How Your Appearance Can Affect Your Career Prospects

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By Jori Hamilton

When you think about getting hired for a job, things like prior experience, references, and a solid resume probably come to mind. But, one factor that isn’t often brought to light is appearance. While recruiters and hiring managers may not consciously judge your appearance, many people believe it’s a factor in their career prospects. In fact, a 2018 study of workers in Britain found that 78.9% of individuals believe the way you look can impact your chances of getting a job.

So, what factors can subconsciously influence hiring managers, and what can you do about it? When is a judgment on your appearance something you can and perhaps should change, and when is it discrimination?

Let’s look for a few answers.

Which Physical Factors Can Impact Your Career?

The old saying is that you should “dress for success” when it comes to a job interview. For most people, that means:

  • Wearing business-causal attire
  • Practicing good hygiene
  • Avoiding torn or stained clothing
  • Having your hair styled and kempt
  • Applying professional-looking makeup

But, what about physical factors that are beyond your control? There have been multiple records of hiring discrimination as a result of skin color, age, disabilities, weight, and even physical attractiveness in the workplace.

Obviously, not hiring someone based on their physical attributes is blatantly wrong and unethical for a company. Keep in mind, however, that not all hiring managers do it on purpose. Many times, people don’t recognize their own biases. It doesn’t make them bad people or purposefully discriminatory. However, if you know that you’re being discriminated against based on physical factors alone, it’s okay to speak up. We’ll talk more about that later.

How You Feel About Your Appearance

You can start by taking pride in your appearance. This is easier said than done, but if you don’t feel good about yourself, whether you’re worried about your weight, age, or some minor flaw, that can come across in a job interview. You could be sending subconscious signals to the hiring manager. As a result, they might question your confidence, and your overall ability to do the job well.

There has been an uptick in people dealing with low self-esteem thanks to the pandemic. So many meetings, including job interviews, are being held virtually. One drawback of things like Zoom interviews is that you have to constantly stare at yourself on a screen.

For some, that can cause a problem called Zoom dysmorphia – a condition that occurs when you start to focus on all of the physical factors you don’t like about yourself because you’re always viewing your image on a screen.

By taking pride in yourself and your appearance, you can not only have more confidence in yourself, but you’ll have a better idea of whether a hiring manager might be seeing you differently.

When to Take a Stand

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to prove discrimination took place in a job interview. Even if your gut is telling you that you weren’t hired based on your appearance, you’ll need to produce hard evidence to take any action.

The best thing you can do is to try avoiding any comments about your appearance or background during an interview. If a question seems unprofessional, you can tell the hiring manager it’s a private matter and you would like to focus on the job, rather than your personal life. If they keep pushing, it’s not difficult to assume that they’re digging for more than hard and soft skills.

It can be difficult enough to find a job and advance your career. But, worrying about how your appearance might affect your chances can make things much more stressful. The more you educate yourself on what discrimination might look like, the more you can prepare yourself for it. While there may not be much legal action you can take, you can learn to stand up for yourself, your rights, and what you deserve in a job.

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