A reader with alopecia wrote to say she’s having trouble with her job search and is worried that employers are rejecting her for her looks. The condition affects hair growth, and she refuses to wear a wig since she feels it compromises who she is. But meanwhile, despite some interviews, no job offers.
Here’s what she asked me
Hi there Ronnie Ann,
I was laid off in January 2017 and had some phone interviews and a few face to face interviews. One job said that I didn’t have enough managerial experience and another job said “it was tough, but we have selected our candidate.” Do you think that sometimes we don’t get hired because of our looks?
I have Alopecia and I will not put on a wig to hide my true self. It may work for others, but not me. Sometimes I wonder if they think I have cancer (could be assumed that I’ll miss a lot of work). I just wondered if looks have come up in your conversations with others. I don’t want to concede to outer beauty expectations, but goodness gracious I’m running out of ideas.
What I told her about appearance & interviews
Your basic question about whether looks matter is a good one. Unfortunately — and I hate this — the answer in general is yes.
Although there is a range of what employers might find acceptable, your appearance does enter into their hiring decision. But how you carry yourself and handle the interview can go a long way too.
Here’s another post where I talk more about looks and offer my take on the whole thing:
You mention that you have alopecia, but also wonder if some employers are thinking you might have cancer. A reasonable thought. Even with it being technically illegal to deny equal rights to people with health / physical challenges because of the Americans With Disabilities Act, employers still let these kinds of things get in the way.
You may come up with a friendly way of mentioning your alopecia to get it out of the way — and clearly understood. Also, the interviewer may take a cue from your attitude toward the whole thing (lighter is better) and this can help them see it as a non-issue in the workplace. Not all perhaps, but hopefully enough.
Another way to look at this
I understand what you said, but if you want to increase your chances, maybe you can see yourself as a whole person who happens to have this condition, without it needing to be a strong statement of identity that may push away job offers.
We all have things about us that others might react to if they knew about it. And you are far more than your Alopecia. I know that’s not fair in an ideal world, but hiring isn’t always fair in so many ways. Up to you of course.
Then again, I respect that you want to live your life in a way that feels right to you, so hopefully there are jobs where people are much more open-minded. Like non-profits, perhaps. Or companies in the arts or design or even tech.
My friend Judy
I have a dear friend who has a very apparent physical condition and has had to use crutches all her life. Not every employer hired her — there are real idiots out there — but she found enough good ones who did.
I think the real key was that she’s very good at seeing herself as completely equal — and carrying / presenting herself that way. Plus she’s energetic, fun and incredibly capable. And that showed too. At least it worked for her.
I wish you much luck finding what works for you, Donna. But if you simply want to get the system to work better for you, then maybe there is a compromise you can live with. 🙂
~ Ronnie Ann
A few more thoughts
Just remember that you are not compromising who you really are on the inside if you make a few reasonable changes to your looks — it’s only your outer appearance, as I once had to do for jobs where skirts and heels were required.
When I was starting out, there were concessions I made that went against my nature — like the skirts and heels and even early work hours. But I went ahead and made them, until I got strong enough in my skills and specialties — and from then on, I pretty much was able to find jobs that matched me.
My eventual consulting work for many years at a major university let me work hours of my own choice and dress comfortably when in the office — and work at home for some of that time. And it paid really well. But, to get to that, I did have to “compromise” for a while.
More posts to help