will a pink mohawk be a problem in my job search?

A reader writes:

I’m 19 and have just returned home from a 3-month exchange trip. Before I left, I had a job at a guitar store, but I’m home a bit earlier than expected so I need to start looking for another job until the summer, when they can re-hire me. While I was away, I changed my hair to an electric pink mohawk. (It was purple before, but a pixie-cut and my previous employer was fine with this.) Do you think this will be a problem, considering that I’m just applying for places in fast food and retail? I’m also a bit worried about what my old employer will say.

Yes.

Some managers will make all sorts of assumptions about you because of your hair — that you’re counterculture in some way that will be a problem on the job, that you have a problem with authority, that you don’t care about professional norms, etc. — or you will just make them uncomfortable. And fair or not (mainly not), that’ll torpedo your candidacy with them in an instant. And sure, this way of thinking is silly, but it’s still the reality you’re going to be dealing with.

Beyond that, even if you encounter a manager who personally loves your hair, they’re still likely to worry that it will be an issue for some of their customers, who may have all kinds of associations about people with electric pink mohawks. While their customers may be totally off-base in thinking this way, the business exists to make a profit from these customers, not to change their mindsets about other people’s hair choices. They’re not in the business of making people more tolerant; they’re in the business of selling a product, and anything that potentially detracts from their ability to do that is likely to be a problem.

Now, a guitar store may not care, depending on their culture and customers (although you should ask your manager there while you still have time to change it). But fast food and retail stores are more likely to care (unless it’s a very specific type of retail store that caters to a clientele who by definition won’t be uncomfortable with your hair). And this goes triple if you’re not in a pretty urban area.

You certainly might be able to find an employer who doesn’t care, but you’re stacking the odds against yourself … so you’ve got to decide if the hair is worth that price to you. And it may well be — just be clear about what you’ll be up against.

{ 152 comments… read them below }

  1. Grace

    I worked as a recruiter formerly. We had a candidate who was a perfect fit for a position on paper, and was a very normal person when we met him but he had a 1 in gage piercing in his ear! Personally, I think that’s gross, and not personally, the client chose not to hire him and cited his ‘professionalism’ as the reason. I sat in on the interview, and he was very professional… but it’s just a turn off! Some people may be ok with it, but like AM said they may worry that you’d turn off their customers/clients.
    On a side note, we sent one woman who was otherwise a great fit to a client interview, but she reeked of smoke. We legally weren’t allowed to tell her to spray some febreeze on herself, but lord I wanted to hold a air freshener under my nose when I was in the same room. She didn’t get the job either, though she otherwise was a great fit.

    1. Ellie H.

      I hate gauges, think they are disgusting, and they are my number one dealbreaker for people I would consider dating. However I think it’s really too bad to let “professionalism” stand as the reason for not hiring him, especially when you said he was very professional. I think that some things about appearance (looking unkempt, wearing inappropriately revealing clothing, etc.) can certainly signify professionalism but body modification shouldn’t if the person otherwise presents a totally conventional “professional” appearance. Why not just straight up tell him that the gauges were the dealbreaker instead of using weasel words. Be honest. (Not you, but the client who rejected him.)

      1. OP

        We couldn’t bc of discrimination laws, apparently. The client did not reject candidates personally, but thru us.

        1. Anonymous

          There are no discrimination laws (in the US) that protect people who wear various types of jewelry or who smell like smoke.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Yeah, I took that to mean that the OP’s client was one of the many companies that are so paralyzed by fear of a (groundless) lawsuit that they have ridiculous policies like this in place.

    2. Ry

      AAM, sorry this is pedantic. Grace and Ellie, “gauge” is a measurement, not an object. The gauge of earrings is measured in the same way as the gauge of wire or needles (e.g., an intramuscular needle is generally a 22g, whereas a needle to start an IV is generally a 16g or 14g). The smaller the number, the larger the size. Earrings are typically 18-gauge, sometimes 20 (that is, slightly thinner than average). When they are larger than 18-gauge, you can say a person has stretched ears, or that s/he is wearing large-gauge earrings or tunnels (large-gauge earrings that are hollow in the center). It’s easiest and most understandable to say the person has stretched ears or stretched earlobes. In your case, Grace, you could say your interviewee’s earlobe was stretched to one inch.

      This has been your nitpicky public service announcement from a former body-piercing-shop employee constantly driven crazy by kids coming in asking for “gauges.” I ended up saying, “Sure, and what gauge of earrings do you wear?” a lot. Now, return to your arguments about professionalism and hair color, as you will!

      Oh, and to the OP: If you need to work at a job that doesn’t love your mohawk, but you love your mohawk, a wig is your friend! Get a nice, realistic one in a style that you like; there may be more choices and cooler styles at a store catering to Black women, if you’re in the United States. (I don’t know your race or location, but around where I live, wig shops that cater to younger women tend to be run by Black women. I don’t have an explanation for this phenomenon, but it has helped friends of all races, and brightly-colored hair, get jobs.)

      1. Ellie H.

        Thanks for letting me know, that is really interesting and I never knew that even normal earrings have gauges like wire and needles do. I’m a total pedant too – however there’s no way I’m going to start using the word that way – everyone just calls them gauges! It’s not “easiest and most understandable” to use your phrase! Amongst non-experts at least.

        I’m really not into body modification for me personally but have a ton of respect for it because my experience is that people who are into it are SO much more knowledgeable and professional than like if you went to the mall or something or even your doctor’s office. I got my boring normal ear piercing a few months ago at one such place and I was so impressed by their sanitary standards.

  2. ThatHRGirl

    As an employer, I’d be more concerned that you’re only looking for a job for the next (approximately) 8 weeks, until you can get your old job back… and that I’d have to train you and onboard you, only to have you leave. So that part needs to be addressed as well.
    As a previous poster said, perhaps try looking for places like tattoo shops, restaurants with a funky vibe, or retail stores that cater to a more edgy customer… otherwise you may have a bit of trouble.

  3. Anonymous

    That’s so discriminatory in my opinion. It’s a shame how people are so closed-minded and judge people by their looks.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      All of hiring is about discriminating among candidates — making judgments about skills, fit, etc. Illegal discrimination only comes into play when you’re discriminating based on someone’s race, gender, religion, national origin, etc. — i.e., fundamental characteristics about that person that they didn’t choose. Most people think that things people choose to present about themselves (clothing, hair, heavy perfume) are fair game to form opinions about.

      1. Anonymous

        I never said it was illegal. I just said it’s a shame. Just like someone discriminating against freckles or redheads…it may not be illegal but it’s just wrong.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Ah, but again, there’s a difference between things that people choose to present to the world, and those that are inherent characteristics. Clothing, hair styles, etc. do say something about the person in a way that, say, freckles do not.

            1. Long Time Admin

              Freckles are natural. Clothing and hair styles, as well as body piercings and tatoos, are physical alterations deliberately done. It’s fine to do it if you want to, but not everyone is going to be OK with it, and yes, it could cause you to not be hired.

          1. Mike Koontz

            This is a great distinction. And a great answer. I’m curious how you think we as a society nudge ourselves away from this mainly not fair, silly thinking?

            Is it having enough people like the OP decide that the [personality expression] IS worth the extra challenge of landing a job, and then doing great work there?

            Are these workplace/hiring standards for hair style/tattoos/piercings static? Or do they evolve with the zeitgeist?

            Maybe this isn’t a work advice sort of question.

            Full disclosure: I had dreadlocks a few years back, and had to grapple with this same problem.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I think they do evolve with the zeitgeist. I wrote a bit about this down below — arguing that this stuff changes as social norms change, and that it used to be shocking for women to wear pants and many offices didn’t allow it, but workplaces have followed along with social norms as they’ve evolved.

    2. The Right Side

      Oh, please. You judge ppl, too, everyone does in one way or another –

      This is why companies have dress codes – if you need to “express” yourself, try writing or painting but self-mutilation or this pink mohawk are just screaming “LOOK AT ME, I NEED ATTENTION.” Why else does one do it? To try and fit in? Ha!

      1. jmkenrick

        I agree with your point that everyone makes judgments on how others present themselves. However self-mutilation is really not comparable to having a mohawk.

          1. Mary Sue

            Comments like that do cause trouble, however, for people who do legitimately have issues with self-injury and self-harm.

            I dress like the approaching middle age, successful professional woman I am, and I have zero tattoos and no piercings. However, I am very good at hiding the scars from when my mental health was poor and I did self-injure.

            I spent years too ashamed to seek help for this behavior because I was afraid of being judged. Comments like this– which in context to a person with stable mental health can be inferred to mean body modification– sound completely different to people who are struggling with actual self-harming behaviors.

          2. jmkenrick

            Hm. I see how she could be making that statement. However, I still don’t think that’s the ideal way to phrase it, since self-multiation can often be used to refer to people who have legitmate issues that threaten their health.

      2. Jaime

        Perhaps they’re screaming “I am fun and I don’t take myself, especially my hair, too seriously.” Or, perhaps “it’s just hair, it will grow and I felt like purple hair today.” Or perhaps “I saw a picture in a magazine that i loved and wants to try it too.” Or perhaps …. I could go on all day long.

        1. Kimberlee

          +2. I like to think that when I run my own organization, people will be hired if they present a deliberate, put-together look, and that can definitely include piercings, tattoos, and crazy hair colors. But, I’ll be running a student based organization, so my target demographics probably won’t have too much issue. :)

          1. Lucy

            +3. It used to drive me crazy when I would find out later that someone had decided I was a snob, because there is apparently no way a woman with a shaved head (with a tattooed scalp, too!) could possibly be shy. Nah. Everyone who has a mohawk, or a tattoo, or a shaved head, or a piercing — well, they’re all obviously the same sad attention seekers, no possible chance of being a complex individual with different tastes or beauty ideals.

    3. The Editor

      Discrimination is only judgement that you don’t agree with.

      Frankly, if I were hiring for a position in my industry, extreme hairstyles and body piercings would call into question their judgement and ability to relate to my clients. If that is not a valid reason to not hire someone in my industry, I’m all open to suggestions.

      Having said that, I know plenty of people who choose to do such things. It is no more a reflection of their character and abilities than the color of their shirt.

      Please don’t throw out the “discrimation,” close-minded,” or “judgmental” labels without understanding what others are actually thinking. After all, isn’t that at least close-minded and judgmental on your own part?

      1. Cube Ninja

        The question becomes this:

        How do you define “extreme”?

        To me, anything up to about a 10ga. (about 1/8″ diameter) piercing doesn’t even approach extreme and is actually somewhat common. To me, “extreme” is when the lobe piercings exceed about 1″ and we start talking about bifurcated tongues and things like that, but I also realize that despite my own (comparatively minimal) body mod, I also fall outside of what could be considered the norm in this case.

        I’ve fluctuated back and forth between 0ga and 00ga lobe piercings for the last few years and haven’t had any issues, although I’m fortunate enough to have an employer that doesn’t have an issue with it. I also have two inner conch piercings at 10ga and have been asked to remove them exactly once in over five years and that was a “just in case” scenario for a prospective client being in the office. I was a little annoyed when our dress code policy was changed such that tattoos need to be covered at all times, but it certainly wasn’t a deal-breaker for me – I own a number of long-sleeved shirts. I won’t get into the utter lack of uniform enforcement of dress code in my office (showing tattoos is unacceptable, but cargo pants and un-collared shirts are apparently fine as long as you work in certain departments. The only recent instance I’m aware of in which someone was actually sent home to change involved someone who was under the impression that hot pants were acceptable business attire.

        What I do find a little odd in what you’ve said is that you believe “extreme” body modification and hairstyles to be indicative of a prospective candidate’s judgment and then go on to say that you know full well that this isn’t the case. I’m assuming you meant more that you work in what is typically a more conservative industry, in terms of dress code and that a prospective candidate applying to your company would generally be expected to know that body mod is frowned upon if it can’t be covered.

        I think what those of us who are annoyed by this type of thing are largely just trying to convey that the fact that we have additional metal in our ears or artwork on our skin does not, generally speaking, have any bearing on our ability to conduct ourselves professionally, but societal “norms” are such that we are often considered unprofessional. There are, of course, exceptions (outside sales, for instance – showing up at a client’s shop with all the tattoos hanging out isn’t going to work well in most industries), but most of these things can easily be covered.

        Piercings, not so much, but then we get back into defining “extreme”. :)

    4. fposte

      People judge you based on what you’ve chosen to do. What else would you have them judge you on?

      I’m rather longing for pink hair at the moment myself (pale, not electric; no mohawk, though) and would be unlikely to suffer any professional repercussions; I’d also have no problem hiring anybody with it. That doesn’t mean for a minute that I don’t judge people based on their choices, including their choices on how to represent themselves. Sure, it’s arbitrary, but so are English irregular verbs, and I judge people on those too–and sometimes misuse of those isn’t even choice.

      And if looks don’t matter, it doesn’t matter to change one’s looks, right?

    5. a.b.

      I’ve had all manner of crazy hair-dos, including a green mohawk. But I also knew when I did it that I’d be going outside the box of normal dress code. That’s kind of why you do it, right? If you want a normal kind of job, that kind of look in a sea of standard dress is incredibly distracting. 1/3 of her job would be spent explaining the damn hair.

    6. Anonymous

      Why is it acceptable for us to talk about people not wearing acceptable clothing to an interview, but it isn’t acceptable for people not to “wear” acceptable body looks?

      Unnaturally obtained hairstyles/tattoos/body modifications are just as much of a choice as wearing a T-shirt instead of a suit to an interview. They should be judged in the exact same way, too.

  4. Anonymous

    I hold a part-time job at a local, indy bookstore and their employee manual says something along the lines of being discreet about tattoos, no offensive ones showing, ideally very few showing, ect… I have a tattoo on my ankle and brought it up during the hiring – hiding it is not a problem. My manager burst out laughing and pointed out all the employees who were had sleeves/piercings/large visible tattoos (which is why I asked). I live in a very liberal, weird city, and here the local retail/fast food businesses wouldn’t bat an eye at something like a pink mohawk/1 gauge (ug)/tattoos.

  5. Joey

    Heres how you find out- do a drive by and look at the appearance of the current employees. But you’re putting yourself at an extreme disadvantage fair or not.

  6. Heather

    Honestly, the short term job thing would probably be more of your problem. I had no problem getting/holding jobs when I was your age when I had pink/blue/green hair in a chelsea cut. Now granted, I had artsy or video store jobs where it was totally okay to look that way… so if you were looking at a Hot Topic or a piercing place that would probably work in your favor. Otherwise, yes it will be a hindrance. That said: get a wig if you want those kind of jobs… otherwise you might be waiting for your guitar store job to open up again.

        1. JfC

          Now that I see your picture I think your hairstyle is rather cute. Unfortunately I’m not a hiring manager, but it definitely looks like you could fit a wig over that.

        2. JfC

          Oh also, a lot of food service jobs require hairnets, or that you tie back long hair, so you should take that into consideration when choosing a wig.

          1. Jamie

            That’s actually a reason a food service place should consider her. A lot of them require hats, so they won’t have to worry that she will frighten Mr. & Mrs. Suburbia.

            Actually, speaking as a Mrs. Suburbia I wouldn’t look askance at someone with OPs hair serving me, I’d just appreciate that it’s short.

            I have long auburn hair. My daughter has long blonde hair. My husband is always waging a war with the plumbing over our hair.

            Short hair should be a plus in food service.

  7. Sydney

    Your hair will be a problem at some places, but will be fine at others. If your hair is that important to you, keep it and find a job that will take you with your mohawk. It’s pretty easy to tell…look at employees and see if they have uncovered tattoos or body piercings.

    I also suggest looking for a bar back position (or bartender if you know how). It’s a lot better than working fast food. You can also cover it up with a hat in a lot of places so customers won’t notice.

  8. Satia

    Yes, you will be judged by your appearance.

    No, that shouldn’t be an issue if you make the same sort of educated and well-researched job search anyone would make. Someone with a college degree in marine biology probably shouldn’t bother applying for a job as an accountant anymore than an accountant who is tone deaf should look for a job in the guitar store where you used to work, unless they are specifically seeking an accountant to handle their books.

    1) Consider the neighborhood. Some neighborhoods will be more open to a more alternative appearance and you probably know where those neighborhoods are. Instead of applying to the closest retail location, apply to the one in the more artistic areas, the ones that have coffee houses with open mics, street artists who perform when the weather permits, and probably more than a few tattoo parlors or independent bookstores and/or gift shops.

    2) Be honest in the interview. You already know that this will be a temporary job so be up front about this. You may not think it really matters but this sort of thing can come back to haunt you in the future. The customer who just got used to seeing you behind the cash register may hear from your former coworkers after you are gone about how you just quit after only a few weeks leaving them to deal without enough backup. That same customer may someday be on the other side of hiring you and you don’t want them to think you are not worth the risk.

    3) Yes, being up front about your needing a temporary job may put you completely out of the running but at least you won’t risk burning bridges. Even if a customer forgets you, your coworkers may not and they too may be on the other side of a hiring situation, making the decision about whether or not they want you on their team.

    4) There are ways to tone down a mohawk, even a bright pink one. Google “wearing a mohawk down” or even just “mohawk down” for suggestions. If that won’t suffice, there are always wigs and you can buy an inexpensive page boy style just about anywhere that has wigs. You don’t even have to invest in real human hair since you’ll only need it for a few weeks but human hair wigs last longer, look better, and are worth the investment if you think that you may have a need for a more subdued appearance at other times.

    I know many people in the alternative lifestyle world who have no problem disguising piercings, tattoos, and/or extreme hairstyles when necessary. Many of them use wigs, skin tone plugs, and cover-up makeup for a variety of situations (including going to funerals were extended family may be offended) and it doesn’t hurt to have a costume when you occasionally need one to disguise who you truly are.

    Good luck with your job search!

    1. Jaime

      “The customer who just got used to seeing you behind the cash register may hear from your former coworkers after you are gone about how you just quit after only a few weeks leaving them to deal without enough backup. ”

      From a customer service standpoint, this is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. As a customer, I don’t mind if you are apologizing for my long wait and say something like “I apologize for your wait. We’re short-staffed today, but we’re working as fast as we can. We appreciate your patience.” That just acknowledges the situation, tells me what’s going on without getting into detail, and let’s me know you’re doing your best. But, if you say “yeah, the lines have been killer all day because Jane quit unexpectedly, she really put us in a bind. I just hate that you know?” This just comes off gossipy and seems to completely sidestep the fact that it’s not my fault or my problem that you’re shortstaffed – I lose all sympathy for you at this point. I’m not your friend, I’m your customer.

      1. KellyK

        I totally agree with that. It’s gossippy and negative, and it puts the customer in a weird and awkward position. It could also backfire hilariously if the customer turns out to be Jane’s mother.

    2. Natalie

      “I know many people in the alternative lifestyle world who have no problem disguising piercings, tattoos, and/or extreme hairstyles when necessary. Many of them use wigs, skin tone plugs, and cover-up makeup for a variety of situations (including going to funerals were extended family may be offended) and it doesn’t hurt to have a costume when you occasionally need one to disguise who you truly are.”

      Indeed. I have two facial piercings (one of them is also fairly uncommon) and gauged earrings in my ears. I work in an office, and it’s a simple matter to take my facial piercings out every morning. I have a couple of tattoos on my legs that are easily covered with pants, long skirts, or black tights/leggings.

      When I interview, I make a judgment call based on the office culture and, frankly, how badly I want the job. There are some jobs that are so fantastic I don’t want to risk losing an offer because of my piercings.

  9. Jaime

    I really hope that this kind of standard changes in my lifetime. I am puzzled by how the professional standard in business has stayed so conservative when there are so many successful companies out there, winning awards for being great places to work, making tons of money and cool products/services … who are wearing casual clothing, athletic shoes, bringing personal style to their work spaces, etc. Not every person wants to have a wacky/quirky workspace (I don’t really) and that’s great, but I feel like so many just adhere to this idea that to be “professional” means suits, no visible tattoos, nothing more adventurous than pierced ears (not gauged out), heels/dress shoes, etc out of unthinking tradition and personal bias. It’s ridiculous to me.

    In the absence of a compelling argument for public health, I just don’t get it. I know it’s out there, I just don’t know why people *want* to reinforce this kind of restricted environment. If you know you are embracing a negative stereotype, why do you want to do that? I mean, even if you think 1in gauged ears are gross, how does that make the person not qualified to write code or work in accounting? It doesn’t and you know it, but you decide to go ahead and keep embracing that thought anyway? SMH

    1. fposte

      Work-acceptable looks have actually diversified tremendously already in the last few decades, so it’s not like things never change. I think the particular hair/tattoo/piercing issue is more common for in front-of-house positions and with young people who have less narrative to put their look into context. It’s one thing not to care that somebody’s hair is pink; it’s another thing to be willing to take a loss in customers for it.

      But I also think that the fact of overall judgment doesn’t change, just the stand on various cosmetic trends. And I’m okay with that. People who belch and fart in front of their cubicle mates can write good code, people who clip their nails in the office can write good code, etc. But there’s more to work than just product being loaded onto the server.

      1. Jaime

        Agreed, fit is very important and sometimes personal style comes into play for that. However, your example of belching or farting or clipping nails is not really an accurate comparison. Aside from having a bazaar accident and poking your eye on someone’s mohawk, the color of someone’s hair or gauge of their earring does not impact you at all. If someone is farting or belching, then you can often smell it as well as hear it. Clipping nails also impacts others in that it leaves someone’s bodily detritus out and about.

        I suppose an argument could be made that piercings could be health hazards in some way, though generally it would be more likely to compromise the health of the person with the piercing rather than someone else. But then, I don’t see anyone making people put bandaids over the ears of more traditional piercings.

        1. fposte

          But none of those are health hazards and they don’t impact other people any more than somebody’s appearance. You don’t catch disease from finger-clippings or farts, and there’s nothing more special about any particular sense being impacted over any other. What bothers people is the breach of civilized convention. We all have our conventions that we value; they’re just not all the same conventions.

    2. Anonymous

      This goes back to customers. No one wants to risk offending/putting off customers by trying to be different. If your in an industry that is typically conservative then you have the make the choice to conform or risk your business. Even if you fine risking that, there are many other people who would rather go the safer course.

      1. Anonymous

        “Our job is to make men like Fillmore Auto, not make Fillmore Auto like Negroes.” – Don Draper

      2. Kimberlee

        But business profit comes from more than customers. There are all kinds of trade-offs that companies make to invest in and keep the best employees (great benefits, firing people who harass other employees, etc). If you feel that people with tattoos and piercings should be treated equally, you have a moral obligation to try to make your workplace reflect that. The fact that its the business world doesn’t make it immune to moral problems.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Well, it depends on what your mission is. If your mission is to make the largest profit possible for your shareholders (within legal limits), then no, it would be irresponsible to permit a dress code that alienated customers (if indeed it does). If you’re a nonprofit and your mission is to spread a particular message / change laws / etc., it would be irresponsible to take on a secondary mission of promoting acceptance of tattoos at the expense of your primary goal, unless your donors are aware that they are donating to that cause as well. And so forth.

          1. Anonymous

            Exactly and keep in mind in larger more conservative companies, there are lot of decision makers and lot of people to be impacted if the leadership decides they want to take a stand on an issue regardless of the fallout. I’m not saying it’s right or moral, but it is realistic.

            1. Kimberlee

              Yeah, I know all of this is true. Its just that its so much more often a convenient excuse for companies that don’t want to try to buck cultural norms, even if there’s no evidence that there would be backlash (see the comment above where they note that they’ve never been asked by a store what their preference is), I’d be interested to know if people will really not buy things from otherwise friendly and professional people with tattoos or guages. I mean, I very much dislike gauges. But I’ve never not shopped somewhere or done business with someone because of it. Do these mysterious “conservative” people just have longer memories than me?

              And yeah, I do acknowledge that there are businesses where it’s just not appropriate. My understanding is that lawyers can’t get away with very much personality in their appearance at all. We need to pick our battles, but that does occasionally involve picking one!

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I don’t think the fact that people haven’t had stores ask them their preferences on this indicates much — if stores were going to investigate this, they’d be more likely to go about it a different way (since scientists will tell you that the answer people give to survey-takers isn’t always their real answer, especially on something like this where they want to seem “nice”). But I think it’s more likely that this will simply change as social norms change. It used to be shocking for women to wear pants, and many offices didn’t allow it. That’s obviously not the case now, because workplaces have followed along with social norms as they’ve evolved. I’d imagine the same will be true with something like piercings or unusually colored hair.

    3. Anonymous

      I completely agree with you unless the job is something that requires front-line customer service where you are representing a visual brand that is related to personal style.

      To flip this another way, I wouldn’t want to get a tattoo from a tattoo artist who doesn’t have any ink because to me that shows that they don’t personally invest in what they are trying to sell.

      Same if I walk into a clothing store, I’m less likely to make a purchase if I ask the sales person a question and find that they NEVER shop at the store they work in, only at [insert whatever brand here].

      In other instances though, I do hope this becomes more acceptable in the work place. I work in an office and rarely interact with clients, however, I’ve held off on getting a very personal memorial tattoo because of how it could effect me in future work searches.

    4. Risa

      We have a no extreme haircuts, no facial piercings, no visible tattoos, and clean, neutral nail color policy at my workplace. Our industry is very traditional (it’s roots are in maritime and tourism) and we are a very customer-facing business. We have policy in order to appeal to a wide-range of customers (the majority of whom are not from our local area). Even though I live in a city renowned for it’s liberal bent, we deal with a lot of customers who are far more conservative than we are. While we are business casual – no suits – we do need to maintain an image, so as to not turn off our customers. Our business is also calls for a relatively high price point that is completely discretionary spending on our customer’s part. So while, as individuals, company management may not personally object to more extreme looks, as a company we have to protect our business by maintaining a mainstream look. Work is for work – and as an at-will employee, my advice to my employees is to express the more extreme aspects of their personalities on their own time.

      1. Kimberlee

        I can agree with this. A company gets some slack if they make it clear that they don’t care what you do on your own time. :)

    5. Jaime

      Yes, I know that’s the way it is now and that it’s out of fear of alienating customers as well as busienss owners. I have to wonder though, how many companies really know if it would bother their customers? I look very conservative, in a casual way – no piercings, a couple of small tattos that most never see, no dye on my hair at all, bob cut, I don’t wear much (if any) makeup – just a regular person. But just because I don’t have a sleeve of tattoos or a pink mohawk doesn’t mean I would be offended by a receptionist who did or a food service worker or whatever. But those businesses aren’t asking me if I care what their employees look like, so they have no idea how liberal I would be and still shop at their establishment. Of course, I am a bit if a black sheep in my family, so I understand, there are A LOT of people out there who do still care. It just saddens me that this is so.

      1. Anonymous

        At the end of the day, most businesses are going to have a mix of conservative and non-conservative customers and it’s always “safer” to play to your most conservative customer, if that person doesn’t get offended then your other customers probably won’t either.

  10. Kelly O

    We make choices about the way we choose to present ourselves to the world around us, and although some people may not think it’s right, it’s still true that our appearance is the very first impression people have of us. Particularly in many retail and fast-food environments, you want to hire someone who has a generically pleasing appearance, because you cater to a wide variety of people, like AAM said.

    The OP also admits she’s a little concerned about how her former employer will take the pink mohawk – my belief has always been that if something gives you pause, maybe you should not do it, as far as appearance goes. It’s the whole theory of “if you have to ask, it most likely is inappropriate.”

    I’m not entirely sure if there is a good growing out cut you can get with a mohawk, or how quickly the OP’s hair grows (translated: could she get it to something else in eight weeks?) And I’m not entirely sure finding an eight week job until her former employer can re-hire her is realistic. I might be surprised, but like others have said, even in fast food and retail, there is training invested in each employee, and particularly when there are other issues – a mohawk for example – it might be enough to make them want to pass.

  11. OP

    Thanks for the fast advice!
    Much to my delight, we do have a Tokyo Joe’s here, so I’ll definitely apply.
    Even though I only need the other job full-time for three months, I am definitely going to mention that I would be happy to continue on as a part-timer. I need to save for school and two jobs just makes sense.

      1. Kimberlee

        Really! Cool! I will shop there more. As a customer who loves seeing employees allowed to do their own thing, maybe eventually businesses will find that catering automatically to the most conservative one is hurting their business!

        1. Anonymous

          Not yet, but next year they will be!

          Not being American I didn’t know that about Target either, but it’s helpful info since I really want my dreads back. Working in a place that wouldn’t have a problem with them would be wonderful!

          1. OP

            It’s only Toronto that’s getting Target though, isn’t it? Prairie provinces never get anything good, argh.

            1. Esra

              And they’re having a bunch of issues with existing Zellers employees.

              Although if you were in Toronto, you’d have lots of other options.

              1. OP

                Yeah, pity I’m not. I live in a smaller city. It has it’s funkier parts but it’s pretty redneck overall

        2. Nethwen

          Beauty supply stores also often encourage creative personal style. I don’t know if Canada has Sallie’s Beauty Supply, but this type of store might be a good fit.

        3. Original Starbucks Grump

          You don’t have Target in Canada? I’m so sorry. It’s my favorite store! (They never ask how I’m doing. They just sell me stuff.)

  12. BC

    It’s just an interesting question for someone with an electric-pink mohawk to ask. I mean, you know that when you made your hair that way, you were going outside “the norm”. Are you *really* unsure of how it will come across to employers?

    I remember going to a job fair at 15 and asking these corporate recruiters if they thought my hair (streaked flamingo pink) would be an issue with getting a job. They could barely hold their laughter back when they replied that it would. Yeah, I was naive – I was 15!

    1. OP

      Like I said, I’m 19 and not very experienced in the workforce, and although I know it would be a problem at say, a bank, I wasn’t sure about a place like McDonalds. Now I know.

      1. fposte

        I have to say it looks really cute :-). But yeah, you’re probably not going to be the bank’s first choice.

      2. Jamie

        I agree with the other posters who say your biggest problem will be the short availability.

        Have you thought of temping? Although, yes, your hair will put you at a disadvantage in getting selected for a front office position in most places – a lot of temp agencies have positions for what we used to call warehouse data entry. I once did a couple of weeks at a college in a room with 30 some other temps and believe me, no one cared about hair as long as your typing was accurate and fast.

        At a former job I also hired temps to work in the records room organizing files – could not have cared less what they looked like as long as they showed up on time and knew how to sort by date then alphabetically.

        I’m just pointing out that while your hair style will be problematic in many conventional jobs – there are some avenues where you can earn money with shorter term contracts. FWIW the jobs mentioned above paid between $11 – $16 per hour 8 years ago, so I don’t know if it’s similar – but more than minimum wage anyway.

  13. KayDay

    Are you really attached to this hairstyle? While, IMO, a hot pink mohawk may be a problem at a lot of places, more-mild-yet-still- “alternative” styles are becoming more common. I’ve seen people working a very normal restaurants and bookstores (and in a few offices) with light pink/blue/purple pixie/asymmetrical hair cuts cuts, single facial piercings, small tattoos, etc.

    1. OP

      I’m not especially attached but it will take a while to grow out. I do have some facial piercings but I’m going to take them out for job-searching/work.

      1. jmkenrick

        What are you interested in?

        If you’re in finance, the hair & piercings will be a problem. On the other hand, my ex has gauged ears, lots of piercings and tattoos, and has never had trouble finding work (he’s in computer science).

        1. OP

          I was a music major in classical trumpet but discovered that pursuing it professionally took all the joy out of playing, so I did some volunteer work at a homeless shelter for youth 16-25 and at the Humane Society while I worked at the music store. I’m going back to school in Womyn’s and Queer Studies in 2013. I also play guitar in a local (shitty) punk band.

          1. Natalie

            Non-profits (if that is a field you think you might go into) vary quite widely.

            If working with homeless people appeals to you longterm, areas like street outreach tend to be extraordinarily flexible on dress. Something to think about!

            1. OP

              I’ve been told that my alternative look actually works in my favour for certain non-profits, because street youth see me as someone who can relate/is non-judgemental. Of course being a peer helps. The only problem is that someone without a degree in social work can usually only get volunteer positions.

              1. Esra

                You might want to look into what electives your school offers. Supplementing Womyn/Queer studies with some project management or fundraising development courses could really help you out in the non-profit world.

  14. Ask a Manager Post author

    I once had to tell someone who was an excellent candidate that I wouldn’t be able to hire him unless he was willing to cut his hair (which was long, about mid-way down his back). I have zero problem with long hair on men, but the question wasn’t my personal preferences, it was the impact on the job/employer. In this case, the job was working on a political campaign that was already saddled with stereotypes about being an issue for liberals/hippies/etc, and the organization was committed to presenting a very mainstream, middle-America, professional image to counter those stereotypes. (No nose rings, etc. as well.)

    So the rule made sense, but holy crap did I hate having the conversation.

    1. Steve M

      I will never understand how this isn’t considered gender-based discrimination. Women with long hair is ok, men with long hair is not. What difference is there here, other than gender?

      Disclaimer: I’m male & long-haired (though not quite as long as your example).

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I’m actually not sure, although I suspect it goes to conforming to social conventions, just like you can probably require men to wear pants rather than dresses, even if you let women wear dresses (although I’d need to research that to be sure).

        I tend to like long hair on men, personally, but for these political campaigns, we wanted the focus on the message, not the messenger. So nothing other than bland and mainstream appearances.

          1. Jamie

            Nice thought. Jani Lane and CC Deville come in for a job interview…

            No way to choose, I’d have to start my own company to hire both!

            1. Jamie

              And I know Jani is no longer with us, but he shouldn’t be forgotten and it’s not a very likely scenario anyway.

        1. Kelly O

          We have a friend who used to be involved with a non-profit with a similar issue – he’s got multiple ear piercings and lots of visible tattoos and was actually involved in legal work. He was very conscious of covering up the arms when doing “professional” work, and taking out the earrings, just because they didn’t want to invite any unwanted social commentary.

          Another friend is in social work and had very long, nearly waist length hair (it was gorgeous by the way, and I’m not normally a fan of long hair on guys) and it wasn’t an issue with one group, but was for another. He decided to cut it, mainly just to prove his point that you could passionately advocate for this particular cause without fitting in a stereotypical appearance.

          It was actually kind of funny – one of them mentioned he wished I’d get more involved because I certainly don’t fit the stereotype. I’m just not passionate enough about it, I guess.

      2. fposte

        Basically, it’s acknowledging that social norms aren’t identical across the board. An employer could probably also prohibit dresses on men for the same reason.

          1. Steve M

            Thanks for the link. I guess now I can go from not understanding to just not agreeing. :)

            1. Jamie

              FWIW – I don’t agree either. I understand that it is, just not that it should be.

              I love long hair on men (I originally typed “I love men with long hair” but that isn’t true – I’m sure I don’t love all of them).

              I don’t understand why earings on men are no longer taboo and totally mainstream, but long hair is still an issue? That makes no sense to me.

              Thank goodness no one cares what we look like in IT.

    2. khilde

      So, did he cut his hair and you hired him? I am curious how the situation turned out and how he responded to the conversation?

    3. Cube Ninja

      This begs the question, of course – was the same policy regarding hair length in place for women as well?

      I had a friend of mine successfully take a company to task with the provincial labor board over that one because they wouldn’t hire him due to the length of his hair, but there were multiple female staff members who had hair of equal length.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Nope. This goes back to the men-can’t-wear-dresses-but-women can thing from above. You sound like you’re in Canada, so the rules may be different.

        1. Cube Ninja

          Dunno about the actual laws or court cases on this – just that one in particular stuck out at me a bit.

          I’m not officially an ex-pat (and probably never will be, as I refuse to give up my Canadian citizenship), but have been in the US for a bit over 10 years. :)

  15. sdottie

    Would it be considered discrimination for an employer not to hire an African American who wears their hair in a natural style, such as an afro or locks? People don’t choose their hair texture, and it’s typically unique to certain racial groups. Some corporate cultures have deemed such natural hairstyles as “unprofessional.”

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Here’s the EEOC’s guidance on that: “Employers can impose neutral hairstyle rules – e.g., that hair be neat, clean, and well-groomed – as long as the rules respect racial differences in hair textures and are applied evenhandedly. For example, Title VII prohibits employers from preventing African American women from wearing their hair in a natural, unpermed ‘afro’ style that complies with the neutral hairstyle rule. Title VII also prohibits employers from applying neutral hairstyle rules more restrictively to hairstyles worn by African Americans.”

      My understanding about dreadlocks, though, is that challenges to workplace bans on them have failed more often than succeeded.

        1. Jaime

          And people have a perception that dreads are dirty, which is not necessarily the case. Also, I learned that “dreads” can cover a broader range of options than just the Bob Marley look.

        2. Tater B.

          Glad you think so! I have a ‘fro, but I very rarely wear it out in the work place and NEVER on a job interview. I’ve been told it comes across as “intimidating,” whatever that means.

          1. The gold digger

            Half the men and women in my high school yearbook have fros. And not all of them were black. I wish fros would come back in style. Processed hair bothers me – I hate to think of someone putting lye on her hair. Natural hair looks great.

            RE: Dreads. I’ve never thought they looked dirty on black people, but for my mousy blonde, straight, fine, white person hair to dread, I would probably have to go a long, long time without washing it.

            1. Carrie

              Dreads on Caucasians are much easier to acquire when the hair is super duper squeaky CLEAN.

              Although some people do get dreaded hair by not washing it, the whole dreading process is easier and faster — and healthier — with clean hair. Before dreading my hair, it was very fine, very thin, and definitely not curly (somewhat wavy, but curly — no.) And to keep my hair healthy, well-dreaded, and not smelly at all, I shampoo regularly.

            2. Kelly O

              I just had to comment – my husband graduated high school in ’86. His senior portrait features a very impressive Caucasian-Fro, before he succumbed to the late 80’s mullet trend.

          2. Nikkie

            Hi Tater B.! I had a twa (teeny weeny afro) when I first moved to NC and my mother kept warning me and worrying that I wouldn’t find a job.
            But I.am.fabulous. (not just saying it, I blew away the search committee and I’m hardly intimidating in any shape or form, I feel you on that) and have been working here for over three years. I have since had a texturizer, so now I have more curly length.
            It’s a shame that we feel discouraged in wearing our hair in it’s natural form. Some women (of all races) straighten their hair *every morning*. ..ugh.
            Here’s to the day when you can wear your hair your way.
            ~for reference, I’m in academia, student services and I have seen several natural haired ladies around campus in various roles~

            1. moss

              amen to that, speaking as a Caucasoid, I think natural hair on women and men of color looks so good. Like the pictures of Viola Davis without her wigs on? So beautiful. I hope one day it becomes more fashionable/acceptable to rock the natural ‘do.

  16. Phyr

    You could always apply at places like hot topic or spencers, but they will have a tough competition. Other guitar/music shops could be an option as well. If you are looking for reception/front desk experiance you could try body peircing shop, tattoo parlors and some salons. Possably even some boutiqus.

    You will have to start thinking were you eventually want to end up in the long run. Some places never let you have fun with your hair and some will once you have been there for a few years.

    Your job search is going to be hard but it will help you plan for the long run.

  17. Suz

    Back in the olden days when I had to lose my mohawk, I quit shaving the sides so they’d grow out and cut the top really short. I looked kind of like a girly military cut. I probably couldn’t have landed a job at a bank or law office but it was “normal” enough for most jobs a 19 year old would qualify for.

    1. BC

      I was just going to say, the OP’s hair looks like it could easily be modified to fit “the norm”, if she wanted to do that.

        1. OP

          I can trim it into a crew-cut type thing and dye it back to a normal colour if I need to, but I’d rather not do that if I don’t have to. I’m going to try first and if it turns out to be a huge issue I’ll change it. I’m planning on applying to alternative stores anyway, I saw a few places in the Gaybourhood had ‘hiring’ signs.

  18. Guy

    The easy way to tell would be to just walk into whatever store you’re applying to and take a look around.

  19. Ashley

    How do I say this without sounding bad? OP, what is more important to you, working or having pink hair? I used to have dreads and had to cut them out for a job. I had them for 3 years in college, but it was time. I have a bajillion tattoos, however, they are above the knees and if I wear a tshirt you can’t see them. This is on purpose due to wanting to work in a specific job in the future. My Dad didn’t even know I had them everywhere, until I went to a wedding. I have had plugs/gauges then took them out for different jobs. The hair is always something you can do again, it’s hair and as a woman, we are fortunate enough to go through many styles! That’s the fun of having hair. :) Maybe in a few years you have a job that lets you do that, go for it then, but for now, maybe dye it dark brown? I express myself through my clothing, shoes, accessories and glasses. I also make art and listen to certain music i like. Now, all those recent mentions were things that can be tailored to a job. I wear 1950s dresses and 4 inch heels on the weekends, but to work I wear a pencil skirt, regular blouse and flats. There is a dress code, just like there was a dress code in school, (HS) It is what it is. At some point everyone has to decide how they want to express themselves. I hope you find a job that allows you to be yourself, but I also just hope you find something you like. I’m 27. I hate growing up. :)

  20. Ashley

    Re: Dreads, people always think they are dirty. There are several kinds of dreads. Some form on their own, some stink when people dont use phosphate free shampoo and wash the locks…then they rot from the water inside. Like any person with hair, oil/grease comes from the scalp. Most people that have had them put in by a friend that is basically just back combing….salons too (although in some subcultures salon dreads are looked down on) but, as long as the person washes their scalp, the hair will stay squeaky clean. I used to get compliments all the time from people where I worked, which was a fancy pants fine dining restaurant. I always had them up in a pony tail. I just wanted to add some comments on people talking about the dreads. I’m of mixed racial background, with “white” hair, and by looking at me no one ever knows what my heritage is, mostly people think I’m Albanian. (?) And OP, if you just dye the hair back a dark color, in no time if will be grown out. I have a few girlfriends that have mohawks, but can wear them down, or wear a headband and it looks unassuming.

  21. Anonymous

    I’ve had weird colored hair (with a normal cut) on and off throughout my career. When I was younger I dyed it normal colors while job hunting, then would feel out the places I worked and go back to crazy colors ASAP, usually without asking. I think I would have been happier in the long run if I called ahead of time and asked if they have policies in place regarding hair color and chosen places that didn’t care.

    Another option I found was to have a normal color with a bleached streak. Most conservative places didn’t have a problem with that.

    Now I’m respected in my field (tech, of course?) and if I ever had to go search for a job I wouldn’t change my hair, but I might cover my tattoos initially. If anyone searches for me they’ll find my picture, complete with both crazy hair and tattoos, on sites where I’ve done public speaking engagements, been interviewed on blogs, etc. I love that one can get away with this in the tech field.

    I also meet with customers on a regular basis, but I usually wear something nice and bright when I meet with them, so I don’t come off as intimidating. I don’t feel like that’s a compromise at all. Only once have I been questioned at a super corporate event (they said it was biz casual, but everyone else was in a suit, oops), but once I said “I work in software.” they were like “Oh, cool, gotcha, makes sense.”

    Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to conform in general. There are lots of places that will hire you as is and you’ll be happier for it. But if there’s an amazing job out there that requires you to be conservative, be flexible and make sure it’s really that amazing before you go normal. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not.

    Good luck!

  22. Jamie

    “Now I’m respected in my field (tech, of course?)”

    Dontcha love the leeway? Not that I’m wearing slip on Vans with a Hello Kitty pattern or anything today…

    I’m always conservative from the ankles up, just because that’s my style – but I like getting away with the quirkier footwear and socks. (Although I do have grown up pumps for interviews).

    I think people worry when their tech people aren’t a little eccentric.

    1. Charles

      “I think people worry when their tech people aren’t a little eccentric.”

      True, the bias can go both ways; years ago I work for a software company as their trainer. Unlike their help desk or their programmers I did interact face-to-face with the customer; But, unlike, the sales reps I was seen in the office as well. Never before (nor since) have I worked in a place where it was a running joke about “Charles is wearing a tie!”

      So, hopefully, OP can find a place where her hair (cute BTW!) is a plus!

    2. Kelly O

      Although it’s weird in some places – the husband’s new job requires khakis and button-downs or polos. No jeans or “casual athletic” shoes. He does it because that’s what they ask, but believe me, he’d be in jeans and Chuck Taylors and t-shirts in a hot second if they let him.

      I always wonder about companies that don’t want their techies to be a little weird.

  23. Michelle

    I couldn’t help but chime in on this one. I have a little bit of a funky style (it sure has toned down since I was younger), this style includes a nose ring and a tattoo on my ankle (I have ditched the pink hair for a more normal shade of red). I’m a librarian who works in the kids department and the primary part of my job is customer service. When I was interviewing I covered it all up, took out the nose ring, no funky hair, but I dressed more conservatively (but I certainly wasn’t wearing a boring black suit.) I never felt like I was compromising my style or myself ever! I was able to present my funkier awesome self fully while on interviews despite dressing myself conservatively. After I got a job at a library that was a good fit, about a month after I started I asked my boss about wearing my nose stud and showing the tattoo in summer. She had no problem with it, and frankly none of our patrons have had issues either. To get the job you want, you have to dress the part, first impressions are important! You can certainly bring back your more unique style AFTER you get the right job.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes — but just make sure that you ask ahead of time if it’s something that’s really important to you. I had a months-long battle with someone who claimed to be okay with our no-nose-ring policy but was constantly sneaking the nose ring back in when she thought I wouldn’t see it. If it’s that important to you, find out ahead of time what the employer’s stance is on it.

  24. Another Brit.

    OP, if you find a company that you want to work at which do want a conservative look… how do you feel about a wig?

    It might cost a bit upfront (I haven’t really got an idea on a price) but if you use that during work and take it off for the rest of the time you could have both options!

  25. DeepSleepr

    In S. Korea, having a different hair color is considered being a “punk.” I have a Korean friend who needs to dye his hair black because his natural hair color is dark brown. He always got in trouble in high school because of his hair; teacher pulls his hair, snips some part of it ,and scolds him for bleaching his hair. No matter how many times he explains people that his natural hair is dark brown, nobody believed him and labelled him as a punk. One time on his job interview, he once got an immediate rejection the moment he meets the interviewer because of his hair color =(

  26. Bj

    I work at a Zaxby’s in Georgia.I am an African American female.When I was first hired,my hair was brown and burgandy.Recently, I decided to put braided twists in my hair that are brown and burgandy.One of the assistant managers said that I can’t have “crazy colors” in my hair.This past week and this upcoming week I’m not on schedule to work;I didn’t receive any notice as to why,so I decided to call and speak to the assistant manager.He said that he was told not to put me on schedule until I “dye my hair”.Two other African American females dyed their hair blond and was told NOTHING;in addition,one of the assistant managers that just transfered had an orangish-brownish-redish hair as well.I feel like I’m being singled out and discriminated.Is this legal?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Hard to say — if other African American women are not being told the same, it might not be race-based. But again, hard to say without knowing more. You could certainly talk with a lawyer for more guidance!

  27. Beep

    All of this just shows how the hardcore controlling mentality works in human beings. All about control. Which means its absurd and sad.

    Ear rings ok now, but not long hair.
    Gay people now can look effiminate or manly but long hair is bad. Can you tell a long haired gay person to cut his hair? Would that not be gay discrimination?
    Sikhs can wear their turbans but Muslim headscarves might be an issue!

    People don’t see it. It’s this spirit of control, demanding how others should behave. And people hold back controlling themselves, then push their fear inspired beliefs on others. Keeping others in line because of the image it might present!

    How many job websites like about and others speak of a ‘clean’ short hair look. These people are a LIABILITY to business. Because these are the exact people who do stupid things being short-sighted in their business practises. You can’t do things simply for profit anymore. It’s left-brained controlling types that ruin everything. It’s the Nazi mentality Lite in society. People who accept such a system should not complain about the cold, harsh environment of corporate life. It’s your karma showing you what you are.

  28. nakita bermudez

    I’m a African American woman with blonde hair I work I’m
    In retail I’m in sales ,
    but I’m currently looking for another job I was wondering would this stop employers from hiring me?.

Comments are closed.