I recently had the opportunity to present to undergraduates, graduate students, and new professionals at a conference. My presentation was about the job search and little tips and tricks I learned along the way. One of those things was regarding professional dress.
“Does anyone follow #SAChat on Twitter?” I asked. A few people raised their hands. “This has been a really hot topic lately.” .
“Here’s the thing: you are going to be judged based on your appearance during your job search. Is that right or fair? I don’t know. But it’s going to happen. So you really need to put some thought and effort into how you are going to present yourself. My suggestion would be to get a second opinon. I’m all for expressing yourself and feeling comfortable in what you’re wearing, but I would think about what outfits you want to wear prior to the conference and ask a colleague or mentor what their opinion is.”
A little while later, I could see some raised eyebrows in the room when I talked about color choices. “My mentor told me that for an initial interview, don’t wear red. Red is bold and bright, sure, but some people could see it as agressive subconsciously. That would be a more appropriate color to wear at a second interview.”
Honestly? It sucks that I had to say all of that. But after a lifetime of being judged based off of my appearance, it’s a fact that I’ve come to know pretty well.
And honestly, it’s not all our fault. We are hardwired to recognize things about other people because, way back in the day (like caveman times), humans had to make split second decisions about whether or not someone or something was safe based on their appearance. And unfortunately, we still do it today. But, that doesn’t mean we necessarily have to follow through with what we initially think about people. I know that, because of my body type, people may initially look at me and think that I am lazy and do not care about my appearance. My hope is that, while people may think that at first, they get to know me and see that it is not the case at all. I work extremely hard for what I have, and I know that I am beautiful and a really good person. My other hope is that soon our profession will be able to judge not on appearance but also in quality of work as well.
The reason I told that to the attendees at the conference is because I want them to do the best they possibly can in their job search. As it stands right now, I do not think that the Student Affairs profession is ready to look past the way people present themselves as an initial judgement of whether or not they want to hire candidates. But you can bet that I will be challenging those who judge potential candidates based on how they present themselves. And slowly but surely, maybe we can change this culture around. It starts with us!