short answer Saturday: 5 short answers to 5 short questions

It’s short answer Saturday — five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. I forgot what I said my salary requirements are

I just got an email to interview for a job that I applied to 3 months ago (talk about slow on their part…but yay!). I know the application asked for salary requirements, but here’s the catch — I completely forgot what I put down! What is the best way to approach the “what are your salary requirements?” question if it comes up in my interview. I don’t want to say something that is completely different from what I wrote down three months ago (and honestly, I probably wrote down something lower than what I’ve been asking more recently) because I don’t want to come off as indecisive. Is it okay to ask what I wrote down originally (and seem like I’m forgetful), or it is better to throw out a new number (that certainly may be $5,000 more than I originally asked)?

I wouldn’t ask what you wrote down originally, because they’re likely to think that you really should know what salary you’re looking for. I’d give a number that makes sense based on all the usual factors (the market in your area, experience, etc.), and if they say it’s different than what you normally said, explain why you stand by it.

2. How much do looks matter when you’re interviewing? 

How much do you think looks play a part in the interview process? Aside from basic grooming/hygiene/wearing suits, I’m always reading about how overweight or “unattractive” candidates are less likely to get hired for any position, and it’s extremely depressing and stressful. Sometimes I wonder, if it’s not my resume, then is it my weight/something about my looks that turns off a potential employer? I’ve always likened dating to job hunting, but it’s a huge bummer when looks pervade both aspects of life.

There are some studies showing that looks and weight play some role in both getting hired and what salary you get, as they do in many other parts of life. But I don’t think it’s something worth spending much time worrying about — first, that kind of bias is pretty much out of your control, and second, while it might be a factor at play on occasion with a particular interviewer, it’s not going to be some universal disqualifier that keeps you from getting a job.

Also, most people are, by definition, average in the looks department. And they still get hired every day.

3. CEO wants to hire me, department head might not

After having an in-person interview at a company three weeks ago, I had a telephone interview with the CEO on Monday. After talking for some time, he said that it was a risk and an opportunity for both parties, but that we should go ahead and take it. I agreed, asking if this was a job offer. He said that this would come from the department head. He then went into detail about what he expects from me in the first few months, how it’s a great opportunity for me, etc.

Later in the day, I received an email from the department head, but instead of confirming the offer, it was an invitation to another meeting. I asked if the meeting would be for negotiating my contract and received a delayed, vague reply describing their recruitment process.

Fast forward to today’s meeting: it was actually another interview where I was told that there’s still another candidate in the running! I somehow managed not to show my total consternation but am now wondering if I should voice my concerns. On one hand, I worry that this may reflect badly on my candidacy, but on the other hand, if it does I’m not sure I want to work there. What’s going on here, and what do you think would be the best course of action at this point?

It sounds like the CEO and the department head weren’t quite on the same page. The CEO may have made up his mind about you, but apparently it’s up to the department head to make the final decision about who to hire. CEOs are notorious for plunging ahead with plans, only to have a staff member point out that the process isn’t quite there yet.

So now that you know that, ignore what the CEO said to you.

It was handled poorly, but this stuff happens.

4. Interview coaching

I get called for interviews fairly often, because I have an impressive resume and write careful cover letters. But I almost never get called back for a second interview, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need some sort of interview coaching. Is that a field that exists, and if so, do you have any sources or recommendations?

It is a field that exists, but I’m not sure how good it is, in general. I’m sure there are some people who do this work who are quite good at it, but based on what I’ve seen and the stories I’ve heard, I’m wary. The good ones might be exceptions rather than the rule.

You could try having initial conversations with a few to see if you can find someone who impresses you and doesn’t have the overly swarmy approach that so many seem to have. And put a high value on finding someone who has actually hired a significant number of people — most “career coaches” have never actually managed or hired anyone, which makes taking their advice pretty suspect.

5. Networking at a conference that I’m not telling my employer about

I have a job but I’m looking for a better one. I am stepping up my job search efforts, also signing up with a recruiter, and going on interviews. My question for you has to do with a conference I plan to attend. I do not plan to tell my current employer I’ll be attending (normally they would pay my expenses in part) because my purpose for going is to network for a job. This conference is not only held in a different country (where I hope to relocate), but is not exactly related to the scope of my current job, so it is not too likely I would run into anyone from my current professional sphere.

I’m wondering if I should introduce myself and state my current job (and employer), as I have always done at conferences in the past while networking, or only say my name, as I am really there to represent myself. Or would that suggest that I am unemployed, and is that worse, in terms of first impressions? For example, should I introduce myself as “Hi, I’m Jane Smith, I’m an academic librarian and I’m visiting from (my state)” just at the get-go? Then I could mention the name of my current employer only when asked. And at what point do I mention that I am looking for a job? I suppose that is just something to feel out, but can you give me any advice to maximize my efforts at this conference?* Even things I could do ahead of time?

You’re over-thinking it. Introducing yourself either way is fine, and you can mention that you’re looking for a job at whatever point it seems to fit naturally.

{ 91 comments… read them below }

  1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    Regarding question 2 on looks: I think that it’s important to remember how much control you really DO have over this, and I don’t mean in a “stop being overweight with diet and exercise” kind of way.

    I think that, while hiring managers do have appearance biases, it’s more toward the “looking put-together and professional” end than conforming to any certain standard of beauty.

    I am definitely overweight, and I’ve worried about this before too. And I’m also a bit socially inept, and never had the hair-nails-skin-clothing-makeup training that apparently all the good looking people spend their childhood and teen years learning.

    So when I’m at work, or out and about, I keep a special eye open for people who I notice to be overweight, but whom I also think look good, or professional, or whatever. And then, at the risk of them thinking I’m a total weirdo, I scrutinize them. I try to look at every detail and then compare it to what I do. I count the pieces of jewelry they are wearing, notice what colors they have on, look at their hair and try to figure out how they did it, look at their shoes, whether or not they’re wearing tights or hosiery… everything. Is that a purse I can see myself wearing? Can my hair even DO that? Did I remember to pluck my eyebrows today? (BTW… never knew the magic of eyebrow pencils till my sister showed me a year ago. You really wouldn’t believe the difference it makes!)

    It seems so basic, but it really, really works. Being good looking in an interview context is all about the details. I’ve seen skinny, cute people that I wouldn’t jump to hire because their hair a a total mess or they wear some kind of totally inappropriate clothing (not to say I wouldn’t hire them, but I would be disinclined), and I’ve seen 300 pound people that I totally would be inclined to hire, because they have nice clothing that fits them, a well manicured appearance, and clearly pay attention to details.

    I’m not saying you have to spend money on manicures (never had one) or professional hair help (I’ve cut my own hair since high school). But paying attention to the details is much more important than being your target weight, or whatever. Some people are naturally beautiful, but everyone can put together a “hireable” appearance.

      1. anonymous*

        Yes, good advice, but the OP lost me on the cutting her own hair thing. I personally believe that a man or a woman with a decent haircut or, at least, neatly pulled back hair, will be taken more seriously in the workplace. Additionally, I believe that a minimal amount of makeup can really help a woman to look more professional. Before anyone jumps on me for that comment, I’ll add a disclaimer that I recognize that some women choose not to wear makeup because they hate it or are against it. I am ok with that. The point I am trying to make is that, in the professional world, details matter. You may not be able to help whether you look “ugly” (that is subjective anyway), but you can help whether your clothes fit properly, your teeth are clean, your nails are neatly clipped, and your hairstyle is appropriate. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, absent a medical condition, most overweight people are capable of losing weight. Additionally, if a woman does not understand how to use makeup, how to treat her nails, or how to style her hair, she can find someone to teach her how to do so, regardless of her age. I personally believe that putting forth an effort to present a neat, professional appearance in the workplace will not go unnoticed by one’s bosses. People like to hire and promote people who act like they care about themselves and who pay attention to little details.

        1. anonymous*

          Oh, and I wanted to add that there is a difference between looking attractive and looking polished. Everyone can do the latter.

        2. Natalie*

          Without knowing what Kimberlee’s hair looks like, it’s a bit broad to say she would be better off with a professional haircut. Some short hair cuts are very easy to do yourself and look just as professional as if they were done at a salon.

        3. Cristin*

          If you have long hair that you wear up in buns or twists (both of which can and do look very professional), it’s actually much easier to cut your hair at home. Wearing your hair in a bun or a twist means you want no layers, it means you probably don’t want bangs, and that all of your hair is the same length.

          So it basically just involves cutting in a straight line.

          1. anonymous*

            A hair dresser would probably disagree that all it takes is just cutting in a straight line. I don’t pretend to be a hairdresser, but I do know that they go to school for a reason. However, I did note in my earlier post that putting your hair back is perfectly acceptable in the business world, so I don’t disagree with you there.

        4. Anon2*

          “Aside from basic grooming/hygiene/wearing suits, I’m always reading about how overweight or “unattractive” candidates are less likely to get hired for any position, and it’s extremely depressing and stressful.”

          anonymous, I think you’re being disingenuous with your response. The Op specifically referenced matters of appearance (ie, being overweight or unattractive) aside from grooming/hygiene/professional attire and that is the only thing you addressed. I’m getting the feeling, though I hope I’m wrong, that you’re confirming these studies by implying that you think being overweight automatically means someone is not well-groomed or is unhygienic.

          At the same time you say “…I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, absent a medical condition, most overweight people are capable of losing weight.” I think we can all agree that this is more difficult in practice than in theory. More than that, losing weight takes time. If the Op wants to lose weight, that’s their business but it’s likely not practical advice for interviews in the near future. I also don’t think it helps to add the stress of trying to lose weight for external reasons (think, trying to lose weight rapidly for a wedding or reunion) to the stress of the job search. If excercising and eating clean is a way to relieve stress for the Op, then great; but, as long as they can physically perform the job at their current weight then this should be the last thing they’re thinking about when going into an interview.

          1. Zed*

            Yeah, the comment about losing weight got my hackles up too. That is specifically NOT what the OP needed to hear. There are a lot of reasons why a person may not be able to lose weight and a lot of reasons why a person may be able to lose weight but still be overweight. None of them are relevant here.

          2. anonymous*

            I did not state that overweight/obese people must lose weight in order to be professional, nor did I state that overweight/obese people are not well-groomed or hygienic (from here on out, for the sake of simplicity, I will use the term overweight to describe both overweight and obese individuals. However, there is a medical difference between the terms, and I am certain that slightly overweight people do not suffer from as much workplace discrimination as people toward the obese end of the BMI scale). People judge overweight people on the basis of their size specifically because people who are overweight and who don’t have a medical condition causing them to be so appear to be unhealthy in a way that they can control (unlike diseases, ect). There is a statistically correlation between excess weight and health problems. I am not suggesting that people ought to judge a person by their weight in the workplace. It is not fair or right for an employer to make assumptions about the qualities of a person’s work just because that person is overweight because that employer doesn’t know the specifics of that overweight person’s situation or medical history. I am suggesting that some employers do in fact make judgments about a person’s judgment, self-control, and discipline on the basis of that person’s weight. The same judgments may be applied to regular smokers or heavy drinkers; it just isn’t as obvious that someone is a smoker or heavy drinker by looking at them.
            A person’s weight is different than a person’s immutable physical attributes, like the way his or her face looks. Weight is not a fixed characteristic. I am not suggesting that anyone lose weight because they need to look “good” to find a job or because they are discriminated against in the workplace for being overweight. In fact, those are the wrong reasons to lose weight. A person should lose weight for his or herself. Instead, I am suggesting that people, whether employed or unemployed, can lose weight and may find that weight loss will help them in their professional life. Weight loss has many proven health benefits. Healthy workers take less sick days (assuming they aren’t blatant liars taking sick days when they are well). Additionally, weight loss can help people boost their confidence and self-esteem. Both attributes help employees in the workplace.
            FYI, I speak from personal experience, having lost and kept off 60 pounds for 10 years.

            1. Anon2*

              My point, is that the Op is clearly already aware of these issues. What I think the Op wasn’t aware of was how pervasive it might actually be, since these reports can sometimes inflate an issue (like the whole facebook password thing) that isn’t really significant. From my perspective, she wasn’t looking for tips on how to present herself better but rather the opinion of how much being overweight or unattractive might actually matter.

        5. Zed*

          “Additionally, if a woman does not understand how to use makeup, how to treat her nails, or how to style her hair, she can find someone to teach her how to do so, regardless of her age.”

          While I understand what you’re saying here, and I do think it is worth remembering that someone who wants to learn these skills can acquire them… I am uncomfortable with the assertion that these things are necessary. I am a woman and I aim to be clean and neat at my workplace. That’s it. I don’t need to be cute or glamorous. I do not wear make-up, style my hair, or do anything particular to my nails. I make sure my hair is washed and brushed (it is long and I wear it down) and my nails are trimmed. I wear deodorant. I brush my teeth.

          In short, I only follow the basic hygiene/grooming rules that men are held to. For my last interview, I did the same thing. I bought a new suit and took it to the tailor. I filed my nails, evened my hair (at home) and made sure it was dry and combed when I arrived. I got the job, so it couldn’t have been too much of a misstep.

          1. V*

            I do think that *some* makeup truly can make a difference, for example wearing foundation to even out a blotchy skin tone like mine, or to use a brow pencil because your eyebrows are so sparse that they can disappear frOm far away (again, like mine). For me, those two things truly do make me look more professional. I don’t think women should feel like they have to be glamorous to be hired, but makeup can absolutely help.

            1. Anonymous*

              I don’t understand how “sparse eyebrows” can possibly convey/not convey professionalism. It’s one thing to say that changing your appearance made *you* feel more confident and professional and if that is what you meant, OK. But to say that makeup = professional and no make-up = not professional, that I have a problem with. And I wear make-up. But saying a woman can’t look professional without it is incorrect, IMO.

              1. fposte*

                I agree entirely. It’s possible to use these things as tools to help look polished, it’s possible to use these things and look *less* polished, and it’s possible to look polished without them.

                Funnily enough, every time makeup gets mentioned here as being useful for polish, everybody has a different list of the “only a few things” that would be key anyway. (It’s always the longest lists that are described as “fresh and natural.”)

                1. anonymices*

                  BAZINGA. It’s amazing how long it takes to achieve a natural, effortless “no-makeup” look!

              2. V*

                Hi, yes, that is what I meant. Sorry, I hadn’t been awake long enough to be allowed to post online. I feel and look messy without those two things and so it makes a difference in how I feel.

                Thank you :)

          2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            But here’s the thing… I think the standard for the level of hair/makeup/etc is different from person to person. If you’re healthy-looking and fit, and reasonably attractive naturally, and have decent hair, you can totally show up at an interview with brushed, down hair, no makeup, and decent clothes and look fine. You can definitely look professional like that.

            However, if you have bad skin, bad hair (defined for me as hair that must be straightened to be straight, curled to look curly, too thin to grow out, and generally just weird looking), are overweight, or any number of other physical factors, then you can follow the exact same steps as Zed above and look a hot mess. There are different standards. And it’s not that I would consciously not hire someone who wore no makeup, washed and brushed their hair and wore deodorant, but if you are not favored by the appearance gods you are not putting forth the “polished” look, and that has an effect. That effect means that you probably have to otherwise be a stronger candidate than you would have otherwise had to have been to compete with an attractive person who rolled out of bed and came to the interview looking great.

            Don’t get me wrong… it sucks. But I think we do a disservice to ourselves if we pretend that different people can apply the same standards of grooming and get the same result.

            1. Anon2*

              “Don’t get me wrong… it sucks. But I think we do a disservice to ourselves if we pretend that different people can apply the same standards of grooming and get the same result.”

              Absolutely agree.

        6. Job Seeker*

          I am a girlie girl. I am also a mom and wife and job-seeker. I always care about my appearance and get compliments. I don’t know how professional I project, but I am always wanting to look put together and that I care about details.

          1. Andrew*

            If I were hiring, I’d prefer someone who refers to herself and thinks of herself as a woman, not a “girlie girl.”

            1. Jamie*

              The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I think she was just using girlie girl as the common shorthand for someone who like the whole make-up, clothes, nails thing.

              It’s just a colloquialism and I’m sure not anything she’d write in a cover letter.

              1. Job Seeker*

                Thank you Jamie. Yes, I did mean I love the whole female thing. I love to look nice when I go out. I want to always represent a company in a positive light. I have had front office positions before and want to give a good impression of where I work. I also on a personal level want to look good for my husband. Just because you are a wife and mom doesn’t mean you stop being girlie. Andrew, no I do not refer to myself as a girl in a cover letter. I think you can be professional and still enjoy the nice things about being a women.

          2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            I love girlie girls, so consider me the counter-balance to Andrew in the cosmic hiring world. :)

        7. Anon...*

          The OP (original poster) actually didn’t say anything about cutting her own hair. The hair-cutting was mentioned by another commenter.

    1. jmkenrick*

      This came up a few months ago in a conversation, when a group of us started discussing weight/height.

      I actually am a very similar size to one of our acquaintances, but she was perceived by everyone to be larger. I think it has a lot to do with the way we dress.

        1. jmkenrick*

          No – just me. Someone made a comment about her size, and I remarked that we’re the same weight. They seemed surprised – I supposed might have been faked for my benefit, but I would guess it was genuine.

          It’s worth noting that neither of us are particularly large.

      1. Sara*

        That’s really interesting! I can see that happening, especially when two people are different body shapes (i.e., apple vs pear). Would you mind terribly telling more about it? If you’re a similar to each other in build/height rather than just clothing size? And what kind of clothing do you wear that makes you appear smaller?
        It’s funny, I always see advice in magazines and from “stylists” on how certain kinds of clothing styles will make me look slimmer…..but I always find they make me look fatter! I guess everyone else focuses on one thing while I like to look at another!

        1. jmkenrick*

          In this case, I did some workouts with the acquaintance, and we discussed weight and discovered that we weight the same amount. She’s actually taller than me, so if anything, should be perceived as thinner. But our weight does seem to be distributed a little differently, in terms of, well, curves and such (we’re both women). I have heard that muscle weighs more than fat, so maybe that skews the scales, but frankly I do think we’re fairly similar in body type. For what it’s worth, we both have “normal” BMIs.

          Clothing wise I don’t think it has anything to do with tricks, just a manner of buying/tailoring clothes so that they fit your body. I really enjoy dressing, so I can get kind of into it, and I’m pretty anal about making sure everything fits perfectly (ie: not too clingy, not too baggy). This doesn’t seem to be as big a concern for her.

    2. Different Anonymous*

      Excellent advice here!

      I suspect the OP looks just fine, especially since they’re clearly concerned about looking professional. Those articles could depress anyone who thinks they’re even the slightest bit unattractive or overweight. (I speak from experience.) AAM’s advice is spot-on.

      One thing I’d add: fit is an important component of a professional appearance, and possibly even more important for overweight people. People don’t always gain weight in the same places that clothing makers think they do when sizing up. (Again, speaking from experience.) The OP may have a suit that fits wonderfully, but if not – if there are things that don’t hang right/strain/pull/sag – a good tailor can do wonders.

  2. Anonymous*

    #2 There are many studies showing being overweight is a detriment both in getting hired and getting promoted, a Google search will quickly link you to lots of info on this. If you are an overweight woman, research shows that it will affect your work life (and that the impact is greater for overweight woman than for overweight men).

    Some general info:

    Some studies show overweight women are paid less:

    That said, you’ll never know if the reason you didn’t get a specific job is because of weight or looks — unless you have the same experience as someone I know who was told by an interviewer they didn’t hire fat people, something that is legal to say since discriminating based on weight is not illegal.

    As AAM said, there’s nothing you can really do about this kind of prejudice. When you’re interviewing, take a look around the place and note how many larger women you see., Given what % of Americans are overweight, if you don’t spot one overweight woman there, that would tell you something.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are also some interesting studies showing that while being good-looking helps men get hired, it sometimes has the opposite impact on good-looking women, who are assumed to be dumb or frivolous.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        LOL, so ugly women don’t get hired, and beautiful women don’t get hired. Or, in each case, if they do get hired, they get paid less. What a time to be alive!

        1. jmkenrick*

          Proof that although these things (attractiveness, etc) clearly influence our lives in some way, pinning down exactly how it works is impossible. There are simply far too many variables.

        2. anonymices*

          If you are average, shape your arches a bit. If you are unattainably beautiful, keep it real by penciling-in a monobrow.

          Problem solved.

          1. mh_76*

            (chuckling) or just don’t worry too much about your brows. I’m average but don’t really bother much with mine (beyond a tiny bit of occasional neatening). And I look funny with the “proper” skinny-arched brow…and even if I didn’t, I’d have to rip too much out to get the “proper” shape…no thanks!

      2. Jennifer*

        Or worse yet, there is the perception that good looking women were only hired/promoted because of their looks or “sleeping their way to the top” (ugh, I hate even typing that phrase). How dare they be competent or talented instead?

        Women (unfortunately) can also tend to be catty and jealous. I’ve seen women try to keep others down out of what appears to be jealously in both social and professional contexts.

          1. Anonymous*

            I don’t think it’s jealousy between women but that women judge each other differently; women tend to judge other women for being too dolled up, especially when it comes to work. I general I think women judge each other very harshly for what we’d think is “inappropriate” more than anything else, and what people think is inappropriate is varied and hard to pin down. For example, in every Great Pantyhose Debate I’ve ever seen, most people with opinions are women– and the most vehement are always women. Even men in fields where hose is standard just kind of go “oh” to it because, and I think this is the root of the issue, they don’t wear them. Women are hyper tuned to the makeup/clothing choices of other women because we have experience in choosing it. And we can think “that choice was bad and I would not make that choice, I don’t trust her other decisions” from a viewpoint a guy probably doesn’t have.

            The jealousy assertion annoys me. Women, when you see an attractive woman, do you hate her? Do you want bad things to happen to her because you want to look like her? Would you slight her if given the opportunity? Of course you freaking don’t.

            1. Andrew*

              In an office setting most men don’t notice a woman’s hose or lack thereof. And here’s another shocking fact: we don’t notice or care about your shoes, either.

              1. Jamie*

                Actually I once knew a male HR who would take note of shoes and be concerned if they were particularly expensive the person wouldn’t be satisfied with the salary.

                Apparently he didn’t understand the concept of knockoffs and splurging on one good pair for special occasions.

                They say men tend to be judged on shoes and watch and for women it’s shoes and handbags. But you can’t control whatever silly thing people to which people want to give unnecessary weight.

              2. LL*

                I have been complimented on two different pairs of shoes at work by two different men. Some guys do notice.

            2. mh_76*

              Women, when you see an attractive woman, do you hate her? Do you want bad things to happen to her because you want to look like her? Would you slight her if given the opportunity?

              Personally, no. But there are women who do. And I’m sure that there are men who feel that way about more attractive men. I’m a woman and I have run into that, though regarding intelligence, job performance, and my complete lack of interest in fashion & celebrities instead of regarding attractiveness.

              1. Jamie*

                I keep hearing about this animosity between women in the workplace and I’ve yet to see it myself.

                I’ve worked with women I’ve liked and respected, and those I didn’t. Same the same goes for the men with whom I’ve worked.

                The only thing I’ve found is a little more personal comradierie with women, which can be nice. It doesn’t affect anything from a business standpoint, though.

                1. Hari*

                  Same has been mostly true for me when I worked for smaller agencies. However I notice as I go corporate, at least in the job interviews, the men as a whole ten to be so much nicer to me than the women. I like to think its because of personality differences rather than my looks, however, it has been brought up by people I tell that it could in fact be the reason. (I’m an hourglass but I always dress appropriately, nothing tight, revealing, flashy, or brand recognizable, although I am very into fashion so I do look stylish).

                  Also I have been flirted with by other male employees not interviewing me while waiting in lobby or common area for job interviews. Nothing inappropriate really, just causal and I always respond professionally and politely, but I do wonder if negative opinions have formed of me because of their interests.

                2. mh_76*

                  I’ve seen it and been on the receiving end of it.

                  I’ve worked with (and know outside of work) some truly awesome women but I’ve found that in general, in work & other places, there tends to be less animosity between men and men->women. Maybe it’s just a function of where I live – a large city with many many…many more women than men.

                3. fposte*

                  My personal view is that there’s all kinds of workplace animosity, and that gender/culture/background etc. can make your animosity likelier to fall into one pattern than another. I also suspect there’s a big helping of confirmation bias, too.

              2. Sara*

                and then there are the women who think they’re hated because they’re beautiful and accuse everyone who doesn’t fall over backwards for them as being jealous. No, i think it has more to do with the nasty personality behind it

                1. mh_76*

                  I think that it depends on the person – there are definitely jealous people (and not just appearance-related jealousy), there are nasty people, and so on.

            3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

              I don’t think it’s jealousy, per se (I think people have long been too eager to ascribe dislikes between people as “oh, they’re just jealous”). I think that, in general, women are more judgmental about things like clothing, hair, jewelry, shoes, etc (precisely for the reason Andrew notes above… men seem to notice the whole package, but could not tell you a single detail about an outfit once it’s out of sight). In my experience, much of the social strata you end up in among women has to do with those details. The biggest danger to feminism is other women. The man interviewing you cares that your shit looks together. The woman interviewing you is more likely to notice the details, and even if your appearance is generally together, I feel like we’re more likely to notice that one thing that didn’t turn out well (or maybe we look for those things, as comforts to ourselves? Like, I’m always aware when I’m the least attractive woman in a room. Is that weird?)

              *insert caveat about how whenever people talk about gender differences, we’re talking in useful but not universal generalities, that there are women with “masculine” traits and men with “feminine” traits and most people have a bit of both, and some other x factors, etc.

        1. fposte*

          Eh. Keeping other people down out of jealousy or insecurity isn’t a single-gender phenomenon.

  3. JustAQuestion*

    Question #4: Interview Coaching

    I too would very much like to learn a bit more about finding a decent, tactful, and honest person with whom to conduct a thorough practice interview.

    Alison’s advice has helped me better define and outline my accomplishments via a cover letter and resume, but I still find myself thrown in interviews. Part of this may stem from my dramatic change in career directions and that I have recently completed additional schooling; so, I’m feeling like a first-time interviewee all over again in a strange way.

    I have tried to find free or inexpensive ways to practice interviewing with little success.

    About a year ago, I contacted my alma mater’s career services center to discuss options and availability of mock interviews. The center did offer them, but focused its attentions on preparing current students for internship, co-op and first-job interviewing. Turns out that my seven years in the workforce and more than a dozen job interviews excluded me from this particular service, although the staffers were more than eager to provide several pieces of inaccurate and outdated pieces of advice for my resume.

    1. Kristi*

      What about Toastmasters? Or maybe join/start a local meet-up group where individuals can practice their interviews skills with each other. The local library may have a similar group.

    2. Anonymous*

      It’s pricey, but I used Skillfully Done. I had the same experience as the OP – my CV/cover letter got me plenty of interviews, but I wasn’t able to really do well on them. But after the interview coaching, I nailed a set of interviews (for my dream job!) almost immediately. I felt comfortable with the coach, and she helped me become more polished/confident.

    3. Jennifer*

      I was going to suggest something like mock-interviews. It doesn’t need to be official, but simply seeing one’s self on camera (or if nothing else, hearing a sound recording) can be really important. You will pick up on all sorts of nervous ticks, repetitious answers, long pauses, etc.

  4. nyxalinth*

    #2 might apply to me, because I’m 47, average looking, and overweight and have been applying at a lot of smaller, start-up sort call centers, which seem to be mostly managed by younger people. so I think my energy, personality, background, etc impress them on the phone, but then they’re all “Too old, won’t fit in with us” when they see me and it goes nowhere (even though I’m no different in interviews!). I really don’t want to go back to doing customer support for “evil empires” (banks, cable/satellite, etc.) but I might be stuck with it.

    1. fposte*

      I’d doubt that “average looking” usually counts against people, unless you noticed that everybody else was a magazine cover when you were at their office, but the “being not like them” thing can certainly happen.

      If you’re not already, consider ways that your interview appearance could emphasize freshness and currency over conservative solidity. That doesn’t mean dye your hair blue and wear your pajamas, of course, but I could see that a stalwart navy suit, for instance, might emphasize the old-school impression when you’re not wanting to do that.

      1. nyxalinth*

        Well, the places I’ve been applying aren’t ‘suit-y’ places, even for interviews, but I wear a nice purple dress and low heels, but maybe it’s rather boring and I need an update and some polish.

        1. fposte*

          Obviously I don’t know what exactly that looks like, but that all sounds plausible to me. I mean, we could second-guess the exact statement your shoes are making, but I really don’t think that they’re likely to have been a factor. If you think you would enjoy updating and that it’s not an expense that would be a problem, you might do it just for its emotional lift, but it doesn’t sound like you’re presenting in a way that obviously codes you as “not our vibe.” And I think you really don’t want to get into the crazy-making overreading of “What if I trimmed my hair? What if my heels were an inch higher? What if I wore more lucite? What if I got a pricier watch?” Once you’ve avoided the bigger pitfalls, I don’t think there’s likely to be that many small edges to be gained with appearance in most fields, so that kind of questioning would just be a way to torture yourself during the job hunt, and who needs that?

          1. Jamie*

            “What if I wore more lucite?”

            All good points, but the question above made me laugh.

            I am the queen of over thinking and I don’t believe that’s ever crossed my mind.

  5. Blinx*

    Well, I know I’m not discriminated against because of my looks, for the simple reason that no one gets to see me! While I do have my photo on my LinkedIn profile, I can tell that 90% of the places I apply to don’t bother to look at it. And my last face to face interview was in March. So, I’m pinning my rejections on the too much age/experience/salary combo.

  6. Sarah G*

    #4 (Interview coaching) – It may be too obvious to mention, but have you read and combed over every detail of Alison’s free interview guide (red button on right)? Worth mentioning on the off chance you missed it.

    After doing this, I would come up with a thorough list of interview questions for your field of work. Googling helps; while some questions are universal, there are field-specific ones too. Then prepare answers to all questions (written helps, at least some main points).
    Then think about family and friends who would be willing and effective mock interviewers, and who would give brutally honest feedback upon request. Think about well-spoken professionals in your life (hiring experience is a bonus but by no means a necessity), and ask a few if they will conduct a mock interview with you. Explain your concerns and your need for honest feedback, and provide them with your list of questions to choose randomly from.
    Phone practice is helpful, but in your situation, it’d be best to do a couple in person. Write thank you notes to your mock interviewers.

    Apply feedback and continue practicing, even by yourself. I think a couple mock interviews with trusted professionals could be as effective as most coaches. It’s helped me a ton. And always do at least some phone practice a day or two before any real job interview.

  7. Anon2*

    #2 – “Sometimes I wonder, if it’s not my resume, then is it my weight/something about my looks that turns off a potential employer? I’ve always likened dating to job hunting, but it’s a huge bummer when looks pervade both aspects of life.”

    This is a classic case of trying to let go of the things you can’t control. Some people are going to have some pretty idiotic ideas about other people and you just can’t help that, especially in an interview situation. Whether it’s this ridiculous, malicious perception that overweight people are less clean or hygienic, or that african american women with “natural” hair are scary and unprofessional or that beautiful women are ditzy or young people are flaky or older workers are inflexible, etc , you cannot know and you can’t change it.

    What you can control, is not allowing these things become self-fulfilling. If you let reports of these studies question yourself, it can come across during interviews as lack of confidence. You are defeating yourself and then starting a loop of recriminations and anxiety. Are you skilled, qualified and able to do the job? Are you presenting yourself in a neat, professional manner? If yes, then you need to focus on that and forget about the few imbecilic people out there who are so unaware that they’re letting stereotypes override the info they’re learning in your interview. It’s difficult, but focusing on the negativity hurts no one as much as it will hurt you. There is simply no profit in that kind of thinking.

    1. Rana*

      This is a good point.

      Plus, even if people are judging you negatively in the hiring process as a result of your appearance, do you really want to work with such people? If they’re that bad in the interview, they’ll be worse when you’re working for them.

      You deserve better than that!

  8. Sabrina*

    #1 Same thing happened to me, sort of. It was like 7-8 months (at least) since I had applied. They left a VM on my phone asking if the salary expectations I had put down were “flexible.” Well I had no idea. I called back, got the lady’s VM and said that they might be, but since so much time had elapsed I didn’t remember what I put down. If I had lowballed it to start with I certainly wasn’t going to settle for even less, but if I had put down what I thought I should get, I might have been willing to budge depending on the job. But she never called me back and the same job gets posted all the time so it’s probably a good thing.

  9. Jesse*

    If number 2 were true, I would have had a lot of difficulty concentrating at work throughout my professional career :). As long as you keep the controllable attributes in check, you’re typically good to go.

    However, in customer facing retail and hospitality positions, looks can hurt you even if you’re fully qualified. Most restaurants and bars will not hire wait staff that are unattractive. Clothing retailers typically have the strictest “look” requirements, and I’ve heard stories of many retailers hiring employees purely based on looks.

  10. OP #2*

    Wow so many thoughtful responses! As always you guys pleasantly surprise me :)

    Well, for the most part, I do dress appropriately for a business-casual work environment. I style my hair in a way that I think flatters me (I say “I think” because I once had a haircut that just about every single person I know loved but I hated), of course I shower and wear an appropriate amount of makeup. Dressing at work isn’t so much a problem as is dressing for an interview. I stick to suits even though I absolutely hate them. I fall in between sizes and button-down shirts and blazers are not forgiving at all. I have yet to take my clothes to a tailor because I fear having a brand new/expensive piece of clothing ruined. (I’ve had lots of bad luck with tailors).

    It’s funny but I should look to my own work history to realize that I shouldn’t worry THAT much–I’ve worked in several customer-facing positions, (including, ironically, a gym!) but, of course the studies are never good for my morale. In fact I should stop reading studies altogether; along with my weight I may have to worry about not being able to get a job because of my last name/my ethnicity or religion. now that’s depressing.

    1. Your Mileage May Vary*

      “I stick to suits even though I absolutely hate them. I fall in between sizes and button-down shirts and blazers are not forgiving at all. I have yet to take my clothes to a tailor because I fear having a brand new/expensive piece of clothing ruined. (I’ve had lots of bad luck with tailors).”

      Maybe you should try getting an interview outfit that you love. It could boost your confidence enough in the interview process that you sail right through.

      I completely understand about the “between-size” issue. But instead of wearing button-down shirts, could you wear a nice shell top or a thin sweater under your jacket? That would alleviate any fears of gaps between buttons.

      And, speaking of jackets, I don’t know your field but do you even need the jacket? A completer piece (I watch a lot of What Not to Wear) doesn’t have to be a jacket. It can be a sweater or a scarf. Obviously, not a slouchy sweater but you can find lovely cardigans that flatter your figure a lot easier and cheaper than you can find jackets.

      Some people may say you need the jacket but I’d put more value in your being able to do the interview without feeling self-conscious. And there is almost nothing more that can boost my self-confidence than knowing I am absolutely rockin’ a fabulous outfit!

      1. OP #2*

        Well so far the outfit I have is ok. It’s not terrible but it’s definitely not something I would ever wear on a non-interview. I’m just glad to have found comfortable yet nice shoes (that was a nightmare on its own).

        I am trying to get into the accounting field, but also looking for work as an office assistant/admin/etc, so i’m not too comfortable straying from the traditional suit. Since college, it’s been ingrained into me: suit, no makeup, buttoned up shirt, hair in a ponytail. I’ve strayed slightly from there (I abhor ponytails and now leave my hair out and flattering makeup) but that’s about it.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          Hmm.. I think you found your problem! To me, you seem to understand reasonable workplace wear, but you’re wearing an interview outfit that you would never wear anywhere else!

          I would instead pick out a nice outfit that you would wear to work… maybe you’re “first day” outfit. Especially for admin jobs, being comfortable and still looking polished is, I think, more important that wearing the actual suit.

    2. JT*

      Ill-fitting expensive clothes are worse then cheaper clothes that fit right. Get a cheap/nice blazer from somewhere (Target, JCPenney, etc – or from a thrift store) and take it to a good tailor (not just a drycleaning place) and have them make it better.

      Once they show they can, you have a nice jacket. And you can take more expensive stuff to them.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, yes, yes. Especially the “not just a drycleaning place.” Those places don’t need repeat alterations business; tailors/seamstresses do, and if they’re successful, it’s generally because they’ve earned loyalty. In my experience, good ones can also discuss with you the various things they might do to improve the fit, including changes that you might not have realized can happen. In-between sizes is almost a piece of cake, because you know just to get the bigger one and let somebody handle the cuffs and shoulders (and maybe seaming) for you. And I love the idea to do a test run on a thrift or inexpensive blazer.

        I just think it’s extra cruel for you to be stuck in a suit you hate while you’re job-hunting; I can’t guarantee that getting one that really enhances you is a job-getter, but it would sure be nice if you could at least feel pleased rather than depressed about wearing it.

      2. KellyK*

        That is a fabulous idea. Being between sizes and having things not quite fit right, you may already own slacks or a blazer that you can get to a good tailor as a test project to see if they do good work. If they screw it up, you’re only out what you paid and an article of clothing that didn’t fit you to begin with.

    3. Aja*

      If you absolutely hate suits (I do too), there are other options and I agree with YMMV, feeling comfortable will help you in the interview so much! A dress with a jacket can look great, and I also think (this being 2012), pants are an option too, whether as part of a suit of with a seperate jacket.

      I know that there are industries and jobs where suits are still necessary for interviews but if you are not in one of them, I think having find an interview outfit you don’t hate and maybe even love, will boost your performance in interview situations. My favorite interview outfit was a pair of comfortable (but tailored) black pants with a black and white tweed jacket and a white shell under that. I felt myself in it and that ultimately helped me do better than when I forced myself into a suit.

      1. mh_76*

        I hate suits too and don’t remember when I last wore a skirt to an interview. To a “formal” (vs. biz casual) interview, I typically wear pants and a nice jacket.

        What I hate about suits is that the ones for women simply look funny on anyone who wears them. The jackets are too short and the pants are too tight (skirts too, but I stick to pants) – I’m looking for a desk-job, not a street-corner-job! Also, why are women expected to wear shoes with tiny heels (as in not much to touch the ground)? Many can’t even walk in such shoes, regardless of how high or low they are! I could go on and on but a few others already have.

        Simply put, I don’t obsess about appearance because I don’t want to work in a workplace or with people who will judge me (or anyone others) on appearance beyond the basics (appropriate “genre” of clothing, hair relatively neat, natural-looking makeup…my preference, not a requirement…don’t smell bad, etc.). I don’t even want to associate with people who would judge others because of whether/not nails are painted (it’s been years since I’ve bothered), cuteness of shoes (um, shoes exist so people don’t have to walk barefoot in dirty cities), cuteness of accessories, other superficial stuff that simply doesn’t matter.

        I’d be curious to see whether the dictonary definition of “professional” mentions anything about nail polish, pantyhose, ties, or impractical shoes…or anything about appearance beyond the basics of not being gross or unkempt.

        1. Jamie*

          I have seen some women look fabulous in suits, but I think it can be harder to find one equally flattering in the jacket and pants/skirt. I prefer nice slacks and a great jacket (skirts are out in my industry) to a suit, personally.

          This is easy to overthink – but for me your last sentence summed it up. Don’t be unkempt or gross – throw in dress appropriately for the job and I think youre all set.

          If your nails are ragged with chipped polish, sure that will hurt you. But whether it’s a tasteful manicure or just neatly trimmed nails I wouldn’t want to work for someone who cared that much.

          1. mh_76*

            I’ve seen a few too but they are few and far between. When I do need to get more suits, I’m going to see if a men’s store can fit me. My casual pants are now mostly men’s sizes and they fit me better than most of my women’s pants, probably because they’re sized for waist/leg length vs. some random and essentially meaningless number that varies from item to item, even in the same brand & “style”.

            Right now, though, the place where I’m contracting doesn’t really have a dress code that goes much beyond “wear clothes” (and biz casual maybe 2x year, with advance notice), so I’ll stick to wearing whatever I pull out of my drawers, even if it looks a bit funny, and Tevas. My bike helmet styles my hair for me (even though I put stuff in it and make it look presentable before going out the door).

            1. fposte*

              I don’t know if it’s still true, but it used to be that men’s apparel merchants and departments were likelier to include alterations in the purchase price, too. I had a tall friend who got some fabulous jackets nicely tailored out of men’s departments.

  11. Hugo Stiglitz*

    Geez, another “what happened in this interview?” / “why wasn’t I hired?” / “I thought for sure I had the job!” question.

    For the millionth time, unless you have an official offer letter in hand, you don’t have the job yet. Yeah, it sucks if you think you did well and didn’t get the job but that’s life right now. Alison can’t mindread the people who interviewed you, for crying out loud.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In this case, I understand the OP’s confusion better — it sounds like the CEO basically told him he had the job, and then the dept head acted like he’d never heard anything about that conversation.

  12. Anonymous*

    #5 – I would mention the library you are currently with and then add that you are looking to re-locate (or whatever). The type of library you’re at can sometimes convey what types of library experience you have.

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