Center for Experiential Learning and Career Services

Physical Attributes Influence on Employers

If You Have the Right Skills, Does it Matter if Your Tongue is Pierced?

Can a tattoo trash your chance at a job with some employers? Will a purple streak in your hair push you out of the running as a job candidate? Are piercings prohibited in the real "world of work"?

Employers who responded to the Job Outlook 2006 survey say a job candidate's grooming has a strong influence on their opinion of the candidate. (See Figure 1.) The two things most likely to influence an employer? Personal grooming (Do you have body odor or smell too strongly of cologne? Are your face and hands clean?) and interview attire (Business attire vs. jeans and a T-shirt) clean and unwrinkled.

Figure 1: Candidate physical attributes and their influence on employers, by percent of respondents
Attribute No Influence Slight Influence Strong Influence
Grooming 6% 21% 73%
Nontraditional interview attire 13% 38% 49%
Handshake 22% 45% 33%
Body piercing 26% 43% 31%
Obvious tattoos 25% 46% 29%
Nontraditional hair color 26% 46% 28%
Unusual hairstyle  30%  49%  21%
Earring (male) 54% 34% 12%
Beard 73% 22% 5%
Mustache  83%  16%  1%
Source: Job Outlook 2006. National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Employers reviewed a list of possible physical attributes and rated each on how it would influence their opinions of a candidate's suitability for employment and how much.

"These results are consistent with what we've seen in the past," says Marilyn Mackes, executive director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the nonprofit organization that conducts the Job Outlook survey. "Job candidates need to remember that their overall grooming and choice of interview attire project an image; they are marketing themselves to the employer as a potential employee, and part of marketing is the packaging."

Interestingly, employers indicated that a candidate's handshake is likely to have a greater influence on their opinion of a candidate than many other more obvious attributes, such as unusual hairstyles and colors, tattoos, and body piercings. However, that doesn't give job candidates license to dye, tattoo, or pierce with abandon, cautions Mackes.

"It's important for job seekers to recognize that attributes that exert even a slight influence over an employer can be just as important as those that exert a strong influence," says Mackes. "When an employer has to make a choice among job candidates, these are the items that could make or break a candidacy."

Best advice? Be conservative.—Career development and job-search advice for new college graduates.
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Last Updated: 6/9/16