Friday, May 6, 2011

Could Changing Your Appearance Get You a Job or Promotion?

I've had some strange experiences meeting people for the first time. I once attended a conference, and when I went to pick up my name tag, the person looked startled. "Wow!" she said to me. "You sounded blonde on the phone!"

I'm not sure what that meant, and I know my response was along the line of, "No. I'm a brunette. Always have been."

My point is that people often make assumptions about you -- even before they see you. So, it's critical that you make sure you're on the right track when going for an interview or while at work. While you may think those pink cowboy boots are wicked cool or that the tie with Elmer Fudd on it is hilarious, others may think differently. Here's more to contemplate in a column I did for Gannett/

There's nothing like finding that first gray hair, is there?

Whether you find it at 20 or 50, it's a sign that you're aging. And that's not always a comfortable thought.But what happens when that gray hair may affect your ability to get — or keep — a job? What happens when the jokes Nora Ephron makes about sagging neck skin become a harsh reality?

For many older job seekers and employees worried about looking young enough to be seen as a vital asset to a company, it has meant having plastic surgery. TheAmerican Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that 13.1 million plastic surgery procedures, such as facelifts, breast augmentations and Botox, were done in 2010 — a 5% increase from the year before.

Still, not all job seekers or older workers want to take such radical steps and may instead opt for hair color, salon tans and other "tweaks" designed to make them look a little more youthful. However, that doesn't mean their efforts are always successful.

"I see these men who are trying to be a little too GQ," says Maggie Jessup, referring to the men's magazine often featuring fashionable clothes. "They've got this slicked-back hair, fake tans and look like they just stepped off the runway."

Jessup, director of Platform Strategy, says both men and women must realize that what they see in magazines or fashion runways shouldn't be completely copied and then strutted around at work or in a job interview.

"When you go to work, you need to look professional," she says. "The office isn't Gossip Girl or All My Children. Leave the sequins at home and cover up the cleavage."

When you're being interviewed for a job, the last thing you want is for the interviewer to be wondering about your bad hair dye job, says Laurie Ruettimann, a former human resources professional with Fortune 500 companies who now writes and speaks about workplace issues.

"We're staring at your dark hair, but seeing gray eyebrows. There's a dissonance although we may not be able to put our finger on it right away," she says. "So, we're thinking about that instead of listening to the great things you can do."

Research shows that when meeting a stranger, we record an impression of that person's face in about a tenth of a second. And our treatment of that person is based on our impression. Ruettimann says that's true of many job interviewers.

"The human resources person is going to make a quick assessment of you. They're going to look at your hair, your clothes and your accessories," she says.

What exactly are they looking for?

"We're looking to see if you're going to cause trouble down the road if you're hired. If you're smelly and unkempt, co-workers may complain about you. We're looking to see if you're clean and neat so we don't have to worry about that and can move onto other matters," she says.

Ruettimann and Jessup have suggestions for making a good impression, whether you're applying for a job or just wanting to spiff up your image at your current position. Among them:

• Avoid hair extremes. "We're a very hair obsessed society," Jessup says. "Most women over 40 don't look good with flat, straight-ironed hair."

Adds Ruettimann: "Baby boomers shouldn't dye their hair from a box, especially not one or two days before an interview because then you can't fix it if it goes wrong." She suggests highlights from a professional stylist.

• Stand tall. "Just maintaining a good posture can take years off your age," Jessup says. "Pick your head up and lift your chin."

• Be realistic. "If you go get a boob job or Botox, understand that people are going to be talking about that whenever they see you, and not your abilities," Ruettimann says. "For women, especially, it can be the topic of conversation for a long time."

• Don't fight the inevitable. No one expects a 55-year-old person to have tight skin or nary a gray hair.

"If Botox makes you feel better about yourself, go for it. But just understand that a brow lift isn't going to get you a promotion," Ruettimann says.

Do you think someone should change their appearance to get a job or promotion?


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