Q: I am pursuing my MLIS and will be graduating in December. I have started to look for jobs already and have been to a few interviews with no luck. My hair is dark brown with bright red streaks in the front but I dress professionally at my workplace and on interviews. My question is: could my hair color really be affecting my career prospects? I live in a fairly liberal city and I am striving to become a Young Adult librarian. I even use the argument that my ‘alternative’ hair could encourage teens to interact with me, as they’ll relate to me more if I look like them. I’m curious to hear feedback from someone in the field. If the hair is really considered an issue, then I will dye it all brown. But I do not wish to do so if it is not completely necessary.
SM: This is a difficult question to answer because I want to tell you to be yourself, to stand out, to express your individuality and creativity, and to not conform to what is expected – but, as much as I may love to see someone flaunt their creative flair, another person may find it inappropriate. Interviewers are not objective. They rely on their own personal tastes and may have pre-conceived opinions about others based on appearance. And, remember, you are being scrutinized and judged on many different levels by many different people when you interview.
I know many people who have facial piercings, tattoos (I have a few myself), and alternative hair styles and colors. Do they take out their nose/eyebrow/lip rings when interviewing? Yes. Do they attempt to hide their tattoos? Depends on where the tattoo is located, but a suit or tights will typically do the job. Do they tone down their alternative hair color and/or style? Usually.
Now, you would think that an interview for a young adult librarian position in an urban public library would warrant more creative expression than an interview for a law librarian position, and you would probably be correct. But, you can never be sure. It really depends on who is on the search committee, and – more importantly – who has the ultimate hiring decision. The people who interview you may love your red streaks, but… the library director may find them unprofessional.
When we interview, we need to present a professional persona, whether or not we normally dress or behave that way. It is kind of like playing a game… and you should probably play it safe. Once you get the job, you will have more freedom to express your individual style.
There are, what I would call, appearance-related rules for interviewing that everyone should follow:
- Always wear a suit (or something close to it like a coordinated jacket and pants/skirt)
- Be clean and polished (showered, brushed, shaved, etc.)
- Present yourself professionally (shake hands, stand straight, smile, look people in the eye, appear interested)
A downside of following the rules is that it can be easy for you to hide behind a suit and a pair of uncomfortable shoes and present only your professional side. Interviewers yearn for a taste of the “real person” because they want to know if you will be a good fit with the rest of the staff and the patrons. They want to know if you are quirky and have a sense of humor, they want to know if you can get along well with others and can be engaging and thoughtful. Try to let your true self shine through at some point during the interview process and show your creative style in your professional attire, if possible.
Having said all that, if you feel strongly about not getting rid of your streaks, then don’t. Personally, I see no problem with it, but I feel obligated to let you know that yes, it may be an issue. Since you are in the early stages of searching for jobs, you might want to wait a while and go on a few more interviews before making any changes to your appearance. You hair color really shouldn’t keep you from finding the job you love. I would, however, steer clear of making the argument that your alternative hair color can help you relate to teens unless your interviewers ask you about it. Trust me, they will notice and make their own assumptions… and quite possibly, they will come to the same conclusion. Best of luck to you!
We would love to hear from our readers on this question. How would you answer this question? And, would you (or did you) “tone it down” for interviews, or not?