul/nyul1001/nyul100100121/6224935-happy-casual-businessman-wearing-suit-and-open-collar-shirt-without-tie-smiling.jpg

    1. Anonymous*

      Except at a few companies I’ve found suits and ties are still the norm in the tech industry. I’ve interviewed and done interviews for AMD, VMWare, IBM, Intel, etc. Even companies like Microsoft and Google which might truly not care, I have a hard time believing they would look down on a candidate for putting their best foot forward.

      1. Evan the College Student*

        I can confirm that from personal experience. When I interviewed last winter for an internship at Microsoft, I was probably the only one in the building wearing a suit and tie. Still, I got the internship (and really enjoyed it!)

      2. Chris M.*

        IBM, Intel, Microsoft, HP — I have friends working there (in IT or research) and they say nobody interviews with a suit. People might be nice to you if you go to an interview in a suit there, but peers who participate on the interview would be thinking “too much”.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But we’ve also heard from people who have worked at those companies that it’s fine to wear a suit. So there seem to be differing reports on that one.

    2. Anonymous*

      The pic posted by Chris M is along the lines of what I was thinking as well (maybe sans jacket) – nice dress shirt, pressed pants. Clean, crisp, well fitting clothes.

      I used to think that you couldn’t go wrong with a suit, regardless of the job or industry. However, a few years ago my husband was criticized during a panel interview because he chose to wear a suit. This was for an engineering position. Flip flops and shorts/tshirts were acceptable at this office, so a suit was overkill. At other interviews for similar positions, a suit was expected. Wearing anything else would’ve been out of place. So you never know….best to ask a few others in the field if you can, as AAM suggested.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is the perfect example of why it’s BS for interviewers to have this attitude (criticizing people for wearing a suit). If it’s normal in the industry but not in this one particular office, how is he somehow expected to know that from the outside? (I hope this doesn’t sound directed toward you, Anonymous! It’s directed toward your husband’s interviewer.)

        1. danr*

          The smart firms where jeans are the norm, say it in their job ads. I’ve seen a few in my job search, and the firms are well respected in my field.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If they’re just talking about the dress code at their company though, it might not reflect the dress code for interviews — even when I’ve worked places that were basically business casual, we’ve still expected candidates to show up for interviews in suits (and 99.9% did).

            1. Just Me*

              My husband was told straight out by a recruiter what to wear for a mfg job interview. Jeans and a nice polo typr button down. In that case he did what he was told.

              In other cases he wore nice dress pants and button down. Our area is mostly blue collar and that dress is more appropriate .

              My hubby is jeans and t-shirt guy all the way. But he knows when interviewing to dress up, shave, fresh haircut if needed.
              Even he would remark on the dress and presentation he had seen when filling out apps. Dirty torn jeans, t-shirts, overall appearance, sloppy.

      2. JT*

        That pic shows clothes good for the purpose of this thread, but I wouldn’t call them well-fitting — jacket is way too big.

        It would be unwise to wear a suit jacket with that level of sloppiness to an important office meeting, such as a job interview.

        Not that an interviewer should really care…

  9. Charlotte*

    Agreed. Khakis and a dress shirt are the way to go. I’ve heard of applicator applicants in the ag industry being laughed at post-interview for wearing suits. Many blue-collar industries have lower interview expectations. For example, welders in our industry are seen as bad fits if they don’t look the part. We also look at hands to see if they look like the hands of welders’.

    1. EM*

      Yep. I’m sure many would scoff at looking at one’s hands as a sign of competence, but how ones’ hands look really says a lot about what they do. I’m a scientist, and I’m required to dig (small) holes and squish mud in my hands from time to time. I adore wearing nail polish, but I never wear it in interviews (or in the field, for that matter!!) because it might send the message that I won’t get my hands dirty. My nails are always very short because I prefer them that way and it’s more functional for my job. I’m sure if someone wore their nails very long or had acrylic nails interviewers might also wonder about their ability to do the job.

  10. Suzanne*

    What about interviews in medical offices? Is it ever ok for someone to interview for a medical assistant or phlebotomist position wearing scrubs? I would think not, but I know some career colleges tell their students that it is perfectly fine.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      This is an interesting question! I’m not in the medical field at all, but in a job where you would never be expected to wear normal clothes, and would definitely be wearing scrubs all the time, maybe demonstrating that you own scrubs and can make them look professional would be a good thing? I’m super curious what people in the industry have to say.

      Also, off topic, we have a new boutique Dr. office here in DC where there are no nurses, only doctors and admin staff and one phlebotomist, and there is not a set of scrubs nor white coat to be seen anywhere, everyone just wears regular clothes. It’s kinda cool.

        1. Just Me*

          I wear jeans and shorts in the summer. I work in a medcial billing office but we are outsourcers and do not see patients or Docs. BUT.. I intervewied in a skirt/dress top and so on.

          1. Just Me*

            Now.. I applied for an internal job. If I get the interview do I just wear whatever I put on ( shorts or jeans ) or do I do a little more and do non jean casual pant ?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Don’t wear shorts to an interview, even an internal one. In that type of casual environment, I’d wear khakis or other nice pants and a nice top.

    2. Anonymous*

      I work in the medical field and early in my career always wore suits to interviews. When I go now I wear the female equivalent of the outfit being discussed above- usually nice black pants and a nice shirt but most of the nurses and therapists I see coming in to interview are wearing scrubs if they are interviewing for a clinical position. It is mostly expected but I just don’t feel comfortable dressing down that far. I’ve never heard someone talk down about someone interviewing in scrubs though- it’s usually thought they came straight from work.

    3. Joy*

      If you are interviewing for a supervisor or above position in the medical field you need to wear nice clothing-not scrubs but not necessarily suits-even if your attire will be scrubs once hired. Very neat, clean, pressed scrubs (NO CARTOON CHARACTERS) are appropriate for staff level interviews, but nice clothing (not suits) is still a better first impression.

  11. Jaclyn*

    My husband was an aircraft structural mechanic in the Air Force for 6 years and then worked 2 years in the public sector doing the same thing. When he applied for the same job in the public sector, he wore a long sleeved button up collared shirt with a tie and khakis.

    At one point he was working with a recruiter for some of the big public sector-government sponsored companies, and she recommended the same attire for an interview.

  12. Steph*

    I can share my own experience here as a recent college graduate, interviewing for an internship with a large seed company. My degree was in plant breeding and this job included lab work as well as work in the field doing hand-held data collection and also operating farm machinery. I knew I would never be “dressed up” on the job. Still, I wore tights, a casual skirt, turtle neck and blazer for the interview. Near the end, the interviewer apologized and explained: I looked so nice, but since they previously had had a bad experience hiring someone who was not comfortable operating the farm machinery of the interview, they also wanted to put me on the combine and see how I did. They loaned me a pair of coveralls to put over my skirt and blazer and I hopped up on the combine and did what the trainer told me to do. I got the job and it was great experience. Like others have said, you need to know your industry and in general during an interview, dress well/nicely but remember that you’ll be sitting at a table with them and talking, not likely asked to perform functions of the job at the moment.

    1. EM*

      ” Like others have said, you need to know your industry and in general during an interview, dress well/nicely but remember that you’ll be sitting at a table with them and talking, not likely asked to perform functions of the job at the moment.”

      Except you were asked to perform functions of the job at the moment….

  13. Anony Mouse*

    When husband talks to HR, though, it is most appropriate to ask if he needs to wear/bring steel-toed boots. It is extremely common to get some sort of facility tour as part of the interview process, and this is one way he can look prepared.

    1. Your Mileage May Vary*


      It’s just as easy to ask the interviewer when the appointment is made if he needs to bring his coveralls or tools for a demonstration. If the interviewer says, “Just come in your coveralls” you’ve got your answer plus you score points ahead of time by showing you can think ahead.

    2. Anonymous*

      I disagree. I think it’s firmly on the company to notify you if you need specific safety equipment for an interview, and any sane company would be prepared to provide that equipment as well.

      It’s smart to ask if you reasonably believe you’ll be exposed to safety hazards on the interview, but I’d consider it a red flag if the company expected you to know without warning to bring steel-toed boots or similar to an interview. That’s a horrifically lax approach to an important safety issue.

      I work around chemicals, radiation, and occasionally around heavy machinery. If anyone expects me to bring a lab coat, safety glasses, steel-toed shoes, or hard hats to an interview without advance warning, I’d leave the interview immediately.

  14. Just Me*

    I agree coveralls are out of the question for an interview for obvious reasons but I don’t think a suit is out of the question either.
    This is especially true considering in many cases the person interviewing HAS NO CLUE as to what the employer considers “OK” dress or what is too much or too little. So the comments that state what they prefer and what looks ok are one sided and unfair to the candidate. How do they know that? So don’t criticize something like dress when the candidate is going by THEIR gut not yours. Unless, when you call them and say, “Do not dress in a suit, we prefer Khakis….” you get what you get in how they dress. Look at the resume not the suit.

    I know interviewing and office attire has lightened up over the years. The ” proper blue suite ” for interviewing is pretty much passé, but giving an impression that you want to look good and present yourself cleanly and positively shouldn’t be held against you., whether it is a suit, or khaki’s and a nice button down shirt.

    “Wow this person has great exp, good resume, loved talking to him, I think he will get along great with the rest of the workers.. but golly, that dang suit… he took too much care in what he looked like to interview for this job”. Really? That makes sense to people?

    Yes I know interviews might think this but it doesn’t make it right. In my opinion it makes them bad interviewers.

    I am not saying that one MUST wear a suit. I am just saying if one chooses to I wouldn’t tell them no don’t do it.

    I also think that laughing at someone who wants to present themselves well in a job interview shows a lack of professionalism.

    It doesn’t matter bottom line if the job is digging ditches or crunching numbers, trying to look good should only be good marks rather than bad.

  15. bemo12*

    At my office one day, a person came in for an interview wearing a t-shirt and shorts. The HR person took one look at him and told him that he wasn’t appropriately dressed and that she would be unable to interview him.

    He raised a fuss about how it was 100 degrees out and it is ridiculous to expect him to wear a suit. She responded in kind saying she had told him business-casual dress and this was no where near acceptable business-casual.

    We’ve has people come in wearing three piece suits and they are always greeted warmly, even though they are a bit over-dressed.

    I’ve always been under the impression that it is much better to be over-dressed, rather than under-dressed and am sad to read comments saying that interviewees are being judged for being over-dressed.

  16. Dorie*

    My husband is a carpenter. When he’s been on interviews that take place on a job site, he wears khakis and a polo. He also brings his tools with him in case of need to demonstrate skill. If the interview takes place in an office building, he wears a suit. Unfortunately in a blue collar line of work, you might be judged for being overdressed.

  17. Sandrine*

    This is exactly the reason why I’ve asked about the dress code the last few times I interviewed.

    It felt silly to ask because I always dress properly (as nicely as possible, given my size) for interviews, but I thought it would show I am a considerate person and am trying my best. Sometimes I’ve been told a suit, sometimes it was more lenient, but I’m glad I ask that question!

  18. Anonymous*

    This is one of my personal pet peeves. Perhaps I’m showing my age here, but I always, always, always would err on the side of dressing more formally than less. If you get called on it, you could always joke or say something like “I wasn’t sure what was appropriate, so I erred on the side of caution” or something like that. If you are too casually dressed, what can you say? “Sorry, I didn’t think you guys cared what I wore?”

    Frankly, if you overdress and indicate you were trying to be respectful because you didn’t have an inside track on the protocol (and frankly, someone could say the office is casual but that doesn’t mean an interview is casual) and they take that the wrong way, then you don’t want to work with them. How anyone can judge someone for trying to do the right thing is beyond me.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is my take too.

      In our culture, you wear a suit to court, weddings, funerals, and other places where you want to show respect. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a suit to an interview, even in places that don’t expect/require it, and interviewers who scoff at someone for doing so should think about why, what type of candidate they’re screening out, and what messages they’re sending with that.

  19. Anonymous*

    I would dress one level above what you’d expect to wear on a daily basis.

    If you’d wear overalls on the job, then a nice shirt with jeans seems appropriate.

    If you’d wear a button-down shirt with khakis, then maybe the same with a tie would be appropriate.

    If you’d wear a tie and dress pants, then maybe a sports coat or full suit would be appropriate.

    I’ve never had an issue interviewing with these guidelines. All else being equal (and it never is), when I’m interviewing potential candidates, I would penalize candidates who dress too far outside the norm in either direction. I’ve personally interviewed in everything from sandals and shorts to dress shirt, tie, and dress pants. Just depends on the culture and dress code of the company. If you don’t know what a company’s dress code is, ask!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Given that a suit is the norm in our culture in situations where you want to signal respect (court, funerals, serious business meetings, etc.), why would you penalize a candidate for wearing one to an interview? That’s a genuine question, not a rhetorical one.

      1. EM*

        The best answer I can give is, “it’s a cultural thing”. When you say “our culture” I suspect you mean upper-middle class (possibly Northeast), WASPy. For more blue-collar, middle of the country-type cultures, many men don’t even own suits. They wear khakis and polos or button down shirts to church, weddings, funerals, etc. And to interviews.

        I work in a professional field (I have a graduate degree), but I work closely with people who work on factory floors/do vehicle maintenance/do construction work. They are for the most part all great people, and I really love working with them and talking to them (one of the wisest men I have ever known drives a big rig hauling hazardous materials). I can guarantee you that those folks don’t wear suits to interviews.

        I think part of it is their suspicion of anything that might be seen as “upper class”. Remember the national debate during the last presidential election over the concept of “elitism”? For many people, suits smack of elitism, and many people are suspicious of that.

        1. Jason Patteson*


          I think we’re having a bit of culture clash in this thread. Saying anything about “our country’s culture” is dangerous considering how widely our country varies. I have noticed this before on this blog. I love this blog and read it weekly, but it does seem out of touch at times with middle America and blue collar topics.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the people in this thread are talking about places that don’t even have hiring managers but instead the supervisor is the direct hiring and interviewing person.

          Middle America doesn’t have the same relationship to the suit as the coasts do, rural MA doesn’t even have the same relationship to the suit as the bigger cities within MA do. In my home town many of the people not in politics didn’t even have suits and looked a bit askance at people who wore them because it was a farming community and there was a real distrust of those who overdressed. This includes weddings and funerals. I can’t remember a funeral I have ever attended that anyone wore a suit other than the family of the deceased and at most weddings the best you saw outside the family were slacks and dress shirts.

          Many of the suggestions in this thread have been from similar backgrounds it seems. In MA it is much more appropriate to not wear a suit to many job interviews where you are dealing directly with the people you will be working with. It may be unfair, but as everyone who reads this blog knows, the hiring process is often unfair. It just goes to reinforce the idea that you need to know the area you live in.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Could certainly be a cultural thing going on — although also note that several commenters in the actual industry this person works in have weighed in and said to wear a suit.

            (Small side note = anywhere that’s hiring has a hiring manager. The hiring manager isn’t “the person who’s in charge of all hiring.” They’re the person who will be managing the new hire — the person’s prospective supervisor.)

            1. Jason Patteson*

              I mispoke!

              I do understand that anyone who does the hiring for that position is filling the role of the “hiring manager”, I should have said a “dedicated hiring manager” in the sense that all they do is handle the hiring. Many small places here in my area do not have that kind of structure, especially the further you go outside the metropolitan area.

              When you are dealing with a 3-20 person company and you are interviewing with the owner himself and he is wearing coveralls… it’s a completely different perspective which a lot of your advice doesn’t always mesh with.

              Let me re-iterate that this is nothing against you or your advice at all, it’s all great stuff and I learn a lot here. It just seems that sometimes you and your commenters are coming from a much different world than I have to deal with daily.

              For instance, I live in an area that within 20 miles jobs are still routinely granted on a handshake without any “written job offer” ever coming to bear until they have you fill out a w-2. All of the negotiating is done verbally and sealed with a handshake (I kid you not).

              For those of us in similar areas, we can see where some of these “we judge a working man on his hands” comes from and it’s not because the people saying it are idiots or bad people or even bad at hiring people… they are just working on a completely different level and in a completely different culture!

              My father was a welder, and you tell it by looking at his arms and hands. Many blue collar jobs are similar.

              On the second bit about people within the field commenting: I agree, my comment was directed more at the people jumping on Summercamp and similar commenters about hiring methods beyond the OP.

              Again; love your blog and I always learn something helpful from it! I just have to translate it sometimes for the people who come through my door who come from a different “American Culture”

                1. Jason Patteson*

                  That makes a lot of sense now! Thank you. I must have missed that post. We have a person in HR that is commonly called the hiring manager because she is the first one to get applications and decides which go on to a manager, which is why there was confusion for me. All cleared up now:)

        2. some1*

          I’ve lived in the midwest my entire life and have never seen khakis and polos at a wedding or funeral.

          1. Jamie*

            Also from the midwest, and I’ve also never seen polos or khaki’s at a formal occasion.

            Alison’s advice rang true to me and I do work in a blue collar industry – although I’m IT I see people interviewed for factory positions all the time.

          2. Jason Patteson*

            Note that I didn’t say khakis and polos, you’re substituting for the argument. I said slacks and a dress shirt. I have seen many pairs of jeans at funerals as well, however, this being farm country.

            1. Jason Patteson*

              Forgive me! I missed how far this was indented! I’m a bit shame-faced now that I realize you were responding to the post I responded to and not me!

              I also agree, I have rarely seen khakis at a funeral except maybe on someone who obviously came straight from work. A polo? You don’t see many polos in my part of the country where I grew up anyway so I can’t speak on that. I have seen many colorful western shirts which made me wonder just what the people were thinking though

              1. nonegiven*

                There was a funeral not too long ago where the designated dress for pallbearers was jeans, boots and western shirts. The woman had some notice and had planned meticulously what she wanted.

          3. Jaci*

            I’m in Western Pennsylvania and someone wore jeans *to my wedding*. It’s blue collar, steel mill mentality around here. People don’t dress for weddings, funerals, church, or job interviews.

            At my last job, I watched men interview for a shop machinist position. Not one of them wore anything nicer than jeans–some of them came straight from working a double shift and were literally dirty and exhausted.

            The shop foreman who interviewed them wore the same coveralls his men did (even though he worked in the office) because the men related to him better when he *wasn’t* in a tie and was at least ready to get in there with them if needed.

            After seeing the types who were hired (and being blown away that the dirty ones were frequently picked) I’d have to say that wearing a suit and having that fresh-out-of-school look wouldn’t have made the cut at my company.

  20. Anon*

    Totally off the dress topic, aircraft maintenance is a profession in which apprenticeship is common. While nailing a job through an interview (I agree, in rather dressier clothing than coveralls!) may be the right way to go, an apprenticeship is another way to get a foot in the door. In aviation there’s not much room for error so people hire the guy they know can do the work. An opportunity to demonstrate could be more effective than a nice jacket.

  21. EM*

    Okay, the responses on this thread are starting to drive me crazy. If you don’t work in the industry, don’t give advice about what to wear to interviews. This is like well-meaning parents or professors giving job searching advice that is way off base.

    In some industries and even in some parts of the country, you will be judged negatively for wearing a suit to an interview. It’s just the way it is. It may not be fair, but lots about interviewing isn’t necessarily fair. So far, “suit-wearing” is not a protected class, so interviewers are free to discriminate on that basis.

  22. Shackleford Hurtmore*

    I worked as a technical consultant for several years and for the first meeting, it was always difficult to know how to dress. I used to wear a smart blue long-sleeved formal shirt, tie and suit jacket – once you are in the room and get a feel for the standard dress, you can either keep the smart suit on, or take the jacket / tie off later and roll up shirt sleeves to look like an engineer.
    (I did get offered my current job whilst wearing jeans and a rugby shirt; though that is a testament to the power of networking with people in the industry, rather than an interview technique I’d recommend!)

  23. Anonymous*

    I just wanted to comment on this particular topic:

    My husband and I recently moved to the Northwest, and he started interviewing for software engineering jobs (his first full time job, since he just graduated college). He wore a suit to the first interview, and everyone told him he was over dressed. The second interview, the interviewer kept harping on his suit. His third, he wore a nice button up and nice pants. He got the job.

    There are absolutely, definitely, times when you will get dinged for wearing a suit. It’s stupid, but it’s going to happen whether anyone else thinks its stupid or not. I have not found the “a suit is always appropriate rule” to be true.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s really a case of “know your industry,” as always. You should always defer to the norms in your industry. And if you don’t know the norms in your industry and don’t have reliable contacts in your industry (who do hiring and have reasonably good judgment) to help you figure it out, then you err on the side of a suit. The reason for that is that of the two risks here — wearing a suit and seeming overdressed vs. not wearing a suit and looking as if you aren’t sufficiently professional or serious — the latter is
      far more likely to lose you the job than the former (for all the reasons I and others have presented here).

      And that brings us back to the final paragraph of my original answer:

      “To be really sure, your husband could ask someone in his field who does hiring, but if that’s not an option, he should err on the side of a suit (or, if it’s more field-appropriate, something just one step down from a suit).”

      1. Val*

        I think it might also be necessary to “know your region”. I live in the PNW, not in Seattle or Portland or one of their nearby metro areas and suits aren’t seen much here. They wouldn’t look out of place at a wedding/ funeral/ personal formal occasion, but they aren’t what people tend to wear, either. The last funeral I attended, some of the men came in jeans and flannel shirts, on up to slacks and a jacket. I associate suits with very corporate jobs, either in conservative-dressing industries like law or professional jobs for companies based on the East Coast,

  24. Anonymous*

    I am a manager for a major commercial airline and work very closely with our maintenance department. If the OP’s husband were to interview with a commercial airline, I’d recommend that he wear a suit, or a minimum of a shirt and tie. Most airline mechanics wear button-down shirts and work pants, so a shirt and tie wouldn’t be out of place. Most airlines are still very formal environments.

    If he were to interview with a local fixed-base operator (FBO) or general aviation maintenance shop, a suit would probably be overkill, but a shirt and tie would be sufficient.

  25. KellyK*

    Coveralls don’t sound like interview attire, but I think if you’re in an industry and culture where suits aren’t looked upon favorably, that khakis and a polo or dress shirt would be a good middle ground. It’s really hard to tell without asking people in that industry in that specific area, since it seems to vary so much.

    I like the idea of asking the company you’re interviewing with, especially if you can come across more as “I want to make sure I’m prepared if there’s a factory tour or a hands-on demo expected,” and less “I have no idea what I’m supposed to wear; please tell me.”

    I do think that in a manual labor job, it’s worth avoiding looking like someone who’s afraid to get their hands dirty, but I think that might be more a concern for female employees (particularly in a male-dominated field). All the things that I would do to avoid giving that impression (minimal jewelry and make up, no nail polish, sensible shoes) don’t really apply for a guy.

  26. MJB*

    My husband is the one mentioned in blog above. I’m thankful for the feedback, but aircraft mechanics are not like auto mechanics. While they may have the same rough character and work with their hands, they don’t interview with AutoZone or Pepboys, they interview with Lockheed Martin or AgustaWestland. Companies where there’s a chance of moving up. AND my husband plans to follow his training with a bachelors in Mechanical Engineering.

  27. Rachel*

    I hope this “career adviser” was wearing a red nose and sitting in a car whose doors fall off when he dispensed this sage advice. If he’s going to act like a clown, he really should dress appropriately for the role

  28. Karen*

    I’m late but since this is my industry, I wanted to put in my 2 cents! I agree with Mike C. I always wore a (pants) suit to my maintenance interviews. Like the OP said, Boeing, Lockheed, the majors…you should definitely not show up in coveralls for an interview. Nothing wrong with a white shirt. I worked for a major company that had white uniform shirts.
    Aircraft maintenance is considered more “grey collar” than blue. It takes 18 months to get your certificates.

  29. Katy*

    Don’t bother wearing a suit, its not needed. If someone turned up wearing a suit to work as an engineer and someone esle in casual clothing, I would not pick the suit guy. This is because he looks like he does not want to get a bit of dirt on him, making him not right for the job. However, a suit can help make first impressions for certain people. With me? NO

  30. Jake H*

    Here is my question. I recently interviewed for a maintenance mechanic position at an industrial factory. I wore suit pants, dress shoes, and a blue, button-down collar shirt. I have been called back for a second interview, and typically the second interview involves a walk through (or tour) the facility. Should I wear similar attire as before? or step down more toward work clothing, such as steel toe boots, work jeans, but maybe still a button down collar shirt to show professionalism? I’m not too sure how to go about this. It’s not like I am going to be working that day, but I don’t know if I should dress similar to before (basically a suit without a jacket and tie) or step down to work boots and pants, but with a nice long-sleeve shirt. Any help here would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    p.s. I am young and a recent college-graduate. So this would be my first job, and actually my first ‘second interview’

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