I walked in and shook his hand. By the time I sat down, I knew I wasn’t going to get the job. It’s hard to say if it was the look in his eyes as they changed from hopeful to disappointed or the disinterested tone of his voice-possibly a combination. I knew one thing for sure; I did not fit what he pictured his future employee to be. I spent the next 30 minutes listing all of my qualifications and attempting to change his mind.
You could tell he was hardly listening. It’s nearly impossible to change someone’s mind, let alone in 30 minutes. I got the feeling I never had a shot to begin with.
It was the spring before I graduated from college and I was interviewing often. I got the same vibe from another interviewer a few days later. I walked out confused. This was not my first interview. I knew how to properly prepare and my answers were decent. I was wearing my usual interview outfit: gray pants, a formal navy shirt, and my hair down. Why was I being rejected so quickly? I had an interesting idea-could this have to do with my appearance? From that day on, I started wearing my hair pulled back in a ponytail, removing my earrings, wearing only black and white clothes that were boxy hiding any curves, and limiting the make-up I wore. I tried to look as manly as I possibly could. An interesting thing happened, my callback rate skyrocketed.
I’m not the first person to come up with this theory. There’s been a great deal of research into how interview attire specifically for women can affect the outcome. The general conclusion is the more masculine we dress, the more successful we will be.
- See the following article describing Sandra Forsythe’s research on the topic: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/women-and-clothing-at-work-2015-2/
- Then there’s a Yale study of Jennifer vs. John in which identical resumes were sent out but John was rated higher in competence and hireability: http://www.yalescientific.org/2013/02/john-vs-jennifer-a-battle-of-the-sexes/
- Lastly, a Fortune article stating this quote “We found that ‘manning-up’ seemed to be an effective strategy, because it was seen as necessary for the job”: http://fortune.com/2014/08/14/when-competing-in-a-male-dominated-field-women-should-man-up/
The interview process is flawed to begin with forcing you to make assumptions and draw conclusions from a brief snapshot in time. A coworker once told me they interviewed a women wearing a purple shirt. He said he couldn’t see her crawling under lab benches to plug in equipment-she just didn’t look like a hardware engineer. It is more likely this issue is subconscious. For example, if you were to picture a scientist or engineer in your head right now….is it male or female? I’m not immune from subconscious sexism, I’d probably picture a male. This kind of sexism is much harder to fix and we are all guilty on some level. However, there is no excuse for dismissing someone in the first few seconds of an interview before they’ve even said a word or because of the color of their shirt.
Back in college I had poor-college-kid-mentality coming up on graduation with impending school debt. I couldn’t wait for mac and cheese to no longer be considered a staple dinner. I would take any job in my field that wanted me. But something I learned with experience is that an interview is a two-way street. While you are being interviewed for a position, you are also interviewing them to see if it’s a good fit for you.
The bottom line is if someone is going to overlook you based on your looks or gender: you don’t really want to work for them anyways.
[The featured image can be found here Emma Watson Huffington Post]