A reader writes:
I’m in the middle of applying for a job at a very large company, where I would do a fair amount of client-facing work. It’s a big deal for me. I’ve been a huge fan of this company for years.
I haven’t even submitted my application yet, so I don’t know that I’ll get an interview, but I do feel that I’m a strong candidate. I also know that if they do like me, it will be a pretty quick hiring process right now. They’re hiring a bunch of people for this position, the next starting date is May, and they’re making it clear on the site that if you’re applying right now, you should expect to start in May if you’re successful.
At the same time… I’m getting married very soon. Next week, in fact. And I’ve been planning for my “something blue” to be my hair. (Right now it’s pink, and my current job doesn’t mind at all, even when I go to conferences — hooray for tech startups.) I would be happy to dye it to a natural color after the blue, but doing that and actually having it look natural would probably require a couple weeks of fade time. So I would almost certainly be going to interviews with blue hair.
As I said, it’s not certain I’ll even get an interview, but I will probably have a similar problem the next time I look for a job too (it’s actually been joked about at my current work that they’ll know I’m looking elsewhere if my hair turns brown). Should I mention it in the interview, like “My current workplace is very casual/it went blue for an event, and I’d be happy to dye it to something ‘normal’ if I’m offered this job”? For the job I’m applying for now, a lot of the other applicants will be straight out of college (or still in it), so I expect they see some stuff like this, but … I don’t want to rely on that.
I also don’t want to dye it natural colors for my wedding just on the off-chance, and I don’t want to spook my current workplace. I’m not irreplaceable there, but my leaving would definitely be a big blow, so I really don’t want them to know I’m even looking.
Blue hair is going to be a deal-breaker in a lot of industries, and not an issue in others. So you really, really need to know your own industry on this. In the design or fashion world, for instance, it might be totally fine. In banking, no.
And you might be surprised by where it’s not okay. I spent many years working in advocacy nonprofits, and candidates often assumed that because we worked on “cool” issues, we’d be okay with non-mainstream appearances (blue hair, mohawks, facial piercings, long hair on men.). But we categorically were not — those things were banned on our staff, because we wanted the public’s focus (and reporters’ and legislators’ focus) to be on our message, not on the messenger. And even though you might think that it would only matter for positions that dealt with the public, it mattered for everyone. We didn’t want a reporter to be in our office one day, see a blue-haired I.T. person walk by, and include that detail in their story, because it played into perceptions that our issue was outside the mainstream, while we were working to mainstream the issue with grandparents, clergy, and conservative legislators.
On the other hand, there are businesses that you might expect to be more conservative about appearance that are actually more relaxed about it … but you can’t always tell from the outside. (And simply having a lot of recently graduated applicants doesn’t mean anything either way.)
So you really, really need to know your industry, and what’s generally accepted. And if your industry doesn’t embrace non-mainstream looks, and you want a particular job in it, then yeah, you probably need to adjust your hair to accommodate that.
You certainly shouldn’t alter your plans for your hair for your wedding though. But if you’re interviewing for a job before it’s had a chance to return to a natural color, and you’re not in a field known to be friendly to non-mainstream looks (again, fashion and design are the best known for this; some parts of tech too, but few others), then I’d address it up-front. Because otherwise you risk getting rejected when you otherwise wouldn’t.