should I color my gray hair while job-searching?

by Ask a Manager on March 25, 2010

It’s physical appearance week here at Ask a Manager! A reader writes:

I am a 43-year-old woman getting back into the job market after nearly 10 years away raising kids. This is not the best time to be hunting, but it is what it is.

My question seems rather superficial in comparison to others asked of you. I have been growing increasingly gray over the past year, so much that my siblings and friends comment on it. I’m rather short, so pretty much everyone can see it. My question is: does this matter to the average interviewer? If an equally qualified and not gray-haired person and I were vying for a job, would the other get it? Does having one’s hair colored make one look more professional or put together? It’s a big commitment to get your hair professionally done on a regular basis, and I’d like to get some opinions before I make the decision.

I don’t think it really matters. Sure, you may find an interviewer here or there who cares, but you may also find some (like me) who think it’s a plus to hire more seasoned people, which gray hair may imply you are, so the two groups likely balance each other out.

I think you should handle your gray however you personally want to.

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{ 19 comments }

workforce | remix March 25, 2010 at 1:54 am

If it matters, it's not a manager worth working for.

Julie March 25, 2010 at 2:31 am

My husband is totally white headed. He's an expert in his area of IT, but he's colored his hair for years. He says he does it so that the 25 year olds have one less excuse to think he's too old to know anything about fixing their problems. Heh.

Class factotum March 25, 2010 at 4:01 am

If you do it, get Clairol Natural Instincts and do it at home. It's temporary, more or less. It washes out after a month or so. It costs about $8 a box, although you can find it on sale at Target or Walgreen's. Not a big financial commitment, not a big hair commitment. If you decide to keep using it, get the good shampoo that is for your color. The color will fade a lot more slowly then.

I like my hair a lot better brown than gray, but I am totally superficial.

Anonymous March 25, 2010 at 6:50 am

I think it's naive to say it doesn't matter, at least for women. Unfortunately, women with grey hair are still viewed as 'grannies' and taken less seriously. Even if the manager is otherwise great, this may operate on them subconsciously. I saw this repeatedly with my mother who got vastly more respect both at work and in public when she gave up on grey and started dyeing. Particularly for someone who has been out of the workforce for 10 years, there could be concern that their skills (especially related to IT) are out of date. Grey hair could reinforce this perception. In my own case I started going grey a few years ago when I hit my mid-late 30's and have been dying my hair. People think I'm younger, and you wouldn't believe the incredibly biased 'candid' comments against people in my age range and older that I hear from collegues.

Inside the Philosophy Factory March 25, 2010 at 8:36 am

I say, if you are at all comfortable with coloring your hair – do it.

Age discrimination is a significant concern for those of us in our 40s — and, since they can't ask your age, they may assume you are even older.

Anonymous March 25, 2010 at 9:02 am

I wouldn't worry about it; for every manager who won't hire you because they don't like your apparent or actual age, there's a manager who will hire you because they like your apparent or actual age. And there are hundreds of managers in between, who won't care about your age at all.

Besides, the education and job history on your resume will already hint at your age.

Chuck March 25, 2010 at 12:09 pm

While I agree that it shouldn't matter, sometimes it does. There IS age discrimination at work and older candidates are routinely overlooked simply b/c of their age. Isn't the number of age discrimination complaints increasing?

If you choose not to color your hair, be certain your posture and appearance exude youth and energy.

Good luck!

JobFree March 25, 2010 at 1:06 pm

It the gray makes you self-conscious then color it. I think it is more about how it makes you feel than how other people feel about it.

Tania March 25, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Iam a hairdresser of 20 years,and of course I will tell you to get it done proffesionly.Reason being,your hairdresser knows your hair and if you dont have one a proffesional will know exactly what to do with your hair.A box colour does not know the porosity of your hair and the end result if you dont like it you have to go to a proffesional to get it fixed and that can be more costly.A hair colorist will consult with you about your desires with your hair and the best way to colour and maintain the colour.Hair box colours for grey hair can be very dark pigmented and start to build up undesired tones on some hairtypes,and can be hard to grow or lift out of the hair.In my career a majority of proffesional women do colour there grey.Being a colour specialist myself I find that with most of my grey haired clients,they prefer to have colour in there hair appose to have it showing.Hope that helps!
If your looking for a good colourist go to GOLDWELL.COM and
search under salon locater,then inquire for a advanced colur specialist.
GoodLuck!

m3ggiesue March 25, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Going to have to disagree with you, AAM. Age is a huge detriment to women, particularly in a culture where attractiveness = credibility (and rarely does age enhance a woman's attractiveness).

It's different for men, and that sucks. But if we don't follow their rules to get ourselves in the door, we won't be a seat at the table to help change things for anyone.

I don't like it; I just don't want to see this woman limit herself by avoiding something as simple as dyeing her hair.

For some women, this may not be a deal breaker. They are put together, confident, and exude an air of credibility. But I have a hunch that such women would not be asking the Internet for advice on this topic.

Class factotum March 25, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Tania, you make some good points. I didn't start with the Clairol until I had had my hair done professionally a few times. Then I told my hairdresser that I could not afford $70 once a month for color and was there any home product she recommended.

Kathy March 26, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I think I agree with a blend of what everyone has said:

1). It shouldn't matter and it's not worth working for someone to whom it does matter.

2). I do believe that even if people don't overtly wish to make judgments about people's appearance, it happens at a subconscious level whether we realize it or not. It takes a very mature & aware person to check their own perceptions about others.

3). I believe if you are still questioning yourself during job searching, it might distract you enough away from selling your skills and value to an organization and make you more self-conscious.

4). With that said, why not do a happy medium? Go for a professional color while you are job searching and new to an organization (then you won't be self conscious during the process). After you are established and feel comfortable with your new job, then let it grow out tastefully. By that time your new employer will be so dazzled by your skills, they won't even notice you have hair!! :)

Good luck to you!!

Anonymous March 26, 2010 at 5:08 pm

As a 23 year old who is already going grey (stupid genetics), I love AAM's advice. I colored my hair once (in senior year of high school…) and absolutely hated it. It just wasn't me.

I constantly get told that I should color my hair, or at least get highlights to cover my distinct grey streaks, but I can't stand how my hair looks when I have.

It may not be the best thing in the world to be grey, but if coloring your hair makes you less confident in your appearance (which will definitely come across in an interview), then I say stand proud and keep the grey!

dustycrown March 26, 2010 at 8:33 pm

It shouldn't matter, but unfortunately, it does. Especially for women. And especially if you're interviewing with someone younger than you are.

And while it may be true a manager who would make a hiring decision based on your gray hair may not be worth working for, sometimes we just don't have the luxury of that choice. A paycheck signed by a jackass pays the mortgage a lot better than no paycheck.

Rachel - former HR blogger March 26, 2010 at 11:15 pm

We all know it's a fact that more attractive people have an easier time getting a job.

I doubt a manager is going to consciously rule you out because of your hair. But there's a strong possibility they may do it unconsciously.

The fact that you're just getting back into the market makes it worse. Managers want people who are fresh. Grey hair doesn't read as fresh.

Anonymous April 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm

OP here. I've decided to take the plunge – in fact my appointment is in two hours. It was great to get the perspective of the people who commented because it made me examine my reasons for coloring or not coloring. In the end, I realized that my gray makes me less confident in myself (granted, that may be silly) and I won't get a job unless I'm concentrating on my abilities rather than whether I look polished. Thanks!

Ask a Manager April 30, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Thanks for updating us, OP! Good luck with the interviews!

Ab January 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm

It depends who you are interviewing with and their age and experience level. While corporate HR policy will never allow age to be an issue, an individual hiring manager can make age whether young or old an factor in their decision.

If you know the name who will be interviewing you, use linkedin to look them and get a perspective on their experience level or age.

Just a general thought, people will hire someone 3-5 years younger themselves for a direct report. If it will be an indirect report reporting to one of their direct reports, 5-10 years younger.

If you are 55 trying to interview with a 35 year old, take what steps you can to minimize appearance of seniority.

Anonymous February 28, 2012 at 11:58 am

colored my beard….left he grey on head alone!

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