Image is Everything

There is an interesting article by Susan Young on the Inside Bay Area website about an experiment conducted by two teen girls applying for jobs at large, national retailers Abercrombie and Fitch and Hot Topic. One of the girls dressed up in gothic attire and one dressed up in typical teen style of jeans and t-shirt. Both went to these two different stores to ask about employment. The girl with gothic appearance was given the cold shoulder by both stores while the girl in pleasant, “normal” attire was warmly received and provided an interview date on the spot.

The tone of the article suggested that judgment by employers on outward appearances is discriminatory. Whether hiring on appearance is discriminatory or not, it is interesting to note the fact that openness on the part of the employer was improved by the pleasant appearance of the girl dressed in attractive, average clothing. Additionally, since the girls were applying for public-contact, sales-oriented positions, their appearance would have an effect on sales performance. (You can find the article at In fact, the article notes several instances of negative reactions by passersby to the gothic-attired girl. Negative reactions by the buying public do not translate into sales for retailers.

This experiment was conducted by high school age girls in a minimum-wage employment setting, but the effects of appearance by job applicants is applicable across all industries and wage levels. How you look makes a difference in the job search process – like it or not. First impressions impact not only the reception you receive by prospective employers but also by people you meet in networking, professional development, and on the job itself.

I have always found the pharmaceutical sales niche a prime example of how appearance is a factor in employment. We’ve all been in the doctor’s office waiting area around lunchtime when the pharma reps start coming in with their little rolling demo cases. Have you ever seen one single one who was unattractive and not extremely well-dressed? They know their market – physicians – and that the market would not be receptive to their appearance in jeans and t-shirts. Their employers, the large drug manufacturers, also know that market and would not hire sales reps that did not project the appearance needed to reach the market.

The bottom line of the issue is that preferred appearance by employees is not discrimination on the part of employers but rather sheer economics. Remember that on your next job interview or networking opportunity. Your resume usually makes the first impression with an employer and it’s crucial that it best a good one. The investment is worth the pay off you receive in the job search. And a shoe shine, a new suit, and a trim around the ears may be worth more in the long run than the few bucks you spend on them in the short run.

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