Judging a Book by its Cover

The other day, flying back from the East Coast to LA, I had a wonderful conversation with my seat mate, a 60 plusser, who heads up a non-profit association in the supply arena. Like me, she sees many 50 plussers who are finding themselves in a tough predicament — even in this very particular niche of supply and distribution. They cannot keep a job and they cannot find a new job. There are a few reasons — the first, is that the supply industry has changed and the smaller suppliers are quite simply getting swallowed up by the mega-giants (no different than the mom-and-pop retail stores getting overwhelmed by national chains). The second is that at 50 plus, they are finding themselves getting overlooked for positions. These jobseekers file into this woman’s office (I’ll call her Carol) and ask her for help in finding jobs. And no surprise to me, her number one, biggest piece of advice? Get a good haircut and buy a new suit — something current. In the supply world, very little emphasis is put on looks — unlike, for example, marketing, cosmetics, fashion — however, when the job search gets tough, employers will typically make a judgement assessment based on first appearances. Fair? Not really. But no one said life is fair. There are so many debates over whether or not to dye hair. At a more fundamental level, the reality is, visual appeal and visual presentation is judged. Do you have to look current, be fashionable, get groomed? No. You don’t. But when you were twenty and heading out for your first job interview, what did you wear? Likely your best suit, spent hours on choosing accessories, briefcase, polishing shoes, fixing hair (and makeup and jewelry if you are a woman). So why would someone find that so objectionable at 50 plus? Because of pride. Because of wanting your life and work experience to count for something. At twenty, without work experience to back you up, all you had was your smile, your enthusiasm and your outward appearance. The way you were judged back then has not changed.

If I were a jobseeker at 50 plus, I’d listen to Carol’s advice. I’d dye my hair (OK, well, I already do that), get a good haircut, ensure my makeup, nail polish and accessories were perfect and I’d wear my best business suit…to make certain that once I got IN the door, the employer would only be looking at one thing…my qualifications.

You will be judged. It may not be fair. But your job, when looking for a job, is to put your best foot forward. Not try to make a generational statement. I love to read. I buy tons of books. And I can assure you, as shallow as it may seem, that if I don’t like the cover, I don’t open the first page.

3 thoughts on “Judging a Book by its Cover

  1. Hi Wendy!

    This is an important message; so, I’m glad you wrote this post.

    As an avid reader of Men’s Health, I’ve noticed that it’s quite often that men are advised to keep their shoes polished and in good condition. Apparently, women will draw important conclusions about a guy based the way he cares – or doesn’t care – for his shoes.

    So, should it be a surprise that potential employers – be they men or woman — will draw conclusions based on dress and grooming. Unfortunately, these can be “screen-out” factors that make it difficult for interviewers to focus on the value candidates bring.

    Yes, in the mixed-up world of office attire, it can seem difficult to determine how to show up for an interview: Business? Business casual? Casual? Yet, with a little extra effort, candidates can probably find out the expectation. And when in doubt, wear a suit…

    …oh, and by the way: pay attention to your shoes!

  2. I remember growing up, there were a few things that were vitally important to my grandfather. He got his hair trimmed and nails groomed every week at the local barbershop. He wore crisply starched shirts and never allowed for even a fray on a cuff or collar. He had his shoes shined once a week.

    You are so right — women do notice a man’s shoes. A nice shoe with a good shine seems to infer a person who takes pride in their deportment and appearance. And even if an employer didn’t notice the fine footwear, you can bet they’d notice and make mental note of scuffed and scruffy on a potential hire.

  3. In his great book, “The Rules of Life: A Personal Code for Living a Better, Happier, More Successful Life,” Richard Templar makes a point about dressing like today is important. I think there is a broader lesson for the relevance of self care to self esteem and success. I think your grandfather totally “got” that! Thanks for sharing, Wendy!

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