Job Search Trap: It Doesn’t Matter What I Look Like

If you are a technical person, you probably dress in a casual way for work. I do.

When it’s time to meet people, either when you network or when you interview, do you wear the same clothes that you wear to work?

When I meet people at networking meetings, they are casual. And, I wonder when some of them last bathed or brushed their teeth. That’s a problem.

When you look for a job and you are out in public, you are networking. You don’t have to be overt, as in telling everyone, “I’m looking for a job. Know of anything?” On the other hand, every time people see you, they judge you. You need to be ready for that judgement.

How do you look? Are you well-groomed? This includes:

  • Having your hair cut properly. It doesn’t matter if you have long hair. Is your hair cut/styled so people can see your face? Is your hair clean and neat?
  • Do your clothes fit? Do all buttons button? Do all zippers zip? Are your clothes clean and not wrinkled?
  • How do your teeth look? Do you need to see a dentist? I’ve met a number of job hunters who were missing teeth and didn’t have dentures or bridges. They also looked like they needed to see a dentist.
  • Do you remember to clean your glasses every so often? (I don’t. That’s why I’m so aware of this one.) Are your glasses frames held together with tape? Fix your glasses if you need to. No tape. Clean them, so other people can see your eyes.
  • Are your clothes professional? Not too casual. No sandals. No short skirts or low-cut shirts for ladies.

I met a gentleman a couple of months ago who arrived at a networking meeting with wrinkled clothes, and hair that looked like he hadn’t combed it in years. He was looking for a senior development position. He said he’d had trouble in the interview stage. No requests for a second interview, no offers. What was he doing wrong?

I asked him a number of questions about his technical background. He sounded like a great guy. He told me nailed the phone screens. I then asked how he dressed for the interview. “Just like this. These are my interview clothes.”

I asked him if he wanted feedback. He said he did. I told him the above and explained that it did matter how he looked. He was not happy.

I recently heard from him. He’s now made it to several second-round interviews. He might even get a job offer from one organization. Here’s the best part: he feels better about himself. He doesn’t feel as if he’s begging for a job. Because he changed his appearance from scruffy to professional, he feels better. He’s not wearing suits; he’s wearing chinos or khakis and nice shirts and sweaters. Everything is clean and ironed. Everything fits. His hair is long, and it’s tidy.

I can’t guarantee you a job if you look as if you take care of yourself. However, if you do take care of your appearance, you will project a self-confident persona when you interview. That’s what people want to see.

It does matter what you look like. Make your image reflect your best self.

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8 Comments

  1. Jim Grey

    I have been hiring technical people for going on 20 years now. In every environment but one, there was no dress code. Where I work now, the developers wear cutoffs and flip-flops all summer. I rather like that freedom.

    But I still like to see interviewees arrive in a suit sporting a fresh-ish haircut. And I think more of someone I meet at a networking event when they’ve taken obvious care with their grooming, even if they’re just wearing jeans and a T-shirt. It really does influence me.

    Reply
    • johanna

      Jim, it’s true for you, and for me, too. I suspect it’s true for almost anyone in a hiring position.

      Even if you don’t wear a suit, but you wear business-y attire (sports jacket, tie, and nice pants for men; dressy slacks and a nice top for women), it makes a difference to the interviewers.

      Once someone gets the job, they can be casual.

      Reply
  2. srinivas kadiyala

    You mentioned: Not to overt in public asking for job.

    How/what to do instead?

    Reply
    • johanna

      Srinivas, you can ask for a job. The key is how.

      – If you email-bomb everyone you know, that’s not effective networking to find a job.
      – If you lead every conversation with, “I’m looking for a job, do you know of any?” that’s as bad as an email-bomb. Maybe it’s worse, because it’s in person.

      If you are looking for a job, and you are outside your house, you want to look self-assured and competent. You want to first ask, “How can I help you?” instead of “Will you please help me?”

      It’s all in the way you ask. I guess I should do another trap on how to ask.

      Reply
      • srinivas kadiyala

        Yes! I heard the same from Ajay B .. Show ur skills to outside world.
        One day, you will say ‘ How can i help you?’ .. But its hard to work on the skills .

        Reply
  3. Dwayne Phillips

    And what do you do when you look too old? One friend advised me to dye my gray hair blonde and grow a pigtail. She was right, but I’m not yet ready to do that.

    Reply
    • johanna

      Dwayne, make sure you appear young on the phone, first, so you can get the interview. Then, look at your attitude. How do you think you appear to people when they meet you? What kinds of “new” things can you discuss?

      I follow you on Twitter, so I know you are aware of current events. Can you work any of those events into the conversation?

      I have a post about ageism. I don’t know why hiring managers don’t want experienced people. Maybe if you discover that (for every place you want to go), you can address it.

      I agree, I’m not dying my hair (or growing a pigtail).

      Reply

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