We’re all unique and many of us take great pride in the way we express ourselves through our clothing, accessories and language. One challenge that many people, especially younger folks just entering the workforce, face is whether or not to limit one’s self-expression during a job interview. I’m often asked philosophical questions about conforming for the sake of landing a job and some people are more adamant and/or sensitive about the issue than others. Some are the typical rebels without a clue while others have passionate beliefs that they like to express through their appearance.

There is a delicate balance between self-expression and conformity and choosing one over the other doesn’t necessarily make someone a bad or weak person. Artsy type folks tend to belittle their conforming counterparts as sellouts where the conformists tend to label those who express themselves in an extreme fashion as freaks, but each side has the right to do as they please.

So when I’m asked about the subject, I reply back with “what’s more important: your self-expression or landing the job?” While I let the person think it over, I ask them if there’s a possible compromise. But the bottom line is that if someone hates having to dress up in suit everyday for work, they’ll never be happy working in the finance industry where professional dress is the norm. If it doesn’t bother you, then you have nights and weekends to dress the way you like. Otherwise, you might want to consider a job in the fashion or arts industry (and yes, they have accountants, salespeople, programmers and other office type positions) where you don’t have to conform so much.

Moving on to the interview situation, it’s always best to appear clean, neat and professional. What this means is as follows:

  • Remove all facial piercings (women can leave earrings in, but smaller is better).
  • Men can have facial hair; just make sure it’s neatly trimmed.
  • If possible, make sure your hair coloring is somewhat normal. Avoid blue, green, purple, etc….
  • Dress appropriately for the position. You should always be dressed more formally than those interviewing you (unless the person who set up the interview tells you otherwise).
  • Avoid jewelry that makes political statements, is overly religious in nature or includes offensive language or symbols.
  • Shower before the interview and avoid deodorant, perfumes or colognes with strong scents. Also, don’t smoke right before an interview. Some people are allergic to certain scents.
  • Speak clearly and professional. Avoid slang and similar language that’s not appropriate for a work or business setting.
  • Don’t use profanity, even if the interviewer uses it.

This list may seem a bit intimidating to those who value self-expression, but the good news is that most of this is for the interview only. Once you land the job, you can often express yourself with the way you dress (provided it meets the company’s dress code), put your piercings back in and color your hair the way you like. Just make sure you understand the dress code prior to accepting the position.

Again, we’re all unique people and we are fortunate enough to live in a society where we can express ourselves through our appearance. If we’re passionate enough about that expression, we have the option to find a position that not only accepts that expression but encourages it.

Self-expression during an interview

3 thoughts on “Self-expression during an interview

  • January 19, 2008 at 2:10 am

    Thank you for submitting your post to Carnival Of Tips.

    This is a great post. Given today’s society, however, do you see bosses getting a little more lenient with self-expression?

  • January 20, 2008 at 12:08 am

    Hi Tip Diva,

    Thanks for the comment. Here’s the thing, I think the problem is that we all expect people to be more lenient with self-expression during an interview, but unfortunately, it’s not always the case.

    Things like earings in men, as long as they’re small, would be acceptable to a much greater number of people now than 10 years ago. But there’s always the risk that you might come across an interviewer that jusges you based on the way you express yourself as opposed to your actual qualifications. I’d rather err on the side of caution during an interview and then phase my self-expression in once I land the job.


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