terse answer Thursday — 6 short answers to 6 short questions

It’s terse answer Thursday — six short answers to six short questions. Here we go…

1. My office is recruiting candidates at the mall to find a “specific demographic”

The law office where I work is apparently looking for a part-time receptionist. I assumed they placed an ad in the paper like usual when there’s an opening, but today I found out that two of the business office staff went to the mall to scope out candidates. As in, they planned to approach workers in various retailers to tell them about the opening. On their way out of the office, they said they were looking for “a specific demographic.”

I didn’t ask what they meant; I was so surprised I nearly choked! They came back super excited about having found two “girls” in college who would either one be “perfect.” Hopefully they weren’t going for a certain look (but one of them has expressed disgust to me before about overweight people), but I’m sure they were looking for someone bubbly as the last person who had the job was cranky. The mall trip was mandated by the owner of the firm, a male attorney in his mid-60s.

I have no say in any of the decisions, but the idea didn’t sit right with me and I couldn’t believe they really did it. Am I just stuck inside an old recruitment box, or am I right thinking that sounds completely crazy?

It’s ridiculous. That’s not how you recruit. It’s also potentially discriminatory, in the illegal sense, depending on what “demographic” they were targeting. Assume you’re working with people who, at a minimum, don’t know how to hire and who might also have some bigotry problems going on as well.

2. Do I need to give earlier notice?

I plan to sign an offer letter with a new employer that has a start date 3 months away. I intend to continue working at my current employer until 2 weeks before my start date and then give notice. Am I under any legal and/or ethical obligation to give notice before that date? Might there be a legal issue if the two employers can be considered competitors in the broadest sense and my current at-will employment agreement forbids “working or consulting” for competitors during my employment?

Nope, that’s fine. You’re not employed by your new employer until your actual start date. You can check your employment agreement to make sure that there isn’t some unusual clause in there about notifying them if you “accept employment with” a competitor, but if it’s a standard agreement that just forbids “working or consulting with” a competitor, you’re fine.

3. Asking about health insurance early in a hiring process

I’m in the process of job hunting, and I’ve noticed a couple of positions at Company X (falling under the general blanket of “Big Data Analytics”) that seem to fit my skills reasonably well, and from what little I can glean at this point, the culture seems to be good, too. However, their website makes no mention of benefits (other than a few relatively minor things such as a casual dress code, etc.).

The thing is, health insurance is something that my wife and I absolutely must have, and for various reasons that I won’t go into, it would be nearly impossible to find affordable coverage for both of us. Obviously, if Company X doesn’t offer health insurance, that’s something that I’m unlikely to be able to negotiate with them. Also, while I certainly know enough not to bring up benefits early (or in the middle of) the application and interview process, I’d hate to waste their time–and mine–only to reach this impasse (if the impasse actually exists, of course, since it’s possible that Company X actually *does* offer health coverage).

So, what would you recommend? Applying anyway and hoping for the best? Trying to somehow diplomatically ask if health insurance could possibly be on the table (and if so, how)? Something else?

If it’s a professional position, I’d assume it offers health insurance; in that context, it’s more common to offer it than not. It’s still a perfectly reasonable question to ask, but the reality is that some interviewers will interpret a question about it at an early stage as seeming overly focused on benefits, rather than the work itself. For that reason, I’d wait until you’re further along in the process, or even until you’re at the offer stage. And yes, I realize that’s ridiculous. (But it’s also true that most of the time, full-time professional positions include insurance.)

4. Applying for a job with someone you previously interviewed with

I’m a recent (2011) grad and am currently working as a child protection social worker. To put it lightly, I hate my job. Before I accepted this position, I had interviewed for a position at a local nonprofit providing counseling and outreach around tobacco use. I almost had the job, and lost it to a classmate with zero relevant experience but a father in politics with money to spend. I realize that sounds bitter, but we were a small class and she confided this to me not knowing I was the other candidate. She recently asked me for interview advice so that she could get a job similar to mine, and it worked — and her job has been reposted. The employer had offered me a volunteer position, but I declined as I had to relocate to accept my current job. Both interviews went extremely well at the nonprofit, and I think we parted on good terms.

The contact is the same woman with whom I interviewed. Should I apply just by sending my resume? Or should I try and reach out more informally first?

If it’s an electronic application system, apply through it and then send her an email letting her know that you did, reminding her of your conversations with her last year, and letting her know that you’re really interested in talking about the position again. If it’s not an electronic application system and the instructions just say to email her a resume and cover letter, then do that — but say what the stuff above in your cover letter to her. (Which can be a semi-informal, conversational email.)

Read an update to this letter here.

5. Do I need to tell an interviewer I was laid off from my job since applying?

I read your post about whether you should tell recruiters you were laid off and, yes, when asked, it seems that it’s best to admit the truth. However, I applied for a job while employed and, two weeks later, I am interviewing for the job after having been laid off. (My department was restructured and my position was eliminated, though I left “in good standing” with a letter of recommendation.) Should I volunteer this information during the interview or wait until it comes up? The new position really is a continuation of my old position — almost the exact same job, but in a directorial capacity and at a different organization. I’d think my position being eliminated (it was a new position, at that) only makes me look less qualified to have more responsibility in this area.

Should I tell them outright during the interview? I figure it will catch up with me eventually. My current Linkedin profile reflects that I’m no longer employed. Also, I’m concerned about salary leverage if I admit it too early.

You were employed when you applied, so you didn’t misrepresent anything on your resume. This is no different than if you’d voluntary resigned after applying for a job. You don’t need to volunteer the information, but you shouldn’t lie. If asked, explain that you left during a restructuring. (You can even word it exactly like that, which leaves hazy the question of whether it was voluntary or not — although obviously if directly asked, you tell the truth.) But you’re under no obligation to raise this if it doesn’t come up.

6. Negotiating a later start date

My partner and I will be traveling for 3 weeks in January to visit family on a different continent. Most of the job postings I’m looking at right now have a start date on January 1. What is the best way to handle this?

Do I tell an interviewer up front that I’ll be gone for 3 weeks in the first month? Do I only bring it up when I have an actual offer, and then try to negotiate a start date in February? Do I simply not apply for jobs with a start date in January? Please assume that cancelling the trip is not an option.

Wait and see how the process plays out. Lot of employers think they’re going to hire someone by a particular date, when in reality it will take far longer. There’s a good chance that some of these jobs are going to end up with later start dates. But if things do seem to be moving reasonably quickly, yes, try to negotiate a later start date once you have an offer. (Don’t try to ask for three weeks of vacation in your first month; that will generally look naive.) However, if you get the sense during the interview process that they’re serious about that January 1 start date, say something then — otherwise, in that context, you’ll look like you were operating in bad faith if you wait.

Also, keep in mind that you may end up in a position where you need to choose between a job you want and the trip — some employers may not be able or willing to be as flexible as you need, so be prepared to make that choice if it comes to that.

{ 197 comments… read them below }

    1. Mike C.*

      Another thought for #1. Why not go whole hog and advertise the job as a modelling position? That way the owner can go over headshots, weights and measurements to get the perfect eye candy, er “receptionist” he feels he deserves?

      1. Kelly L.*

        Exactly! That’s actually the loophole some businesses use to get around discrimination laws–they call the employees “performers” and so they can “cast” as they so desire. One example is Disney World, where they call their employees “cast members” so they can dictate appearance to a really strict degree. I think the Hooters Girls may be another example of this (though shooting for a different “look.”) Seems rather silly for a law office, though!

        1. Jamie*

          Casting employees? Yikes. I can honestly say I don’t think that will ever fly in IT.

          If you can’t do the work what you look like couldn’t be less helpful.

          1. Ivy*

            When Abercrombie was opening a new location in my city, they came to my university with advertisement signs saying “Are you good looking?” That’s a direct quote… so I’m a little confused.. I live in Canada so maybe they’re ok doing it here?

            1. Natalie*

              I don’t know much about Canadian employment law, but it’s completely legal in the US to hire someone based on attractiveness. It is illegal to hire someone based on race, gender, religion, disability, and some other factors unless you can make a case for that factor being a “bona fide occupational qualifier”. So a theater, for example, can discriminate when casting a female role because the sex of the actor is a BFOQ.

              By calling their employees models, Abercrombie was suggesting that race, gender, disability, and forms of religious expression (specifically hijab) were BFOQs, but it didn’t hold up when they were sued.

              1. Ivy*

                ah… so then for #1 it’s not an issue for them to hire attractive people? The issue lies in the fact that to the attractive people are probably women, white, without a disability and young, and those are the things you can’t discriminate against?

                1. KarenT*

                  It’s also illegal in Canada, but Abercrombie and other companies have circumvented these laws by classifying the positions as models.

            2. kelly*

              HAHA I had to go look up a zoolander quote after reading this.

              Derek Zoolander: Well I guess it all started the first time I went through the second grade. I caught my reflection in a spoon while I was eating my cereal, and I remember thinking “wow, you’re ridiculously good looking, maybe you could do that for a career.”
              Matilda: Do what for a career?
              Derek Zoolander: Be professionally good looking.

  1. Anonymous*

    #1 is gross and weird.

    #5 – I know AAM’s advice in these situations is to not volunteer the info, but I don;t know. I think if I was interviewing someone and believed them to be employed at Company X since that is what their application/resume said, and I found out that they weren’t actually in that position (for whatever reason) it would seem a bit of a lie of omission to me. For example, someone is employed when they apply, 4 weeks later when I interview, they aren’t. In the interview I say something like “What do you like best about your current role?” or “Why are you looking to leave Company X?” or I make small talk and say “Oh you work at Company X, they are in City Y, how’s that commute?”. For me, if the person was no longer working there, I would expect that to come up organically in the answers to these types of questions.

    Of course, everyone’s MMV, I have a thing about honesty, probably a bit extreme, so maybe most people wouldn’t respond as I would, but I do think some percentage of people would.

    1. Ariancita*

      AAM is not recommending she shouldn’t be honest in these situations. She’s saying that the candidate doesn’t need to volunteer the information. Obviously she should answer honestly if asked (and in fact, she says that in her advice).

      1. Anonymous*

        You and I interpreted what she wrote differently. I am also basing my comment on past advice she has given. Based on this response and previous ones, I believed she was saying “if asked DIRECTLY, don’t lie”. Since the examples I gave weren’t direct questions (Are you still working at Company X), that was the point I was making. Also, the OP said their LinkedIn profile was changed – again YMMV, but if I saw that on a candidate’s profile and they hadn’t volunteered that info to me, I’d have a slight concern. Maybe i’m the only person on the planet who would, so all the OP has to hope is that they aren’t interviewing with me.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m saying don’t lie. That means that if you’re asked what you like most about your current role or whatever, then you need to explain that it’s not your current role. The idea is to not operate in bad faith. Don’t be intentionally misleading … but you don’t need to proactively volunteer it either.

  2. Chocolate Teapot*

    Question 1: Eh?

    Mind you, in my experience, when a job advert requests somebody with “a bubbly personality”, it means annoying person who can’t necessarily do the job.

  3. Anon1*

    For #6, I agree with AAM. January 1 is not that far away. By the time they get through the 1st interview and 2nd interview followed by the offer and related haggling, your January trip could be a non-issue.

  4. Employment lawyer*

    Regarding #2:

    The ideal solution is a two-part affair.

    First, talk to your NEW (not yet existing) job. Explain that you would–for reasons of professionalism–like to give more than the two weeks’ standard notice. Explain that you have no way of knowing whether or not you’ll be fired on the spot. Ask whether they would be willing to revise their offer so that you can give a month’s notice, and start immediately if you get fire.

    If they say yes, then you can give your old employer extra notice. Ideally everyone wins.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d make just a small tweak to this — explain that you have no way of knowing if you’ll be asked to leave on the spot. Not fired, since you’ll have already resigned. I bring this up only because I’ve had questions from people wanting to know if they have to answer “yes” to “have you ever been fired” because they were told to leave the day they gave notice (and they don’t, because that wasn’t a firing).

      1. Anonymous*

        Two further caveats:
        – For unemployment benefit purposes, they were fired
        – They should probably explain what happened to a future prospective employer, when the reference check stage is reached. One cannot guarantee what the previous company will say

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          They’re eligible for unemployment for the time between the day they gave notice and were asked to leave and their notice date, but they weren’t fired.

  5. BCW*

    So a different take on #1, and this is a debate I’ve had many times. But is it really wrong to want a person who looks a certain way to represent your company?

    Take a place like Hooters. They can get away with hiring only skinny women as servers because they are considered “entertainment”. Some people don’t like it, but it makes sense to me.

    Another example example, I remember years ago the company Abercrombie & Fitch got in trouble for only hiring “attractive” sales people. People raised hell, which I sort of got. But I think if you are trying to portray a certain brand or lifestyle that it can be ok.

    So lets say you have a hip hop clothing store in a mall. If you were the owner trying to sell that hip hop lifestyle, I’d assume you wouldn’t want a nerdy white guy trying to sell your brand right? If they don’t fit the image of the lifestyle you are trying to sell, then it makes sense. But would that be considered discrimination? Should it be? Now I know that its a very different situation than the question, but it seems that this firm wants an attractive woman to be the first face people see when someone walks in, similar to Abercrombie wanting a preppy person or a hip hop store wanting someone who fits that mold. While their method of recruiting was a bit odd, the end game is probably the same.

    I’m curious what people think.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I had a similar reaction. While the details of the OP’s story were more disturbing to me than the general concept of what they were doing (calling women “girls” and prejudice against overweight people, plus I’m picturing some old man stalking college girls at the mall), why wouldn’t you want someone attractive with an outgoing personality to greet your clients, assuming they meet all other qualifications?

      1. Joey*

        Besides, how can you actually provide to a court evidence that someone is hot? It’s too subjective a term. You only end up proving your personal preferences which likely take into account race, color, age, weight, disability status, etc

    2. Mike C.*

      Personally, I find it distasteful as all heck for a 60 year old man to be looking for a receptionist who’s qualifications include “she’s hot” and “she’s skinny”.

      If he wants to date women like that, there are plenty of adult dating services on the internet for old, rich men. Keep it out of the workplace.

    3. Anonymous*

      I think slippery slope and possibly illegalities. You say “it seems that this firm wants an attractive woman to be the first face people see when someone walks in”. Forgetting about the attractive part for the moment, this presumes they can decline to hire a male receptionist based only on gender, not on qualifications. I don’t think they can.

      What if the owner of the firm found Asian women most attractive and therefore only considered them for this position? Or what if they didn’t want to hire anyone over 30 for the position because they find younger people more attractive?

      Are you right that this kind of thing goes on all the time and the end game is likely the same as to who gets hired? Probably yes, but if they went through normal hiring methods – posting an ad, getting resumes, setting up interviews, etc – at least there would be some kind of paper trail as to the resumes they got, the qualifications of those people and who they ended up interviewing and hiring.

      Is it wrong to want a person who looks a particular way to represent your company? I’m not a legal expert by any means but I think the answer is “yes” it’s legally wrong in the examples I gave above – gender, race and age can play into how people define “attractive” and become defacto discrimination against protected classes.

      1. BCW*

        But like I said. Take out the word “attractive” and I think this type of thing is fairly common in “lifestyle brands”. Most gyms or customers won’t want to hire an overweight personal trainer. I referred to hip hop clothing stores wanting to hire people who fit their lifestyle. If you have a store catering to overweight women, a skinny male probably won’t be first on your list of people to hire. At a sporting goods store you probably want to hire someone who at least looks like they have played a sport before.

        1. Mike C.*

          Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not a disgusting practice that should be called out whenever it’s seen.

        2. Forrest*

          Except you’re overlapping “ethnical” and “legal” ideas here. Its not ethnical to not hire someone because they’re overweight but its not illegal because its not a protected class. Its not ethnical and illegal to not hire someone based on their race because race is a protected class.

          Its not illegal for a company to hire an attractive person – but it is illegal for a company to discrimate against men, older people, non-white, etc. You’re comparing apples to oranges.

            1. Forrest*

              I know disabilities are but I wasn’t aware that being obese or even just overweight was. Is this a national thing or just state by state?

                1. Forrest*

                  That’s morbid obesity though. I feel that my point still stands that its not illegal to discrimate against someone who’s overweight, since there’s range between overweight and morbid obesity.

                2. Forrest*

                  I should of been clearer that I was referring to someone who was a little chunky, not anyone who ranges from chunky to morbid obesity.

                3. Joey*

                  But by default you’re discriminating against the morbidly obese if you’re discriminating against anyone overweight. You’d just have to pray that the obese person who applied didn’t file a claim.

                4. Forrest*

                  There’s a wide range from the overweight category (which I was referring to and clarified) and the morbid obesity category.

                  For example, I’m overweight by ten pounds. But I’m no where never morbid obese on the scales we use to determine that (BMI). So, I assume that legally someone can discrimate against me due to my weight and I wouldn’t have a claim because I’m not in the morbid obese category.

                  I see you’re point that in some cases, companies would be playing a risky game because you can’t assume if someone is obese vs morbidly obese just by looking at them most of the time. But there is a wide range between ideal (image wise) body type for a person and morbidly obese.

        3. Anonymous*

          You said “but it seems that this firm wants an attractive woman to be the first face people see when someone walks in”. Your what-if was BASED on both gender and attractiveness.

          You said you were curious what people think about hiring based on looks; I’m telling you what I think. I think basing hiring on looks can lead to illegal hiring practices pretty quickly – you may disagree but since you asked for opinions, that’s mine.

        4. Ivy*

          I had a skinny female friend that was refused a job at a plus sized women’s store. The manager blatantly told her she didn’t get the job because she was skinny. In a way I can totally understand and my friend did too. There are plus sized women out their who wouldn’t want to get clothing advice from a skinny girl because there are different clothing challenges they face. I’m skinny myself and I honestly have no idea what kind of waist a dress should have to hide love handles… That’s not to say all skinny girls are like that… but as a manager you want your customers to be able to trust your employees…

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That, though, is probably defensible, as you could argue that it’s directly related to the job — an understanding of the products you’d be selling.

            1. Anonymous*

              See, in my opinion that is somewhat of a problem. I’m sure plenty of designers of these clothes for a plus size woman are fairly skinny. So obviously being skinny doesn’t automatically mean that they don’t understand the product. For all the manager knows that person could’ve just lost 80 lbs and shopped there all the time. But that is a defensible form of discrimination? Whereas people are saying that hiring a more attractive person (regardless of gender) to be a visible fact of your company isn’t? It seems like a double standard.

              1. Ivy*

                Yes, that was a point I was trying to make too. In my friends situation, someone might assume she didn’t have a knowledge of plus size cloths because of her own size (assuming lack of skill/knowledge based on physical description = discrimination). She might design plus size clothing in her spare time, but that doesn’t change the fact that she doesn’t WEAR plus size clothing. So the manager didn’t hire her because she didn’t fit the lifestyle they are trying to portray, much like the hip hop clothing store BCW used as an example.

            2. twentymilehike*

              That, though, is probably defensible, as you could argue that it’s directly related to the job — an understanding of the products you’d be selling.

              That’s sort of what I was thinking in the examples above about working in a sporting good store, or a hip hop store, or whatever.

              Say you are a sporting goods reseller, you would want to hire someone who had an interest in sports. Likewise, if you are looking for a job, and you had no interest in sports, you probably would not be happy working surrounded by sporting goods. By default you will see athletic looking people working at sporting goods store just because these things go hand in hand. Like KayDay says, “Many of those situations are examples of self selection.” There really isn’t anything you can corrolate that to in a law office, other than they probably should look professional.

              My boss used to hire assistants like this–he’d be at a store or restaurant and end up poaching his server or whoever … 100% of the time they ended up being a terrible fit and the whole thing just ending very badly.
              I think this situation has the same potential as my bosses prior examples …

              1. Forrest*

                The problem with the hip hop example is that the default of “hire black guys to represent an image” is kind of racist in of itself.

                Note: I’m not calling anyone racist, just that the idea that hip hop = black is kind of racist.

                1. Anonymous*

                  I don’t think it is necessarily racial. You can have black, white, asian, mexican, whatever people fit in the hip hop lifestyle. But if you have a nerdy kid of any race who clearly isn’t into that, its different. So you aren’t hiring on race, but you may be hiring based on “looks”

                2. Anonymous*

                  I work in a community that is largely Hispanic . On our background check forms it asks for race. They almost always write Hispanic. Hispanic is NOT a race. Just saying, race vs. ethnicity confuses A LOT of people.

                3. Forrest*

                  There’s a difference between hiring a kid because he likes hip hop/wears the clothes vs hiring a kid because he’s black. Frankly, the skin type of the nerdy kid shouldn’t even come into play, because the company isn’t hiring him due to his nerdy image – not because he’s white.

                  There was a good point up a head that a plus size clothing store would prefer to hire plus size women because they can understand the customer better. You can’t use the same for the hip hop store because not all black kids understand the hip hop style.

                  Regardless, the original person brought race into, so I was pointing out that legally the store can’t discrimate against the nerdy white guy because he’s white. And I think adding the modifer of nerdy is kind of cheating because the original question posted to Allison was mostly concerning protected classes.

                4. Forrest*

                  Though a lot of retail stores ask their salespeople to wear their clothes, so I’m not sure if image plays into it.

                5. twentymilehike*

                  Note: I’m not calling anyone racist, just that the idea that hip hop = black is kind of racist.

                  Maybe I overlooked it, but I don’t recall reading anything about hop hop meaning “black.”

                  Also, for today’s trivia, I recently heard on the radio that three of the four top rap albums of all time were from the Beastie Boys and Eminem.

                6. Forrest*

                  I was refering to the originial poster saying “nerdy white guy.” The racial part of that statement isn’t needed.

                7. Ellie H.*

                  For what it’s worth, this “is it discrimination to not hire a white guy for a hip hop store” seems like a version of “the fallacious flip” to me, even though the intent was to indicate the opposite (that it’s not discrimination, but reasonable).

                  Also for what it’s worth, I honestly think of hip hop (which I love) as a valid interest of nerds, people who collect vinyl and read The AV Club and Pitchfork etc. (aka, my peers), so “nerdy” and “hip hop fan” go together as opposed to clash, to my mind.

              2. Kelly L.*

                Ha, I can just imagine myself working in a sporting goods store. I’d be like the seagull from the Little Mermaid trying to explain human artifacts. “It’s a dinglehopper!”

          2. Kelly O*

            I will say this – I work for a specialty retailer, and the goal in hiring is to find someone who can wear the clothing we carry in our stores and be enthusiastic about the brands and concept.

            It’s not discriminatory, it’s simply trying to find the best people to represent your brand to customers. I mean, I wouldn’t apply at Forever 21 – I can’t fit in most of their clothes, and I’m not their target demographic. I love Ann Taylor, but I wouldn’t apply because again, too fat, so sad.

            I think there is a world of difference between finding an appropriate brand ambassador (for lack of a better phrase) and trying to find a hot chick with a nice rack to sit up front and make the coffee. Translated – the retail example is going to entail someone who can communicate a real knowledge of product that directly leads to increased sales. The hot chick with a nice rack will just make who inevitably winds up fixing everything she broke/messed up/blew off (pardon the phrase) that much more frustrated. Because there WILL be someone at that office who will have to fix it.

            Also, please note. Not all Hooters girls are skinny or what we might traditionally think of as attractive. And even if I were skinny I don’t think I’d want to have to strut around in support hose all day.

            1. Anonymous*

              “The hot chick with a nice rack will just make who inevitably winds up fixing everything she broke/messed up/blew off (pardon the phrase) that much more frustrated. ”

              In the interest of fairness, a hot chick with a nice rack can also be smart and competent.

              1. Kelly O*

                I actually touched on that in a later comment.

                But I wonder about the hot chick with a nice rack you find milling about the mall on a Tuesday who is willing to share a resume when approached without having serious questions.

        5. KayDay*

          Many of those situations are examples of self selection. I doubt many overweight people are personal trainers.

          I think it gets more complicated when you have a legitimate business reason to discriminate. For example, a lingerie store that does bra fittings has a very compelling reason to only hire women as sales associates–most women would be extremely uncomfortable having a man do that. Considering that I’ve never bought a bra from a man, I wonder if there is an actual exemption that they use?

          1. Ariancita*

            If there was a lingerie store that had men doing the bra fittings, I’d have so many bras that my cup would runneth over, to say. ;)

              1. Ariancita*

                To add: I was sort of making a meta joke about sexist hiring practices and increased profits, but I guess it fell flat. :)

          2. Laura L*

            “Many of those situations are examples of self selection. I doubt many overweight people are personal trainers.”

            “By default you will see athletic looking people working at sporting goods store just because these things go hand in hand.”

            I just wanted to point out that many people play sports and are physically fit, but don’t “look like it.” A lot of it has to do with genetics and environmental influences unrelated to physical exercise.

            1. twentymilehike*

              I just wanted to point out that many people play sports and are physically fit, but don’t “look like it.”

              I see where you are coming from, but I was thinking more along the lines of the image you can control–like haircut, clothing choices, etc.

              Maybe a better example is my own–I work in the motorcycle industry, and it is really, REALLY beneficial when the employees ride motorcycles and have in interest in them. We don’t all look like stereotypical “bikers” (some do LOL), but there are subtle things that others with the same interests pick up on. Like helmet hair, or the brands of our clothing, or even the types of shoes we wear, or even just the way we talk.

              1. Laura L*

                Ah. I generally assume that when people talk about others looking fit or looking like they play sports they mean the person is lean and muscular (or thick and muscular, depending on sport and gender).

                I agree with you about the interests thing, but you can hardly judge that based on looks alone. Even the looks you can control (I’m not sure how a haircut makes someone look athletic for example). But, yes, there are subtle cues in a person’s style that might hint that they have a strong interest in something.

                1. Twentymilehike*

                  I definitely see where you are coming from. And I agree, it’s a stretch, especially if people are dressing professionally for an interview situation or wearing a uniform of sorts. For a hair cut I guess for a guy more of like a crew cut vs say, like dreadlocks? Lol

                  I would definitely say that in the motorcycle industry we probably have a greater amount of men with wither longer hair and/or goatees and beards than many other industries.

                2. Laura L*

                  I think this is the problem with stereotypes in general. :-) On average, a group of people might fit the stereotype, but it’s very difficult to judge any one individual using the stereotype.

          3. Joey*

            Kay day,
            The law allows exceptions called Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications (bfoq). It’s for situations like your lingerie example. But generally you can’t try to find a bfoq as a means to an end. The bar for a bfoq is really high and race is the one category that the EEOC says cannot be a BFOQ ever.

            1. KayDay*

              Thanks for clarifying! I knew there had to be something (like I said, I’ve never seen a male doing bra fittings), but I had never heard of any specific rule.

        6. Kathryn T.*

          ” Most gyms or customers won’t want to hire an overweight personal trainer.”

          The most popular trainer at my gym is overweight. He has deep empathy for his clients and really works with them to help develop training and nutrition plans they can stick to. I think there’s a problem with your data here.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I could even see that being a selling point for some clients, as it’s probably less intimidating than dealing with someone with a body type that seems beyond the bounds of anything you’re going to attain yourself.

            1. Kathryn T.*

              Exactly. If you’ve battled a weight problem your whole life, or if you’re 80 and trying to regain muscle mass after recovering from a stroke, you aren’t necessarily going to want some 22-year-old hardbody. Just as your clientele is diverse, so should your employees be.

          2. Anonymous*

            Yes, you found an example. But I’d argue, and no I have hard data, that in gyms across the country, the overweight trainer being the most popular is the exception not the rule.

            You might find a couple men working at victoria’s secret too, but its not the norm.

            1. Kathryn T.*

              And in both cases, it’s foolish. A lot of men shop at VS, albeit usually for gifts for others. And I bet a lot of those men would be more comfortable with a male sales clerk.

          3. Ellie H.*

            I’ve actually seen a decent amount of not very in-shape-looking personal trainers at various gyms I have been to – they are not the majority, but I’ve definitely seen them.

            1. Jo*

              The gym I used to go to had a lot of “normal” looking trainers and quite a few participants went on to get qualified as instructors. The main hiring criteria was to worship Les Mills rather than look totally buff.

    4. Joey*

      You’re not quite correct about Abercrombie. They were found to have preferred white kids when hiring. And that’s the sort of trap that you fall into when you hire on looks. Gyms do the same thing. And while you may get away hiring someone “fit” for a job that involves actual physical fitness duties its really hard to justify how an obese person can’t perform the essential functions of a receptionist. If you can successfully argue that the requirement is essential to perform the functions of that specific job then you can do it. But, that bar is extremely hard to meet when it comes to looks/image.

      1. BCW*

        Hmm, I thought it was they were hiring the white kids for sales jobs and they were hiring black kids, but had them in the back. But I get your point. Its hard because as a black male, I don’t agree with it. At the same time, as a marketing major, if you look at Abercrombie’s target market, it is mostly suburban white kids, so thats what you want representing your brand, so I get it. (again, understanding the reasoning and agreeing are different things)

        1. Mike C.*

          They also got in trouble for not allowing a Muslim woman to wear a scarf over her head because it didn’t fit their current “look book”. Huge, huge no-no.

          1. Natalie*

            But wait, there’s more! They had an employee with a prosthesis they would not allow on the sales floor, either.

              1. Liz T*

                Rather, they MADE her wear a cardigan over her prosthetic arm, then kicked to the stock room BECAUSE of the cardigan.

        2. Joey*

          Yes, they preferred white kids for the most desirable jobs. Take a look at NAACP. They’ve had a white dude in the top job. And there has been diversity in the top jobs at historically black colleges and they do fine. So there’s just no credible reason why a person of a different race can’t succeed.

        3. Forrest*

          Abercrombie’s target market is anyone who can afford it. The image they’re trying to sell is All-American – which is sadly white, skinny teens. But by saying this is acceptable, its not really doing a whole lot to change this image our society has.

          1. Anonymous*

            Its easy to attack a company like Abercrombie because most people hate them anyway for various reason. But look at urban hip hop apparel stores which BCW pointed out above. Now yes, many suburban white kids do try to dress that way, but if your store is going for the hip hop lifestyle, having Jim or Pam from the office as the first person seen when someone walks in isn’t the best thing for business.

            As a side note, have you guys seen pharmaceutical reps. I used to be one. I’d say they are probably 3/4 attractive women. Why? Because they are more likely to get an older male doctor to purchase from them. Thats probably discrimination too. The “requirements” for that job are basically to be able to learn a specific product and sell it. So in theory if you are somewhat intelligent you are “qualified”. Companies wouldn’t be doing this type of hiring if it didn’t prove profitable for them.

            Its kind of funny, I saw a post yesterday on here about women being discriminated against for being a woman and maybe getting pregnant. Today we have a topic that is biased toward women, and there is still a problem.

            1. Jamie*

              “Its kind of funny, I saw a post yesterday on here about women being discriminated against for being a woman and maybe getting pregnant. Today we have a topic that is biased toward women, and there is still a problem.”

              It’s actually the same problem – not seeing women as full professionals and instead marginalizing an entire gender based on looks and reproduction.

              1. Ariancita*


                Just because it’s been proven profitable to exploit women, doesn’t mean it is right (or even legal in a lot of cases).

                1. Anonymous*

                  Exploit is a strong word here. In the case of pharmaceuticals, these women are being paid a good amount of money, and yes, so is the company. Where is the problem. She is being a professional and the fact that she is attractive is helping her. Thats not exploiting someone.

                  Women servers at bars usually make more money than guys too. And they know if they show more skin, they will be paid more. And don’t start on shot girls. Are all of those being exploited too?

                2. Ariancita*

                  Possibly selling more because you’re attractive is a fact of life. You inferred that the industry was specifically hiring women for their looks (you state that 3/4 of them were attractive women; you explain the reason why the sales team was mostly attractive women was because they sell more; this is inferring explicit hiring practices). That’s problematic.

                3. Joey*

                  Ah, but medical sales is getting smarter. They’re starting to hire more and more men to influence the females. And there you have progress toward a perfect world- equal opportunity exploitation.

                4. Joey*

                  My wife sells in the medical field and I can tell you its the reps that flirt or date doctors to get business are a big reason why people have a problem with hiring on looks.

                5. Joey*

                  Let me add one more thing: buying and selling healthcare products for the wrong reasons is way different than buying a beer from a cute girl in a bikini.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Exactly. This isn’t “biased toward women” in any positive sense that reflects well on women as professionals. Being biased toward someone for being a decorative object isn’t something most of us welcome.

            2. Natalie*

              “Today we have a topic that is biased toward women, and there is still a problem.”

              There’s no disconnect here. Being hired solely for being attractive, young, and female isn’t “biased toward” woman. They’re not being evaluated on their strengths as employees, just as eye candy.

            3. some1*

              “Its kind of funny, I saw a post yesterday on here about women being discriminated against for being a woman and maybe getting pregnant. Today we have a topic that is biased toward women, and there is still a problem.”

              Yes, patriarchy and misogyny hurt men, too, believe it or not.

              1. Jamie*

                Yes. Some men have wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, close female friends, and even colleagues that they respect and want to see treated with equality and respect.

                And if my income is negatively impacted because I’m a woman, the other half of our two income household (who happens to have a Y chromosome) would definitely feel the sting of that as well.

                1. Natalie*

                  Even beyond that, patriarchy is limiting to men, too. You can’t have gender roles for only one gender – men are also (generally) expected to meet certain societal norms they may find chafing and are similarly punished for failing to meet those norms.

            4. Forrest*

              “but if your store is going for the hip hop lifestyle, having Jim or Pam from the office as the first person seen when someone walks in isn’t the best thing for business.”

              The same could be said of having Carlton from Fresh Prince.

              I have issues with mentioning race at all with this example. If you’re hiring someone based on if their image of hip hop, I don’t have a problem with that and neither does the legal system. But if you’re hiring someone based on their race because you incorrectly think black=hip hop, then you’re entering into some legal issues there. Someone being black doesn’t mean they’re better at selling the hip hop lifestyle. Enimen will always do a better job at that than say President Obama.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In order to hire based on that stuff, you have to prove that it’s linked to an essential function of the job (because it’s so often linked to race, age, disability, etc.). So for instance, Hooters can do that (although not with race). A law office hiring a receptionist probably can’t.

      When the OP said they were looking for a “certain demographic,” it’s hard not to think that means age, at a minimum. And possibly sex, race, and absence of disability too.

      1. Eric*

        Influential offices often have attractive girls at the front desk. Even our local government receptionists are young and pretty. They are obviously getting around potential legal issues. The OP managed to get a back door glimpse into the process at her company.

          1. KarenT*

            True, but the law firm’s hiring practice betrays them. I know lots of well-educated, experienced people who most would consider “hot,” and it’s very possible they’d be front runners for jobs in their fields.
            But the lawyers went to the mall to recruit. That’s very different then collecting resumes the old-fashioned way and screening candidates based on their qualifications.

            1. Joey*

              No ones arguing with you there. But it’s probably still defensible since hiring the best qualified candidate gets you out of almost all discrimination claims.

        1. Ivy*

          I think it’s pretty easy to hire good looking people, and get away with it. I mean if you go through the regular interview process, and just happen to pick the most attractive person because you happen to think she/he is the best fit, then I think it’s pretty hard to prove you hired based on looks. So while you can’t/shouldn’t put “good looking” in the job description, it can still bet there. I think the biggest mistake OP’s bosses made was announcing they were looking for a particular demographic. They should have just gone through the regular hiring process.

          I’m not saying discrimination based on looks is right. I’m just saying that it can be done rather easily (and according to studies, human’s naturally discriminate based on looks).

          1. Jamie*

            Of course it can still be done. By the same token you can still have racist hiring practices without having “white people only” in the ad. Just coincidentally POC just never seem to be the most qualified by some subjective requirement – which is utter crap.

            All the more reason to call it out when you see it – because like the cockroaches that scurry when the light comes on the more we illuminate all this illegal and unethical crap that’s happening maybe it can stop it one lousy hiring manager at a time.

            1. Ivy*

              AAM was just saying that a law office can’t justify hiring models, and my response was outlining that I doubt they would ever have to if they aren’t stupid about it. Yes, it’s wrong. Should OP do anything about it? I wouldn’t. It’s not going to get her anywhere….

                1. Ivy*

                  I think it’s worth mentioning and bringing it to their attention. Personally, I wouldn’t go through the effort of trying to “slam” them for it. From OP’s letter I got the impression that this is a one time thing (that the other positions in the office weren’t hired based on looks, age, weight, etc.). If OP feels more strongly though, then she can go further.

                2. Jamie*

                  Fwiw that’s what I meant as well. Calling it out here raises awareness of what goes on and hopefully makes people who are in the positions to hire reading here more conscious of this sort of thing.

    6. Anonymous*

      It’s not a marketing effort. It’s not for clients. Do you think people choose law firms based on the receptionist? Have you ever been to a law firm? They are not selling t-shirts or big macs!

      It is for old white male lawyers at the firm, so they can ogle her and potentially sleep with her. They are hiring an attractive young woman, not to greet their clients, but with the specific and rather obvious intent to sexually harass her in her job (by the colloquial and not necessarily the legal definition).

      Would you feel differently if a bunch of older women went out and found a young, naive college guy to gawk at, gossip about, and try to sleep with? What if the guys were hiring a man with a nice body but no other qualifications necessary?

      I object to treating people as objects – regardless of gender. While I understand that a store may find it profitable to hire only attractive people into its sales positions, I think that we as a society have a bigger interest in not allowing that to happen – I think it’s more important that those retail jobs be available to people with disabilities, to people of any racial background, and to people with any gender. Locking those groups of people out of ever-increasing numbers of job is worse for us, as a country, than killing off a modest amount of profit for some business.

      1. Kelly O*

        I do feel like we need to add that attractiveness does not equal ineptitude. There are plenty of attractive, intelligent people out there who would probably really appreciate the opportunity to get their foot in the door at some companies.

        Granted, they’ll probably wonder why on earth someone approaches them at the mall food court about a receptionist position, knowing nothing about them and their qualifications. And I would wager there are a reasonable number of them who would think “what in the world about my eating Chick-Fil-A at the mall on a Tuesday makes you think I’d be a good receptionist?”

        I kind of want them to approach someone and find out the “hot chick” is in some sort of ridiculously high-level grad school program, or an engineer, or something completely incompatible with a law office receptionist. And I kind of want them to laugh.

        (By the way, anyone else get the weird Mary Kay lady vibe from that? Because the ONLY people I know who approach random strangers are Mary Kay ladies, trying to get you to attend a party or join their “downline.”)

        1. Forrest*

          Can you image if they went up to someone and was like “do you want to be our receptionist?” and that woman was all “I’m the Marketing Director for Chocolate Teapot, Inc.”?

          1. EM*

            A Mary Kay lady approached me in target and I said “no thanks, I’m working on my masters in environmental science.” :)

        2. Liz T*

          It reminds me of the guy on the street who said, “Nice haircut!” and then asked me if I’d ever considered doing voiceover work. Having not yet heard me speak.

          He showed me his card but wouldn’t give it to me.

  6. books*

    Re #3 – Check out glassdoor? Poke around on linkedin and see if you have any connections working there?
    Also, often HR/recruitment will explain the level of benefits when they do a screening or your initial interview – they want to entice you after all.
    It would be safe to assume that for a full time position at a large firm, there is insurance coverage.

  7. Anlyn*

    If someone approached me at a mall and offered me a “great job opportunity”, I’d think they were running a scam.

    1. Jamie*

      ITA. My daughter would fall into this category and if some old man came up to her at her McJob and offered her a position based on nothing but her looks and sunny personality I would be horrified.

      Even young and beautiful people want to be valued for who they are and what they bring to the table – aside from visually.

      I hope someone who knows the details of when you can/can’t factor looks into a hiring decision weighs in – because I know in some cases you can…but this has a real predatory feel to it even if that wasn’t the intent.

      1. BCW*

        It may be different for women, but I’ve had a couple guy friends get approached to work at Abercrombie. Of course they were apporached by attractive women to do this as well. I don’t think they were insulted at all. Although they didn’t take the job, they were pretty flattered by it.

        It didn’t say a 60 year old was going and approaching them, it said “office staff”, so I’m guessing they were probably guys in their 20s or 30s. And if it is a law firm, that can be verified by a quick google search, its probably not really that predatory.

        1. Forrest*

          There are different preceptions invovled with males and females. Males are not usually taught to fear certain situtations like females are.

          If I was a 20 something working at a mall and approached by older guys, I’d be on alert. That’s just how women are taught to protect themselves.

          Conversely, men are not usually the victims of sex crimes like females and view it as a flatterly thing. Particulary since males are taught that attention from older, attractive women is a good thing.

        2. TL*

          Yeah, I’m going to go with this is way different for women. My guess is most women would feel pretty uncomfortable and get at least weirded out, if not creeped out (it does help that the mall is a public place). There’s whole lot of things women can do to men without being creepy that men can’t do to women–mostly because women, in general, are much more aware of the possibility of strangers of the opposite gender doing them harm.

    2. jennie*

      In my 10+ years of recruiting customer service reps this has always been suggested as a great way to find candidates. If you go to a store and get great service, give them your card. It’s a gift to be able to actually see how they work with customers in action before hiring them.

      For a reception position, if the main qualification is a friendly personality I can see this method being effective, but it does open up some dark areas for bias to set in if the decision makers are biased to begin with.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “If you go to a store and get great service, give them your card” makes sense. But to go to the mall scouting a “certain demographic” doesn’t.

        1. Anonymous*

          Just an FYI – the “give them a card if you get great service” is standard retail recruiting, especially when opening a new store!

  8. Laura*

    #1- can I play devil’s advocate?

    Assuming that they were collecting resumes from “girls at the mall” and picking which one they interview based on the resume, what is wrong about collecting resumes from a specific location looking for a certain demographic? Some companies decide to post their job offerings on college job boards (as opposed to monster or a recruiter) because they are looking for a new grads. Assuming they evaluated resumes, does it matter where you “post” your job openings?

    Is it wrong to go to career fairs only in the NE because you dislike people from the South? Or not go to college career fairs at a (insert race) university, as opposed to going to a large state school?

    They were just more open about it.

    1. LL*

      How can we assume that the interviewees were selected based on their resumes? It sounds like people were judged on their gender, age, and appearance before they were ever asked to submit a resume.

    2. Mike C.*

      Because the express purpose of these practices is to objectify women? Is that a good enough reason to say this is disgusting?

      1. Jamie*

        This. I’m bothered by more than the hiring practices – what would the employment environment be for those women once hired? It’s not a huge leap to make that if you hire someone because she really dresses up the front desk you may not be evaluating her work as a professional, nor giving her the opportunities you’d give someone else who was hired for less sexist reasons.

        It just doesn’t seem like an atmosphere that would be best for the careers of these young women.

        1. KayDay*

          “It’s not a huge leap to make that if you hire someone because she really dresses up the front desk you may not be evaluating her work as a professional, nor giving her the opportunities you’d give someone else who was hired for less sexist reasons.”

          well said.

        2. Anonymouse*

          I agree that the mishandling of something like this is likely to ruin the employment environment and atmosphere for pretty much everyone there— even, eventually, the old pervy dude whose going to have to deal with all the drama he created. This is because “recruiting” someone in that particular way, ESPECIALLY with the prior knowledge of the other employees, and then actually hiring a person thus recruited, is about the equivalent of throwing a raw steak into a den of lions/lionesses (all of whom will want to tear into said steak, but for different reasons). It’s almost a sadistic joke when one thinks about it— the kind of casually clueless thing mysogynistic men (or women) in power positions might do for giggles. Now, that said— I have much to say on this whole general subject: specifically, points about the injustice of discrimination *against* people for their attractiveness, but I’ll save that for another comment. With this comment, I in no way mean to suggest that ANY time an attractive person is hired it spells trouble or should be advised against. I just mean to point out the obvious, which is that in cases where superficial attributes are dubious requirements for a specific job and in which the whole thing is handled so badly, THEN it is pretty much inviting trouble. Not *because* the person hired is attractive, but because of the crappy and sexist way the whole hiring is being handled and the way it practically goads the other employees.

    3. Just a Reader*

      Why would a law office scout retail girls if not for looks? Retail experience does not stack up to law receptionist experience.

      Demographic does not = skills/experience. Recent college grad is an experience level. Recent female college grads is a demographic.

      Young female retail worker is not an experience level. It is a demographic. Which is not okay.

      1. Laura*

        Look..I am a big fan of ending discrimination of all types. I made an ASSUMPTION that they would care about resumes. Obviously, HUGE assumption.

        But honestly (and I can already imagine the hate mail pouring in), if the particular reception job (all are different) is to sit there and greet entrants into the lobby and occasionaly answer a phone, perhaps they do want a young bubbly female, and skills are irrelevant because all that is needed for this job is a positive personality and ability to get to work on time.

        I am not sticking up for scummy lawyers out to get some hot girls, but I DO understand the desire to want to hire a young, fresh, bubbly personality.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, but hiring based on gender is illegal. And if they’re purposely screening out people who are older or are obese or have disabilities (and I’m betting they are), that’s illegal too.

        2. Anonymous*

          “I am not sticking up for scummy lawyers out to get some hot girls, but I DO understand the desire to want to hire a young, fresh, bubbly personality”

          But you are sticking up for people who want to hire young people rather than old people when age has nothing to do with the job function. That’s against the law. i don;t think it’s hate mail to point out that what you are outlining is illegal.

          “perhaps they do want a young bubbly female, and skills are irrelevant because all that is needed for this job is a positive personality and ability to get to work on time.”

          An old man can have a positive personality and get to work on time.

          1. Ariancita*

            An old man can have a positive personality and get to work on time.

            Exactly what I was thinking. Only hot young females can be bubbly, friendly, get to work on time, and positive? Wow, that’s a whole lot of stereotyping right there (for the lawyers). You can have all those things, and hey, be attractive too, as a man, as a person of color, as an person with a disability, as an older person, as an obese person.

        3. Kelly O*

          There are SO many other things that go into being a good receptionist, besides simply being able to answer the phone and be nice to people when they come in.

          There is a whole school of thought that by finding a “career” receptionist and paying a bit more, you can get an amazing asset to your company, and that person normally does not fit in any sort of “target demographic.” It sounds like this company does not particularly care about how efficiently their front desk is run, just that it looks nice.

          The phrase “putting a crystal chandelier in a haunted house” comes to mind.

  9. Christina*

    I had the same situation as #4 (well, at least the great interview but didn’t get the job part) recently, and the woman I interviewed with sent back a nice email that she’d be sure to take a look at my application.

    Also hopefully this isn’t too weird, and perhaps slightly off topic, but I had a dream the other night that I was contacted about a job I just applied for, and came in for the interview and it was Alison! I was so excited to meet you and said I loved your blog, it was so helpful. You said thanks, and said while you weren’t doing the interviews for the position, you could give me four great tips about what to do/say in the interview, and wished me luck! Clearly I was up far too late last night working on this particular application :-)

      1. Christina*

        Exceedingly polite, you even walked me to the office of the person I was actually interviewing with :-) I wish I could remember the four tips you gave me though!

    1. Ariancita*

      But did you “come in” to interview in her living room? Was she in pjs and slippers? Sipping tea?

      1. Christina*

        Ha! It was actually Alison as pictured in her little icon/gravatar, so I do think there was a cup of tea.

  10. Anon*

    Yes, but I go to career fairs at places where my interests lie and in a geographic location where my career could take off. That doesn’t mean I don’t like Southerners or Midwesterners-I have friends and colleagues who are both-it just means I’m going to reside in an area where my career is more prevalent.

    As for going to a school with a strong cultural or historical tradition, it can be more about fit. I as a Catholic with liberal political views might not be at home in an evangelical Christian college that sought to police one’s social life. That’s not to say I discriminate against conservative evangelical Christians, it just means I wouldn’t fit in at that particular college.

    Going to the mall as an older person seeking a young crowd of applicants seems really sketchy to me. Particularly if they’re looking for a “certain demographic”-usually, that means young, white, hot chick. Never mind that they might not be a good fit, particularly when it’s a buyer’s market and you can choose someone who at least has basic office skills and a commitment and enthusiasm for your company. The fact that they referred to them as “girls” also rings sketchy.

  11. Hello From Canada*

    Hello I’m in Canada, so no there’s “at will” employment here.

    I have a question regarding #1…I’ve heard that in the USA, it’s actually not illegal to flat-out fire or refuse to hire someone for the sole reason that he/she is, hmmm how should I put it, “aesthetically challenged”, since “aesthecially challenged” is not considered a “protected class” (unless the person has a deformity or disfigurement, which in that particular case may qualify as being a disabilty/handicap). Is this true?

    And I also heard that even a call centre employee or night shift factory/warehouse worker, etc can get fired simply for the sole reason of being “aesthetically challenged”, and just like that, and there’s absolutely nothing the person can do about it (in terms of legal)…all because “aesthetically challenged” isn’t considered a “protected class”. Is this also true?

    Please let me know. Thanks all

    1. Natalie*

      Generally, attractiveness is not a protected class. However, any company rule about attractiveness would have to be applied without disproportionately affecting people based on protected class. So if it happened that all of the people fired for being ugly were one race, or were disabled, or were over 40, the EEOC would consider that discriminatory.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, there are no laws against discrimination against the less attractive (until morbid obesity gets involved, and that’s covered under the ADA), with the exception of a small number of jurisdictions that have passed appearance discrimination laws. However, discriminating on appearance often means things that ARE illegal — age discrimination, etc.

      1. Hello From Canada*

        Ok so let’s say (hypothetically speaking) that a “below average looking” 30-something year old lady has been working overnight shifts as a cleaner at a high-end office building for several years now, then new owners take over the building and decide “This is a high-end office building; we can’t have ‘below average looking’ people like her working here, not even overnight cleaners. So she’s gotta go”. And then they flat-out tell her that “This is a high-end office building, and you’re too ugly to work here; you’re fired” (with no warnings beforehand, nothing). Does she have a case for wrongful termination or similar? Or does she have none because “being ‘below average looking’ isn’t a ‘protected class’ anyways”?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If she can’t prove that it was based on something that IS a protected class (for instance, if everyone fired was Race A and they kept all the Race B people), there’s no legal case.

    3. Mike C.*

      There’s a slight mistake in the approach. It’s not that they are fired for being “aesthetically challenged”, it’s that there is never a reason given for the firing.

      1. Hello From Canada*

        But what happens if the person is flat-out told that “You’re fired because you’re too ugly-looking to work here”? Does the fired person have no legal recourse, because being “ugly-looking” isn’t a “protected class”?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          See my comment just above. If she can’t prove that it was based on something that IS a protected class (for instance, if everyone fired was Race A and they kept all the Race B people), there’s no legal case.

          1. KarenT*

            This is the opposite, but there was there were two cases in the US new of women who was fired for being too “attractive.” One was fired from a lingerie company and the other from citibank. One of them even ended being represented by Gloria Allred. And I say this as a fellow Canadian.



          2. Joey*

            Lets clarify that. She doesn’t have to prove that they knowingly and intentionally fired her because of a protected class. She would just have to produce evidence that backs up a claim of illegal discrimination. That could be demographic stats or whatever else the court may find credible. If the company couldn’t refute and only hung their hat on “ugly” the court would likely find that was a pretext for illegal discrimination. In other words if it sounds like bs the court would call it bs.

            1. KarenT*

              Citibank settled and the other is still pending. I’m assuming it will go to court–you don’t hire Gloria Allred as your lawyer to avoid publicity ;)

        2. Hello From Canada*

          Hi, thanks for all your answers to my question re November 1, 2012 at 11:56 am, 12:32 pm, and 12:41 pm

          To clarify, my question at 12:41 pm (which reads “But what happens if the person is flat-out told that “You’re fired because you’re too ugly-looking to work here”? Does the fired person have no legal recourse, because being “ugly-looking” isn’t a “protected class”?)…I meant specifically if the workplace the person was fired from for being “too ugly-looking” was something like a factory/warehouse, etc. But from what everyone has answered so far, it looks like the fired person would be out of luck no matter what the job setting was – even if the job wasn’t a customer-facing one.

          I suppose if it were beauty or fashion retail or Hooters type settings, I guess I’d be just a tad bit more understanding.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I think you’re falling into the trap of thinking that because something is wrong or unfair, it must be illegal, which is often not the case.

          2. Jamie*

            This is hypothetical, correct?

            Because, yes, technically you can be fired because your boss no longer finds you cute, but this rarely happens. And when it does happen I’d bet several paychecks that they don’t give that as a reason in the exit paperwork.

            Just like the old saw that at will employment means they can fire you if they don’t like your shoes. Yes, they can, but they don’t. Because it’s bad business and most businesses don’t go out of their way to make silly decisions.

            I would wager in every workplace across America you have people of varying levels of attractiveness and that’s not even accounting for the fact that who is and isn’t attractice is subjective.

            Yes, there are cultural standards of beauty of course – but along the spectrum there is such a wide range and when you take into account biases and preferences and turn-ons it gets really complicated.

            If you take five women having lunch and an attractive man walks by perhaps all will agree that he’s nice looking, but the spread would be much wider on how attractive he is – because we aren’t all attracted to the same thing.

            I’m 45 and not nearly as cute as I was 20 years ago. If I were on Survivor I would totally be cast as “the mom” and Jenna – the young, sexy mom. I have a job. I’ve worked in a lot of offices (thanks to temping) and I’ve never been in one where everyone, or even the majority of people would be classified as beautiful.

            As Alison says about performance, but it applies here too, most people are average by definition. And I think most companies are so looks conscious to only want the beautiful people are hiring for that, not ripping long standing employees out of their seats.

      2. some1*

        This happened at a family-owned restaurant my friend worked for many years ago as a server. My friend, and all the other waitresses (no male servers) were way above average looking.

        One of the waitresses had a facial hair problem that she apparently chose not to do anything about. When the manager noticed, he actually asked my friend if he should say something to the girl. My friend told him not to, that the girl was already aware and to have it pointed out by her boss would mortify her. They ended up firing that waitress for switching shifts without explicit permission, even though the other waitresses did the same thing all the time.

        When that waitress went to file for unemployment, the restaurant got in trouble because they weren’t paying taxes to the state. They got shut down for quite awhile. Karma’s a you-know-what.

  12. Bryce*

    This is to Item #5: this actually happened to me when I was applying for my current job. Throughout my interview process, I explained that one of the reasons I was looking for a new job is that I saw some signs that I might lose my job, namely, our company was acquired by a larger company, our CEO was leaving at the end of the year, one of our offices was closed, and the work I was doing was no longer the company’s main focus. I mentioned that I was applying because not only was I looking for new challenges, but also because I saw these potentially worrisome signs and was “building my ark before it started raining.”

    When I finally did get let go, I mentioned it in one of the interviews, and the interviewer mentioned that it was perceptive of me to notice these signs and take action, and that few employees notice signs like these and take action. I got the job, so all in all, it worked.

    1. some1*

      I wish I had been as pro-active as you, as I was in a very similar situation as my old job. I lasted through a huge round of layoffs, and my boss was let go and I disliked my new manager. I have never liked job searching for some reason, so I didn’t make a concerted effort to do it until I couldn’t take it anymore. But luckily it all worked out in the end. I was let go, but I found something in three months time.

  13. Bryce*

    Oh, and did I mention that the sign that finally spurred me to take action was when some other folks were let go?

  14. some1*

    I was also laid off due to restructuring from a job in between applying and being interviewed. I was honest about it when my interviewers asked, and no one really thought it was a big deal. I wasn’t interviewing in the same industry, so it was very easy to say that my whole previous industry is changing so much and making less money (which is true). Really, no one seemed to take issue with my explanation, if you wow them enough they will most likely believe you that your layoff was a business necessity, rather than a reason for your old job to get rid of you because you were a low performer or somebody didn’t like you. Plus, layoffs happen to everyone, so it’s likely the person across from you has been laid off through no fault of their own, or someone they love has.

    1. Vicki*

      My “position was eliminated” at my previous job after my manager resigned, the division reorganized, and my new manager didn’t expect someone with my role (plus my role didn’t fit his vision of what his team did).

      When people ask why I am no longer with the company I tell them this and they say “OK” and we move on. Maybe because this is Silicon Valley and this sort of reasoning just isn’t uncommon (unfortunately).

      Sometimes, however, just for fun, if someone starts with “why are you looking for a new job?”, I’ll respond by mentioning the name of my previous company. They’ve, urm, been in the news a lot and have done a LOT of layoffs (large and small) in the past 6 years. I usually get a sympathetic “ah”.

      But seriously, I can’t see how “my position was eliminated” makes you look any less (or more) qualified for a given job. A _position_ can be eliminated for many reasons. Most of them have nothing to do with how well you were doing at your job.

      We need to get past the stigma of being “let go”. You weren;t _fired_ for cause. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

  15. Al Lo*

    I have an interesting twist on the situation in #1 (or more to the point, the conversation about hiring on looks).

    I recently started a new job with a mid-sized arts organization (7 full-time staff, of which I am one, and around 50 part-time/contract staff, serving over 500 individuals in arts education). The organization has been in existence for just over 25 years, and many of the staff members (particularly admin/office staff) have been with the organization for well over a decade — many started as students (or parents of students) served by the organization, and have moved on to staff positions as they opened up.

    The founder/CEO/Artistic Director is a lovely woman, but seems to be going through somewhat of a grieving process when it comes to letting go of a couple of long-term employees and finding new ones — my position included. I’ve been told from Day One that the intent is for me to replace “Jane” and to take her position as someone who knows the organization inside and out, the same way Jane did after 20 years. She had some health problems beginning about 3 years ago, so has been less involved with the organization for a while, and has been completely away from the job for about 6 months now, and in those past 3 years, the CEO has definitely felt the absence of a person with such intimate knowledge, and is actively looking to replace that.

    Now, the expectation is not that I’ll have that knowledge overnight — it’s expected that over the next few years, I’ll become a significant part of the succession plan — and I am very qualified for the position (both my Masters degree and my professional experience align with the job requirements very well). The job is a good balance of things that I’m already comfortable with, work that I have more expertise with than the position had before, and a learning curve that will challenge me going forward, and I’m looking forward to seeing what it evolves into.


    I discovered the other day, when chatting with the other guy in my department, that I look very similar to Jane (similar facial features, mannerisms, build, etc), whom I have never formally met (but who was at a work event recently, and we were standing near each other). He mentioned that it was his first impression of me when he sat in on my second interview, and was reinforced by seeing us in the same room.

    I don’t think I was hired for my looks in the conventional sense of the phrase, and I know that I was primarily hired for my skill-set, education, and experience, but I do have a feeling that the similarities impacted the hiring decision on a subconscious level, since the mindset has always been one of replacing Jane.

    1. Jamie*

      This is really interesting and where the whole idea of everyone having a subconscious bias.

      I know it’s happened to me – fortunately not in hiring. But if I meet someone who in a real way reminds me of my mom I instantly warm to them. I bet it happens all the time and we’re not consciously aware of it – some candidate comes in and she’s the spitting image all grown up of the girl you hated most in 7th grade. No one would deliberately hold that against her, but could you be viewing her through a slightly less charitable lens than if she really reminded you of your best friend who is really smart and conscientious?

      We’re a sum total of our experiences, for good and bad, and that builds an inherent unfairness into the process.

  16. JillianJigs #4 OP*

    Hi all!

    Thanks for the advice :)

    I just sent my updated resume and cover letter to the hiring manager. I felt much more confident doing so with your help.

    Cross your fingers!
    (never have I been so excited about a job with less pay and worse hours :) )

  17. OP #1*

    I love all the speculation that went on while I was at work today! I have additional details and a resolution to share:

    1) there’s actually not a single creepy attorney in the firm. The 60-something owner is just completely out of touch. He has many many flaws, but thank goodness creeper isn’t one of them. (as a side note, speaking of stereotypes and discrimination, it was interesting how many commenters assumed he was a dirty old man. Obviously the context made it easy to jump to that conclusion, but still we must all have a little personal bias toward male attorneys if that’s the automatic conclusion.)

    2) I live in a part of the country where “attractive” doesn’t come with very high standards. Well-groomed with no noticeable teeth missing is about all it takes. Most of us at the firm fall into that category rather than the knock-out bombshell category.

    3) the women who were assigned this task are in their mid-20s. I think they were more naive than purposeful about wanting someone like them. They said today they wandered around “shopping” and if someone was really helpful and didn’t appear to have a co-worker or supervisor nearby, then they told her about the opening. So, it turns out it was more about a particular type of customer service or personality than eye candy — whew!

    Resolution: Both of the mall recruits called yesterday to schedule interviews. But, two hours before the first interview, they briefly interviewed the friend of an employee’s babysitter and decided to hire her! The poor mall recruits didn’t even get to come in for their interviews after all. That seems so rude to me when they were just told the day before about the job.

    It’s going to backfire though…the new hire started today and happened to mention what her next semester school schedule looks like and it is not at all compatible with the hours we need someone! I don’t understand why they didn’t bother to find that out in the interview. Later one of the hirers said “I don’t really care as long as we have someone for right now.” Guess there’s going to be more turnover in the near future…

    1. OP #1*

      oh wow. my stupid follow up is 10x as long as the original take. I blame all the fun conversation in the comments for making me want to respond to every point!

    2. BCW*

      I loved that you touched on the fact that all these people made 2 assumptions.

      #1 That the lawyers were all creepy. Yeah ladies, you wanna talk about thinking of women as objects, but you are assuming any lawyer is creepy.

      #2 That there were guys sent out to find hot girls.

      So for all of your condemnation, it appears that some of you were the prejudice ones after all.

        1. BCW*

          I kind of disagree, I re-read it, and it didn’t even say the lawyers asked for girls of a certain demographic, it just said the office staff was looking for that. So unless that part was edited out, it seems like the “old, creepy lawyer” thing was just something that people assumed. Whats funny is that it never even said the lawyers in the firm were men! Everyone just took that assumption and ran with it. It could have been a law firm run by all women for all we knew. So I really think that shows the level of sexism (or reverse sexism) present here.

          1. Anonymouse*

            In reading all the way through these comments and seeing the OP’s follow-up, I think these points about automatic assumptions are valid to make— certainly it is always interesting to observe some of our own biases, which we sometimes use as a kind of shorthand in situations where we can’t be privy to all the facts. However, in our collective defense, I will make the following points: 1) the scenario most of us leapt to is so common as to be the likely one most people would make based on the info given— it just IS, sorry; 2) if anything about the story is an exception to what the average person would gather, I kinda think it falls upon the LW to include those details so as to minimize confusion/assumptions; 3) “old creepy lawyers” (or “creepy” anybody) are not generally “creepy” to everyone. Not trying to make further assumptions or be inadvertently insulting, but I’ve seen first-hand numerous times (and been subjected to) the “creepy” advances of men whom most everybody else in their lives would *assume* far above such a thing, for whatever reason. Either because they normally were so polite, dignified, married…. none of that matters with some people. One person’s experience with a given person may be very different than someone else’s. The difference in behavior could be because of some acute attraction to a specific person and/or (sadly, more likely) because the recipient of the “creepy” behavior is in a particular “demographic” that the creep feels more entitled to be creepy with— either because it’s consciously assumed they have little recourse and/or an ingrained bias to see certain “demographics” as requiring less respectful treatment (i.e. younger, poorer, in a lower-status position, of a different race or heritage, etc.) So, in other words— if it walks & talks like a duck, I’m going to presume it’s a duck until proven otherwise.

            1. BCW*

              I think that is kind of a bad way to look at it. Again, if I made a sweeping generalization about women being over emotional, and then said, well thats just how it is. I would be attacked and called a misogynist and sexist. But you apparently think its ok to do that toward men?

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