September 1, 2014

The Job Hunt: Appearances matter

If your look is wrong, the job interview can be over before you open your mouth.

Come in, they say. We’ll talk about that job you applied for.

Good for you. You got a call-back.

You need that job.

But, wait. Look in the mirror.

How might other people see you?

Job recruiters and employers say they are baffled by how people overlook their appearance these days.

Spare them the impassioned speeches about personal expression.

This is crucial stuff, they say. Personal appearance is a big reason people get rejected for jobs.

Our culture in recent years has embraced nose rings, facial piercings, tattoos and blue, red, green, magenta or bright-orange hair.

But bosses? They have customers. It’s about the customers, they say. It’s not about you.

“I don’t see what the attraction is, when everybody knows that so many employers tell everyone to remove the piercings,” said Rhandalee Hinman, a human resources and employment consultant in Wichita. She coaches job hunters and helps employers recruit workers.

“I finally got to where I can see the little nose piercing as OK. But if your boss tells you to remove that, what then? You’ve got a hole in your nose.

“We have all these protected classes now: race, sex, ethnicity, religion,” Hinman said. “But with personal appearance, people can discriminate. It is not illegal.”

Ray Frederick, president of Frederick Plumbing & Heating, said he tries to be open-minded. But why would his customers want a plumber they’ve never met before to come in wearing tattoos and eyebrow rings?

“My advice is, if you don’t have tattoos and piercings right now, think real hard about not ever getting them,” he said.

But what if you’re a machinist, a welder or a factory-floor worker not seen by customers? Can’t those people wear nose rings or tattoos?

Some Wichita employers have said they don’t care about appearances where people work out of sight.

Dana Pfingsten, the human resources manager at JR Custom Metal Products, for example, said piercings and tattoos technically shouldn’t matter at JR Metals. They try to be open-minded there.

But not long ago, JR’s president and CEO, Patty Koehler, led a group of vice presidents from other companies on a building tour.

“I was escorting them through our office area,” Koehler said. “And there sat a young man, filling out a job application, wearing shorts and flip-flops. His arms and legs – fully covered from top to bottom with tats. He wore earrings. He had a ring in his eyebrow. And I thought, ‘Oh, my God. They are going to think this is what I hire to work here.’

“Appearances are everything,” she said.

Hinman has a shorthand phrase she uses in job recruiting: “the blue hair test.”

Job seekers with blue hair – or tattoos or piercings – should research a company before they contact the company, she said.

Would a fine-jewelry company give you a job if you wear blue hair or piercings? Does the company culture frown on that kind of personal decoration?

Don’t waste their time or yours unless you first lose the artwork, she said.

And if you color your hair to look younger, go to the interview only after you color your roots.

“I know those are just small things,” Hinman said. “But if they turn your interviewer off, they don’t even have to say anything. It’s over before you open your mouth.”

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @roywenzl.

Coming next

What not to say in a job interview.

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