Question

I may have an interview for a really great job (yay!).

I have braces on my teeth. Big ugly braces. They are not attractive. I could have them taken off (and then put back on again after the interview) for a few hundred dollars. I know I look a lot more grown-up without these damn braces.

At the end of my initial phone interview the guy I spoke with expressed concern that I might be over-qualified. I’ve got more experience and credentials than the typical fresh-faced college senior who might be going for this position. It’s an administrative position that would allow me to get a lot of exposure to the business. It would be a chance to work with some of the best people in the industry, so I really, really want it!

At 26 (geez, when did that happen?) I have been in the workforce for five years. As a woman I’ve seen some of the worst biases at work, but I do my job and make it clear I don’t tolerate anyone making assumptions about what I can and can’t do.

Do I need to change the way I look? Are the braces going to be enough of a negative to shell out the dough for temporarily removing them? If I’m lucky, I will be able to schedule interviews for more than one position during that week.

Nick’s Reply

Some will shake their heads because I’m publishing a Q&A about braces. There’s a lot more to this. What you’re really asking is, do you have to modify your face (or body) so you’ll look more “normal” in a job interview?

Some years ago, I worked with a company that had a very potent, respected manager who was 22 years old. She didn’t have much of a formal education, but she had more street smarts than managers twice her age. She could hold her own in any situation, and she brought a lot of profit to the company’s bottom line. During the entire time I was involved with the company, she wore braces on her teeth. BIG braces.

It didn’t matter one bit. It just revealed she was serious about what was important to her — in this case, nice, healthy teeth. And she wasn’t afraid to do what was necessary to achieve that goal, even if it meant walking around with a mouth full of metal for a couple of years. I always admired her — but I never think about her braces when I remember her. I think about how effective she was, and how much I respected her.

Don’t play games. Be yourself. Until the braces come off because they’ve served their purpose, they’re part of who you are. If a company can’t deal with that, then why would you want to work there?

This isn’t some trite lesson in “seeing beyond the physical” to “appreciate what’s within.” It’s basic business sense. There are indeed managers who will feel uncomfortable hiring someone who looks different. They’re dolts. It’s better to find out now who they are. If you’re good at what you do, a smart manager will hire you. Your braces will eventually come off, but a dolt will remain a dolt after they reject you for no good reason.

I realize you’re just trying to optimize your chances of getting a job you really want, and you’re willing to sacrifice some money to do it. My vote: save your money and save your self-respect. Let the braces reveal the integrity of the manager.

Managers, take note. If you don’t hire this candidate because of the braces, she will go to work for one of your better competitors. So, take a close look at the candidate’s abilities – and braces. Because one way or the other, you’ll have to face both.

Have you ever faced a choice like this? How much about yourself would you alter to land a job? Is there something else this young professional could do to improve her chances of success?

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33 Comments
  1. Doesn’t affect me personally but even after the passage of the CROWN Act, black people, especially women, are told natural hairstyles are “unprofessional.”

  2. I agree with your response, Nick. When preparing to be hired, it does require some analysis on how to put your best foot forward but trying to modify yourself in an extreme way I don’t see that as a “win-win” – however – if it makes the person feel more comfortable and confident and it is not breaking the budget – that is up to them. When it comes to interviews and personal presentation, I always tell my candidates to be “well groomed” – perhaps to think about how they would present themselves for a professional photo shoot. They should also aim to be well rested, well fueled and hydrated on the day etc and have the right mindset for interview day.

  3. I am very well qualified in most instances and over-qualified for many positions. My problem, I believe, is likely my age. Not sure what I can do about that to prrhaps look younger! I know it is getting in the way.

  4. Age discriination against oldr women is pervasive.

    I submitted a resume to an agency (mistake) for a job opening for whch I was well-qualified and had specifc experience. My resume was tailored to include only relevant experience and old jobs; on paper I could be in my early thirties. I had an extensive phone interview with someone who was enthusiastic about my suitability for the job and was asked to come for an in-person interview. When I arrived for the interview, the receptionist gave me a sour look and I waited along time for the interviewer to appear. The person who, the day before, couldn’t wait to see me was cold and perfunctory in the five or so minutes she granted me. She said they would be in touch but never responded to any e-mail or phone call.

    I was in my early sixties but, thanks to some good genes, a face that appeared in my 40s, stylishly dressed, with my silvery white hair styled in an up-to-date, business appropriate style. The people I met were in their twenties. Their lack of subtlety made it clear that I was ignored due to my age.

    • Same things has happened to me repeatedly. I’ve been looking for a job for over a year. The phone calls are all good and they can’t wait to meet me. When I show up, that’s the end. They don’t want someone with gray hair. I have no health issues, and walk miles daily. I don’t act/dress older.

  5. I have been in a situation where I actually changed my appearance for the interview. I’ve been told that I can look 15 years younger if I just shaved my beard and didn’t wear glasses. However, I couldn’t do anything about being bald with grayish hair.
    For this important interview, I shaved my beard and removed my glasses.
    The people who interviewed me didn’t wear glasses and the man was clean shaven.
    I took your advice and “did the job” in the interview.
    I was hired.
    On the first day of work I was wearing my glasses and noticed that the people who interviewed me were all wearing glasses!
    The man had a stubble beard.
    We looked at each other and laughed.

  6. Nick, your co-worker with the braces was already there. In this tough market, the qualifications get more and more superficial every day. Age, being an older white female, glasses, braces, gray hair, too much experience that your hiring manager finds threatening…come on! This woman’s trying to get hired. Get the braces off or move to Invisalign. Get your hair professionally cut and styled. And gray isn’t good anymore.

    • “And gray isn’t good anymore.”

      I hope that when you are older and looking for a job, that karma comes back to bite you.

      My hair started turning grey in my late teens. I tried coloring it with various products and professionals. It was costly. The color looked natural for about only a day or two no matter what shampoo and products I used. I started having scalp issues as well. When I stopped coloring, I became that mother of a kindergarten kid with grey hair.

      No one should have their appearance to suit what others think they should look like for their age, gender, race or other status. Our society’s obsession with appearance ignores that most of us don’t have movie star looks or bodies. Employers need to look beyond the surface for the qualities that make a good employee and add to the bottom line.

      • @Anna M: It’s not easy, but it’s critical to get one’s self past the age issue in order to figure out what an employer really needs, then deliver it. I know this is difficult to believe, but I’ve worked with many 50+, 60+, 70+ people who shocked employers with demonstrations and evidence of how they would make the business more successful. Unless an employer is a total jerk, if you show them the “green,” they stop thinking about the grey.

      • Anna, I am 70! I have grey but not enough to go full out…and it’s not becoming on me as I found out during the pandemic. Unfortunately, employers and society in general hire on the first 30-45 seconds, and much of that is appearance. We may all think that’s wrong, but do you want the job or feel righteous?

  7. Some years ago, I saw a beautiful example of a law firm overlooking an appearance deficit and hiring solely on the ability to do the job. A friend, a partner in one of the country’s most respected law firms, had a partner with cerebral palsy which considerably impacted his abilities to move and speak. But it had not affected his very sharp mind and wisdom. And so the firm hired him.

  8. Funny that this topic came up today, since I just shaved off my beard (that contained some grey) to appear more young and fresh for a job interview, with the intention of growing the beard back after I get a job. Not the same as braces, but technically I did change my appearance for a job interview.

  9. I’m with Nick. Don’t ditch the braces. The interview works two ways. If some idiot would let braces get in the way of assessing someone’s ability to add value, no matter how advantageous working there it seems, you don’t want to work there. That company has competitors some well known, and others to be revealed.

    Braces are part of our life. And they aren’t forever.
    It’s not the best analogy. But I interviews a guy who HAD to visit the men’s room because he was taking a heart med that was basically a diuretic. NO problem.

    One area where altering appearance could be considered because it affected hireability is tats. My co-recruiter and I interviewed a guy for a machinists job. Who had a lot of them. It wasn’t the tats per se, but what they were. On the creepy side that put potential co-worker off. These weren’t genteel office types, but the factory guys. They told the boss the guy was sporting gang tats, gang colors etc. He was a nice guy, and obviously they were from his teen days, that he put past him. If I was his counselor I would have told him that they were holding him back.

    Something else the writer said also caught my eye “the guy I spoke with expressed concern that I might be over-qualified.” Often code for “you’re old”. But not likely in her case, also code for “if we hire you, you’ll leave us for a better paying job.”
    I’ll paraphrase one of my (much younger than me) boss/owner who hired me “I can’t relate to over-qualified.. as an owner why would I not want a lot of skill?”
    The job description of a dolt interviewer also includes the use & belief in, that term.
    She needs to pay attention to that comment. If hired she may find a weak commitment to her career.

    • @Don: I’m astonished that any employer that has a chance to hire an “over-qualified” candidate doesn’t do it and jump for joy! They’re essentially getting a discount! But most managers are nervous nellies who probably worry they won’t be able to keep the hire interested and motivated.

      And whose failure is THAT?

      I’ll always contend that most hiring problems are really problems with a company’s management.

      • It’s as you say, if you’ve got unused talent, then harness it up. In my experience most people are willing and able to take on something different & most skills transfer. And to add to management issues, sometimes I suspect insecurity. An “over qualified” person can blow past them and/or push them aside.

  10. I feel that I’m currently not being hired because I have allowed my hair to go gray and stopped coloring it. The phone screenings are great, and I am more qualified than most jobs I apply for, but when we move to video calls I can see the folk’s expressions, and that is the end of the process.

    • I coloured my hair for a few years and found that it didn’t make a difference.

      Just a waste of money and I ended up with a chronic rash on my scalp from the hair colour chemicals.

      I put the date of my post high school (3 year) diploma back on my résumé, i.e. contrary to the advice usually given to older job seekers. So that I can filter out the bigots. When I’m invited for an interview interview I know that they are not expecting someone in their thirties to walk in the door, or appear on the zoom screen.

      • Oops typo, duplicated ‘interview’. Would be great to have edit button.

  11. AMEN to this reply, Nick! As someone who’s been both a job-seeker and a hiring manager (currently and most happily self-employed) I cannot overstate how important it is for seekers to have the mindset of discerning whether or not a job and employer are a good fit for *them*, and not just focus on pleasing the potential employer!

    It’s just like dating. If you “sell” an inauthentic version of yourself, you’re not only creating connection and expectations on a false “self” you cannot sustain long term, you’re also doing two things: (1) showing how dishonest you are, and (2) showing how insecure you are. Neither bode well for either party in the long run. It’s better to know sooner rather than later who *they* are, and allow yourself to be fully seen and appreciated, or not (and grieve, then move on).

    As a professional coach, I’ve had clients who deceived themselves and/or others to get where they are, and no amount of money makes that worth it. The exception is a person struggling with getting out of poverty or homelessness.

    And by the way, I’m a cishet female and I’ve NEVER dyed my hair. And I live in Los Angeles! :-) I’ve been graying since my early thirties and I’m now 54. I consistently get appreciated for my “wisdom highlights”, especially by women, although compliments aren’t why I do it. I reject the arbitrary, unnatural expectations foisted on women about our bodies and aging, as well as the shame we’re supposed to feel about not meeting those expectations. Any employer who can’t handle my grays — or my nosering! — is *definitely* not ready for the rest of me. :-D

    • @Susana: Cheers for a well-articulated feminist position that is, really, a sound way to deal with anything. Honesty, anyone? It won’t hurt you unless you’re preoccupied with silly games and with what’s not real. It takes incredible resources to prop up what’s real, and it always comes tumbling down anyway.

      My editor at Penguin, the estimable Julia Serebrinsky, immediately realized my methods for job hunting were strikingly similar to good rules about dating. Is that what got me a phenomenal advance? Probably partly! When one set of good rules is similar to another, then you’re probably on a proven track!

      You’ve offered an important life lesson: be honest, especially with yourself.

      • @Nick: My copy on AtH is on loan to a friend, but when I get it back, I’ll have to go through it and compare to dating!

        Last week, you said “Finding the right job is about making new friends.” I can already see how that fits.

    • Excellent analysis!

      Also, you’re going to show up the first day of work with braces. As your manager, I would be at least puzzled, and maybe suspicious. Might not be the best way to start a new job.

      • I’m perplexed why a manager would be ‘suspicious’ seeing a new hire wearing ‘new’ braces. The appointment for the placement of the braces might have already been made prior to the interview.

        Why are managers so judgemental nowadays? Do we need our prospective hiring manager’s approval before undergoing medical and dental procedures that we need?

  12. Just come up with a humorous comment about the braces. Second childhood or something. There is a problem with being overqualified and that’s how you may be stuck in that low level job for a long time. Some places don’t like to promote from within. Some bosses treat their admin people like the lowest of the low. I’ve been there and done that and found my boss was not going to let me move up since I was doing her job and mine. I noticed last year on LinkedIn that another admin at that job was now moving up at another agency, already promoted twice.

    • @Babs: “my boss was not going to let me move up since I was doing her job and mine”

      Oh, how many times I’ve seen this! The admin who could completely replace the boss!

  13. Hi Nick! Just a quick anecdote. I worked with a guy who was the best at what he did bar none. He told me the story about being hired by this large pharmaceutical firm. He absolutely nailed the interview with the hiring manager but there was one problem. He had a long pony tail. The manager asked him if he was willing to change his hair style if he was hired. He replied that “He would comply with all corporate rules and regulations”. He was hired and became a superstar for the company. He kept the pony tail for over 25 years while employed.

    I always admired the way he handled himself with the hiring manager. The woman with the braces should absolutely keep them on for the interview.

    • @Gary: I love it. File under “bosses and politicians that don’t know their own laws.” I’d hire that guy in a heartbeat.

  14. Keep the braces. Wear and show yourself to be classy and well suited for the job.

    Good luck.

  15. I get it that you want to put your best self forward during an interview. To me, that means showing up clean, in clean, neat, appropriate clothes, etc. The braces are temporary; if an employer is so shallow, so superficial as to NOT consider you because you’re wearing braces, then consider yourself lucky that you dodged a bullet. That means this employer isn’t focusing on your skills, your ability to learn, what you can do for the business or agency.

    And then what happens when you age, gain or lose weight, need glasses, etc.? Will they fire you because you don’t look like a fashion model?

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