Personal appearance and finding a job


If you interviewed two candidate for one position and one of those candidates didn’t look the part, who would you choose?  Or, if one of those candidates physically presented themselves very professional and the other was unprofessional, which one gets the job?  To answer your question, the candidate who presents a professional appearance will win most of the time.  That candidate gets the second look because he/she has focused on the outward appearance of their Employability Brand.

Many hiring managers are always looking for professionals, who not only have the skills and expertise, but also “look the part” or “fit the culture”.  Today, every employee is now considered a marketing billboard.  Your personal appearance, combined with your professional expertise is the candidate jackpot for every hiring manager in America.

“I’m not a sales person, I just install technology.”  That is a very old school philosophy of  job seekers who have been out of the employment game for a long time.  In today’s professional social media society, everyone contributes toward marketing, company branding and the community perception of the organization.  In essence, we are all sales people and are held accountable for what we look like in the eyes of the community and future clients.

What does this all mean? Are you saying I don’t look employable?

I am saying, todays stakeholders are completely overwhelmed with normal candidate interview assessments in typical key areas like; communication, skills and experience.  Its not cut and dry anymore.  There is a larger pool of unemployed workers competing for the same job and hiring is no easy task.  Your Employability Brand could be great in some of the common areas and horrible in other areas, which can sway managers from hiring you.  Yes, you can look unemployable which will hinder your brand and career if not corrected.

Why haven’t someone said something before?

There are some disqualifiers that are not discussed with job seekers during the interview that could help improve your Employability Brand for the future.  As organizations become more prone to Equal Opportunity & Discrimination law suits, chances are, you will never receive honest feedback from an interview regarding your physical appearance or any appearance disqualifiers.  Managers would rather inform you that you were denied and move on to the next candidate.

What are the appearance qualifier or disqualifies and how much do they weigh toward the decision? 

According to a Job Outlook study conducted by National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), candidate physical attributes contribute very strongly toward hiring a job seeker.  Categories such as: Grooming, Body Piercing, Tattoos, Hair color, Attire, Beard and Mustaches were areas of influence.  Grooming and Interview Attire had a combined measurement of influence over 78%.  This means, qualified candidates who lack focus on the physical attributes of the Employability Brand are getting passed over more often than those who “Look the part for the culture”.

“I’m a Technical Geek, this doesn’t pertain to me”

Outside the “Tech Geek” environments, where IQ and capabilities are more important than physical appearance, your ability to fit the culture of the organization is critical.  You can quickly assess types of unique environments during the job courtship process.  You will need to ask about the working environment, daily attire and what is expected of each candidate during the phone interview.  I’ve seen face to face interviews with managers in sandals, long hair walking around in cut off shorts playing ping-pong in the middle of the receptionist room.  To the outside world, this is the coolest environment in America.  Problem is, the unaware candidate would never know those conditions until the day of the face to face interview.  These are very rare working conditions, but they still may require a traditional interview process before getting the opportunity to program code, hang out in hawaiian shirts and play ping-pong during breaks.  Be aware of what is expected.  Today, most tech companies still require their top “Geeks” to meet the hiring brass or investors.  Personal Appearance will still be important in making the selection.  Candidates with the proper personal appearance and strong Employability Brand move on to the cool “Tech Geek” opportunity.

Let’s define those employment areas that are considered physically influential in finding employment, as well as your Employability Brand:

  • Weight:  Obesity can weigh heavily on job seekers who are looking for opportunities in high impact, high energy and mobile fast pace environments.  Occupations requiring a lot of physical activity would require job seekers to look fit.  This doesn’t mean you have to be a body builder to compete.  It only means you must look healthy and more than capable of completing any physical task required in the workplace.  Candidates who are unhealthy (too thin or over weight) will have to work on this area if they want to be considered amongst hundreds of others who are interviewing for the same job.
  • Grooming:  Being neat, clean cut and presentable.  This is important in all work environments.  Hiring a professional who doesn’t pay attention to his/her grooming can be a bad investment.  You are rolling the dice if a professional can’t take the time to ensure that shirts are ironed, pants are pressed, and shoes are cleaned and polished.   Especially for professionals who work outside or in non-traditional environments.  Managers want to see professional appearance in traditional work areas.  They don’t always want to see what you look like when you are dirty.  Some executives believe that working in environments in which employees get dirty easily doesn’t mean you can come and go from work dirty and smelling.
  • Attire:  What you wear sends a message to your interviewer, co-workers and potential employer.  Sloppy, tight or dirty attire are major turn offs.  Most importantly, how you look in your attire puts off a signal of hire or don’t hire.  Making sure you physically fit your clothes and you choose clothing that is presentable in a business environment.
  • Obvious Tattoos:  Tattoos are more acceptable today, but can dictate where and what you do as a professional.  Some professionals cover up their tattoos very well, but in some cases they are just too much to ignore.  Find a way to keep the distraction down.  If you are considering a tattoo, consider your career first.  Get them in places you can keep concealed.
  • Unusual Hair colors:  Be conservative and remember that your personal expression can be a turn off to some hiring managers.
  • Beards & Mustaches:  Don’t have as much influence in most areas, but could become part of the employment negotiations.  Some companies have no facial hair policies and will require you to shave if hired.
  • Trendy Hair Styles:  Mohawks, Dreadlocks, Mullets, Twist, Spikes or any Trendy or Faddish Hairs styles could prevent you from being hired.  Some hiring managers could see that as a sign of immaturity or may fear that clients would view the organization negatively.  Cultural acceptance for hairstyles can be a negative impression in the business world.  Unfortunately, in our society, we stereotype people for how they dress and how they wear their hair.  Be conscience of that when deciding to choose a hair style while looking for employment.

Rule of Thumb!

My rule of thumb is, always look at other employees at the place of employment you are targeting.  They will show you what is acceptable and what isn’t.  Ask them what are the policies.  If you notice that everyone has crew cuts and no facial hair, make your decision to join the crowd “BEFORE” you interview.  Its a gamble, but it could be the difference between getting hired and staying unemployed.

In my 20+ years in personnel, I can honestly say that I have participated in every scenario listed above in some shape or fashion.  In most cases, the job seeker always gets the short end of the stick.  As a Recruiting Executive, I was responsible for managing candidates and coaching them through good and bad client interviews.  Honesty was always the best policy for me, but knowledge and understanding is power for the job seeker.

That is why I wanted to share my quick tips for the Appearance aspect of your Employability Brand:

Quick Tips

  1. Work out and eat healthy during your job search.  Do your body and mind a favor, eat healthy and engage in some type of physical activity while you are searching for employment.  A good diet and cardio activity will stimulate the mind and help you look healthy and vibrant to your future employer.  Maintain an appearance of good physical regiment, no sicknesses and ready to take on the world.
  2. Keep yourself groomed.  If you can’t afford to keep yourself groomed during your job search, then find alternative ways to stay presentable.  Never get caught off guard with an opportunity and you haven’t had a haircut in months.  Be prepared at all times.  Face, body and hygiene are all outward physical attributes that contribute toward recommendations for employment.  Be ready to make the impression necessary to get in front of that one person who can hire you.
  3. Buy yourself one (1) good interviewing outfit:  Purchase a great “fitted” blue or grey interview suit (male/female), and invest in a couple of shirt and tie combinations.  This will allow you to accessorize that one good suit and convert it in to several interviewing outfits.
    1. Buy a Navy Blue suit first.  Then add a pair of tan, grey and black slacks.  This converts your blue suit in to four (4) outfits for men and women.  (Blue suit, Blue Blazer/Tan pants, Blue Blazer/Grey pants, Blue Blazer/Black pants)  
    2. Make sure the suit fits your body properly.
    3. Take it to a cleaning agency who does alterations.  Have them make adjustments as needed.  Its very in-expensive, but well worth it.  You’ll look good in that new suit combination.
    4. Focus on the key alteration areas: shoulder width fit, sleeve length of the jacket and in/outside seam length of the pants.  Ladies will need to work on the skirt length, suit pant length and suit sleeve length.

***Make sure that your sleeves are adjusted to lay on your wrist correctly and your pant legs don’t drag the grown.  Look good, feel good and interview well in your interview suit.

  1. Tattoos: Cover them up if possible.  Make sure you don’t showcase any gang, offensive or questionable ink that would hinder you from becoming employed.  Get the job, then work on keeping them covered while you work.
  2. Beards & Mustaches:  Beards and mustaches aren’t as critical as other physical employment attributes.  Keep in mind, hair will grow back after you’re hired.  Consider trimming them to a more manageable length while searching for employment.  Try to stay away from long goatees, and ZZ Top length beards unless you are totally sure it is acceptable in the workspace.
  3. Trendy Hair styles:  This is probably the least considered area in your employability brand but it is considered as a measurement in job hunting.  If possible find a hairstyle that is accepted in the workplace and allows you to express yourself on the weekends.  This may or may not be realistic with some hair styles today, but your first role is finding a job.  Expressing yourself through your hair will be a secondary item until you achieve your goal of employment.

What does this all mean?

Job seeking is hard enough with high unemployment and stiff competition in your market.  You have at least 3 different generations fighting to become the best candidate for the job.  Working on your resume, getting great references and putting together your education portfolio is a proper strategy for gaining employment. That’s considered the “sexy” portion of job searching.  The truth is, the “blocking and tackling” is what gets you hired.  I consider that the “ugly” side of job hunting.

Don’t let your hair, proper grooming or sloppy appearance contribute toward extended periods of unemployment.  Take the holistic approach to becoming a professional and work on all aspects of your career.  I tell many of my students who are seeking employment, “Everyone wants to be the hero, but nobody want to work hard and jump in front of the bullets”.  Why is that important?  As a Military Veteran, I know what it takes to perfect your craft and become great at a task.   Most people want the medals and accolades without the daily grind of preparing for battle.  The same applies to job seekers.  Chances are you will not stumble upon your dream job without putting in a lot of hard work.  You “blocking and tackling” efforts will yield the right opportunity.  As one Hall of Fame NFL Football coach said, “You are what your record states”.  I think that coach was referring to a team who was predicted to win a Super Bowl during the pre-season, but was 5-8 when the reporter asked about the state of the organization.  I think that statement applies in everything in life, including your employment status.  If you are not getting better at finding employment and building your Employability Brand, then you are what your employment record says it is.

Physical Appearance is just a fraction of what it takes to be a true professional at your craft.  It is part of the blocking at tackling of employment.  Take the tips provided to you and incorporate them in to your Employability Brand goals.  Practice them, turn them in to habits and watch your career sore.  In a short amount of time, your break will come and it will not be from someone else efforts.  It will be from your dedication to career growth and becoming a workforce professional.

Scott A. Coulter, CEO APSi

Fore information on how you increase your Employability Brand and find employment in 90 days, check out “The Little Black Book for Employment, A Recruiters guide to finding jobs”, or you can book Scott for workshops and seminars at 

Author: admin
Scott Coulter is the Founder and CEO of APSi. He is a military veteran with a long history of building successful business ventures ranging from Training, Staffing, Technology and Construction.