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I am planning on applying to work for a major tech company. I have worked for smaller-sized companies before that conducted business online and there was never a policy for dress code. It seems like the companies that don't deal with customers face-to-face don't really care about physical appearances.

I also have many friends who work or have worked for tech companies and they described the workplace setting to be relaxed about one's physical appearance.

Over the past year, I have changed my look drastically: I cut all of my hair off, I pierced my ears, and I pierced my nose. Some might say that I look like a gangster.

Assuming I have great talent and skills in whatever role I choose to apply for in the tech world, do you think that my current physical appearance might hinder me from getting a job in a tech company?

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    The simple answer is "Yes". Dump the piercings, wear an ordinary shirt, and go get a job. After as little as a few weeks, your comment about "assuming I have talent..." will apply. – Fattie Jun 12 '17 at 20:54
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jun 13 '17 at 22:39
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    I don't like to be the one to point this out, but the response of an interviewer may be different -- for the description you have given -- depending on your gender (unspecified here). We are after all suggesting some degree of bias based on appearance in the first place. And it could go either way. While shaved heads may be perceived as further from the norm in women, in some places among men a shaved head suggests a racist skinhead stereotype which might not go down too well. Ear/nose piercings can also be seen differently depending on your gender (assuming the actual jewellery is neutral) – Chris H Jun 14 '17 at 10:05
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    In case I haven't made it clear enough in my previous comment, this is an attempt to describe and understand bias which may be prevalent. I'd like to think most of us here would be capable of seeing through the superficial stuff but unconscious bias is powerful. – Chris H Jun 14 '17 at 10:07
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    Ahh, dress code; one of the stranger customs of society. It's all about making yourself look good. You could be terrible at what you do, but slap on a suit and you're already miles ahead of that guy who likes to wear a tracksuit and is good at what he does. It's all about making you look "respectable", and basically to show you're not a scumbag. Ironically, the most evil people in the world don't dress in tracksuits. They dress in suits. Because somehow, suit=good person. – DCON Jun 14 '17 at 16:18

11 Answers 11

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Do you think that my current physical appearance might hinder me from getting a job in a tech company

Absolutely, in the sense that you're stacking the deck against you. Whether a particular company will be okay with a fashion sense or personal style that's outside the norm is impossible to say. In some companies it's fine while in many "business casual" is still the way to go. Even places that go for a very casual dress code may not appreciate an extreme appearance.

So what falls under extreme? Facial piercing themselves are becoming more accepted but nose rings will still divide a room. A bald head is fine and nose piercings are gradually gaining acceptance, but "gangster" isn't a great look when you want to project professionalism and reliability. Any of the following is probably crossing the line:

  • Bold hair colours or hair styles (like an electric pink mohawk)
  • Large/prominent/numerous facial piercings
  • Tattoos on the face or hands
  • Any kind of body modification: ear stretching, implants, ...

Now again, it's all a bit of a gray area: some companies will be fine with a non-standard look. The issue is that a lot of companies will hold your appearance against you. Even if the company or manager is fine with it, their regular clientèle might not be. Any kind of IT consulting will NOT hire you if your work would be client-facing. Finance and legal won't hire you. Most pink collar jobs will frown at this. Contrary to what you might think non-profits working in traditionally "cool" areas will definitely not be ok with it because they want people to take their message seriously, see "can you have blue hair at a job interview?".

Even if you don't run into an automatic no-hire, people will still factor your appearance into their evaluation of your candidacy. Like it or not, when you opt for a style that's outside the norm and that is still considered counter-cultural in a way, you're making a statement. And in the context of a job interview, that statement is "I want to look like this and I'm okay with losing job offers over it."

None of this means you can't find a great job. There will be companies that hire you. But you'll run into a lot of companies where your appearance is counted against you and where it could legitimately cost you an offer.

Alison Green has written extensively on this subject. Check the link I gave above. For more on nose rings, see "should I take out my nose ring for job interviews, and other nose ring conundrums". For a manager's perspective see "should I tell a new employee that her facial piercings are limiting the work we’ll give her?". Relatedly, see "will tattoos prevent me from getting hired?"

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    I've seen all the things you're saying are crossing in management positions at top 50 UK companies. Not regularly, but the trend is towards what you're doing rather than what you look like. – Ben Jun 12 '17 at 19:46
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    @Ben Management positions or founder positions? :) But you're right, these styles are slowly entering the mainstream and there are plenty of companies and a few industries where people will think nothing of it. At the same time there are very few industries where "a little extra polish" won't improve the way you're perceived. – Lilienthal Jun 12 '17 at 19:49
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    Additionally, if you're in the games industry, the style you describe is so incredibly out of date that you'll never get a job. - - Quickly runs away from Lilienthal! :) :) - - – Fattie Jun 12 '17 at 20:56
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    I think what this fine answer is saying is that if you walk into the interview in violation of the the companies dress code (whatever it may be), your chances of getting the job are significantly diminished. Like it or not, "dress to impress" still applies in most places. If you wear a coat & tie to a shorts & t-shirt workplace, they'll note that you put in effort, even if you had to carefully hide the tags and returned them to the store the next day. – FreeMan Jun 13 '17 at 13:10
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    Another factor is that, even if the developers/etc are perfectly fine with it, the recruiter or HR person that conduct the first interview may not be, and thus you'll never make it to the people who are okay with it. – Doktor J Jun 13 '17 at 15:21
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YMMV, but this has been my experience:

Excellence brings perks.

If you are in fact as good as you claim, you can pretty much write your own ticket. If you can walk the walk then "hard requirements" suddenly soften.

That said:

You are still bound by company culture and various beliefs and prejudices that we all walk around with. If you're appearance is sub par, but you look like a disheveled geek, people are not going to care if you are in IT. IF, however, you look like something other than what the stereotype of a geek looks like, you won't get as much leeway.

To harken back to my ancient times, I could walk in with unkempt hair, shirt hanging out and shoelaces untied if I looked like the stereotypical nerd of the day. If I walked in with a Mohawk, stainless steel teeth, and chains, I'd get escorted out.

IT has a great deal of leeway, but you still have to dress the part you want. IF you walk in looking like a stereotype, you will be treated as that stereotype. If you look like a computer geek, they'll expect you to be one, if you go in looking like a gangster, then that is what they'll expect you to be.

Right, wrong, or otherwise, it is what it is.

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    I am particularly to the concept of excellence. Many years ago when IT required a suit and tie, no exception, a wired hair old man came into a recruiting booth completely disheveled of one of my customers and handed them a resume on tractor feed paper 3 inches or so thick pretty much all one paragraph. These were the days where laser printers were available to everyone. While all laughed and said he would never be hired, one flipped through the resume and then quickly ran out the door. The man was hired that night! – closetnoc Jun 13 '17 at 1:37
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    @closetnoc: Wait, his resume was 1 paragraph on 3-inches-thick's worth of paper? – Mehrdad Jun 13 '17 at 3:55
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    @Mehrdad Basically, it was a run on that did not seem to end. It was completely crazy. However, he was a real deal computer engineer with a serious history. I did not see breaks between pages. Of course, I did not have the patience to look too carefully. It was 9pm or so and I was about to head to the restaurant for dinner. The event was ending and people had largely already headed home. He was hired before I left for home and before everything was packed up for the weekend. What was clear was the man was eccentric, brilliant, and not a people person. Crazy! And excellent!! – closetnoc Jun 13 '17 at 4:22
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    @Mehrdad It occured to to explain a bit more! This man worked in one place for a very long time and was quite old compared to the industry. I am not sure why he was looking for work, however, he clearly had no real intention to. I imagine he just worked and lived his life and when his job went away for whatever reason, he had no plans to stop working. He may have still needed the money and never planned to retire. This was his first resume and he clearly did not have the skills to write one. He looked like he worked in the basement somewhere for 40 years. – closetnoc Jun 13 '17 at 4:32
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    @Mehrdad I love these funny little stories! Everyone has them in their life and mine seem to fit this site well. It is a blast telling people the crazy stuff I have seen. Cheers!! – closetnoc Jun 13 '17 at 4:41
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I'm going to put a slightly different spin on this. I don't have piercings, but I do have longish shaggy hair, kind of a "surfer dude" style. And I'm not cutting it for anyone.

As a principal software engineer, I'm also regularly sent out to visit customers. This is more important than just a job interview - you're there to project the image of your company as a credible outfit with serious technical abilities, and win them contracts. I can't afford to have how I look affecting this.

My solution? Sharpen up everything else. So if I'm seeing a customer, I'm always clean-shaven that morning. Good-quality double-cuffed shirt with cufflinks, ironed of course. Silk tie, full Windsor knot, top button done up. Well-fitting suit. Polished shoes. The principle is simply that if I'm looser from the neck up, then everything from the neck down has to be correspondingly tightened up.

When the rest of you projects ultra-professionalism, then something like long hair or a nose piercing becomes simply a minor quirk where a few months later they'll say "We need to call that guy from Acme Corp - you remember, the one with the nose stud", or "I like the long-haired guy for this job".

Our main business generation guy is ex-military and in his 60s. He can get by perfectly well with a shirt and blazer without a tie, because his age, attitude and bearing ensure his credibility. For myself though, I find it very much helps me to be seriously suited and booted, so that I'm not just treated as the "tame techie".

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    Excellent comment & perspective! – FreeMan Jun 13 '17 at 13:14
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    I'm in a very similar boat to this. I have a large natural afro, and I'm not a race that typically has that hair. Your fourth paragraph seems understated to me. I find that dressing well and presenting the rest of myself well presents me as the techie that "gets it". It presents the air that you have put in the effort into meeting with people and people like knowing you put in effort for them. – Alex N. Jun 13 '17 at 13:26
  • I actually used to have really long hair down to my nipples. I always wore it down and was never told anything by any of my employers. Of course, I always looked presentable. – Josan Iracheta Jun 13 '17 at 16:15
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Assume you get the job offer, and you've been selected out of a pool of candidates.

Your hiring manager likes your qualifications, but dislikes your appearance.

It's possible you may have less room for negotiation of your salary / benefits / compensation package because the hiring manager is 'settling' for someone that would not be as 'presentable' to possible clients on short notice as one of the other employees.

That may sound silly, but think about it. Most people adhering to 'business casual' could easily go out to meet a customer, if needed, even if it's not something they'd normally expect to do. It's almost like a 'service' they're providing to the company, in conforming to an acceptable appearance / dress code.

Even someone in fairly casual dress - Say jeans and a normal shirt or even just a collared shirt - might then have a more 'presentable' appearance than you.

So while you may still get some positions, giving this first impression may make your hiring manager less willing to work with you in negotiating important aspects of your employment at their organization, as they may not be able to count on you to provide the 'professional' appearance some other employees may be able to.

I'd say this is an important factor to keep in mind, because it doesn't stop at just 'getting' the job offer: It is something that may come into play in negotiating compensation, later pay raises, promotions, etc.

It isn't something you only have to worry about once; if it comes into play at the beginning of the process (or even if it doesn't), it could re-surface later on as well.

  • This is a very good point – Josan Iracheta Jun 12 '17 at 20:35
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    nudge up-votes are a good way of showing that ;) Jk – schizoid04 Jun 12 '17 at 20:56
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    I personally am terrible about adhering to dress codes - I work in an office, in IT. I show up to work wearing a collared shirt, jeans or khaki's, and on nearly any day I wear a hat inside, because of how bright the lights are. Maybe 1-2 days per week I might not wear khaki's, or might wear a normal shirt. But my interview, and the first several weeks, I dressed AS SHARPLY AS POSSIBLE - It shows that you CAN, and that you're willing to do so. When I visit clients, I normally wear ironed dress clothes. – schizoid04 Jun 12 '17 at 20:59
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    +1 At my first corporate programming job I ended up going on sales calls as the "Technical expert". That made me more valuable. By making your style choices, you have made yourself less valuable because there will be fewer organisations willing to employ you and less demand equals less bargaining power. As someone who's hired programmers I'd hire you, but all things being equal I'd hire the "ordinary" looking candidate with slightly less skills because "fitting in" and "manageability" are reflected in your appearance. I'd prefer a happy team to a bunch of misfits that don't work together. – mcottle Jun 13 '17 at 8:24
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It would be a problem for some and not for others. We have no way to predict that as Tech companies are not monolithic. A lot of it has to do with the size of the company (larger companies tend towards being more conservative), the personality of the hiring manager (in other words one guy at the same company might not be bothered and another manager would) and even the industry the tech company is working in (banking and finance tend towards more conservative).

However, would you really want to work for a company that was not accepting of your appearance? And every human being has something that some companies will like and others will not. So personally I wouldn't sweat it.

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Assuming I have great talent and skills in whatever role I choose to apply for in the tech world, do you think that my current physical appearance might hinder me from getting a job in a tech company

To me, this shows a negative attitude towards places that require you to dress in a particular way. You're not going to want to go for a job in a company that requires you to conform to a standard of dress, so why are you bothering? You won't be happy there, and they won't be happy with you. The hinderance comes from yourself, not from the company you've applied to. This makes the question irrelevant. "Would I be looked down on if I were a duck applying to a position in a company full of chickens" is about the same...apples and oranges in terms of what they expect vs. what you want.

That isn't to disparage you or the company, either. People and companies want different things at different times. You could find a startup that lets you come into the workplace naked and be happy, or you could love the suit-and-tie company because you consider it indicative of success and job stability. It's all about your perception of the policies that you submit to. Personally, I couldn't care less whether I work in a "casual" or "business" environment, I'm concentrating on my coding and not my environment (Also why I have a completely empty desk top).

As usual, ymmmv.

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    I actually refused to work anywhere that required jacket and tie. It worked for me. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jun 12 '17 at 19:13
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    I hate it for sure, but as I'm not a "senior developer" yet (I avoid that title if I can handle it, mostly moving the title sideways) I don't have to worry about it. The dress and the fact that I don't wanna manage, because it takes away my coding time.. – SliderBlackrose Jun 12 '17 at 19:16
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    Yeah, we always used to say that the tie cuts off the blood to the brain. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jun 12 '17 at 19:23
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    I am a contracor, with experience on 3 continents, and always wear suit and tie - because I want to. I am generally the only one who does, including hight management. However, I would never work at any place that required it. – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jun 13 '17 at 8:08
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    That's the crux: "I wanted to". It's up to you to decide if you will/won't work in an environment. Shouldn't matter what they think of your professionalism one way or another, just where do you feel comfortable. – SliderBlackrose Jun 13 '17 at 15:04
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Don't come here for answers. Research that company specifically. If they are a "major tech company" you should be able to find the answers.

  • Don't you find pictures of employees, working there, on LinkedIn? – Dominique Jun 13 '17 at 9:33
  • Actually, for me this is the best answer here. If the OP is talking about literally one of the handful of majors, the literal answer can easily be found. Great answer. – Fattie Jun 14 '17 at 10:50
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Adding a slightly different perspective to this:

Even for very relaxed jobs, every now and then you might get a special event where you're expected to dress up, be smart, and put a good face on for the company. Maybe you won an award, maybe the company is courting bigger investors or a high-profile company. Politics aside, in such situations you'd be expected to be putting the company first and trying to make the best impression.

So the interview isn't a chance to demonstrate that you just blend into the normal environment, it's a chance for you to demonstrate that, if it's needed, you can tidy up and pull out all the stops to impress. A relaxed workplace won't make you come in every day looking like that, but a manager will be relieved knowing that you can smarten up if and when you're needed to.

Finally, I've never heard of someone not getting a job for being too smart; it's a lot easier to tell someone to dress down than to imagine/hope that they can dress up to standard.

So yes, it does hurt your chances, but more because not dressing smart is a missed opportunity to impress rather than people being directly judgemental of your dress style. There is the possibility of people being judgemental and in those situations, it would not be in your favour either. So, if I had to place a wager, I'd bet on dressing conservatively and smart to get the job and then relaxing once you have it.

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There are good answers. I would like to add my perspective on things. See it like a "game" with attributed to your gear.

Body piercing: -1
Well spoken: +1
Well dress: +1
Mohawk: -2

If you are extra good with your skills, it will increase your chances. You might end up in front of a recruiter that has "Add -10 if opponent has a Mohawk". So you might have to be more well spoken, respectful, ... than the other candidates.

You could also change your piercing to be less noticeable. You could have your "work" piercing and your "outside" piercing (like people have work clothes).

  • You make a good point with the different types of piercings. I have a friend that works at a bank and at work, he wears a small stud and outside of work, he wears a hoop. – Josan Iracheta Jun 13 '17 at 16:17
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Real world experience, I have multiple facial piercings, stretched ears and visible tattoos on my arms unless I'm in long sleeves. It's very nearly cost me one job, but my talent was more important and it's never effected anything else. However this is a YMMV situation.

Ask yourself if you'd be happy without your choice of body modifications, if you won't be then don't change. People need talented and skilled employees, so just make sure you're such an overwhelmingly good hire it's not a problem.

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Please research target company culture in advance.

Looks at employees' linkedin profiles, watch the videos if someone presented at conferences, etc.

For example, official dress code for interviews at Google reads "wear clothes." They mean it literally (t-shirt and shorts are ok, but please don't come bare-chested)

On the other end of the spectrum would be banks, hedge funds, etc., where you are expected to wear dress pants and shirt and a tie, if not a suit.

Then there are creative workplaces (e.g. hip advertising firms) where you may actually score points with your "outrageous" look, if you are clean and well-mannered at the same time.

Same holds for physiognomy, hairdo and mods.

I'd say what matters more is how you conduct yourself and what impression you make in the first minute. If you are friendly, break the ice well, show that you can take charge of the conversation, listen to and understand your interviewer (know when not take charge), feel natural (as opposed to forced) and, obv., technically capable, you will do just fine.

Most of your interviewers will grasp what aspects of "you" are easy to change for an occasion (choice to have a shower, choice of cologne, choice of attire from same category) and what are not changed on the spot (race, gender, weight, large hair or beard).

TL;DR

In tech, if the choice is between friendly gangster and perfectly manicured asshole, almost everyone will go with the earlier.

  • I must admit I did not know the word physiognomy before this! :O – Fattie Jun 14 '17 at 10:50

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