Making a Good First Impression: Does My Hairstyle Matter in Academic Job Interviews?

I debated with myself about whether or not to write this post, but the me that said yes won out, mainly because this question has been bothering me and I think it may be a legitimate concern: Will my personal choices regarding my hair have an impact when I’m searching for my first academic job?

My decision to write this post was reinforced when a quick search of The Chronicle of Higher Education website (search terms: interview appearance) yielded this article by Rob Jenkins, “How to Dress for Your Interview” (2009). Interestingly, while Jenkins goes into extreme detail, noting clothing colors and styles, shoes, specific accessories (including hose for women) and makeup, and even mentions men’s hair length and grooming, women’s hair is conspicuously absent from his advice. Jenkins’s advice reappears in 2010 in “How to Stand Out in Your Interview,” in which he briefly states (after repeating a summary of the detail from his 2009 article), “Women should avoid extremes in hair styles, makeup, and jewelry.”

I like to experiment with my hair cuts and styles as a fun form of expression that is not permanent. Currently, I’ve been focusing on low maintenance so I do not have to worry about making and going to appointments for upkeep. This means my hair is now quite long, its natural brunette with only a few subtle lowlights mixed in away from the hairline (so no roots to worry about), and my previous heavy bang has been allowed to grow into side-swept bangs (in part because it’s nice to be able to pull them back during the hot summer). Practical, no nonsense, no upkeep hair that still leaves me the option to experiment with new updos when I’m in the mood.

long hair, brunette, side bangs

Current Hairstyle via Pinterest

Ginnifer Goodwin, Pixie, Short Hair

Ginnifer Goodwin via Pinterest

The hair I’ve been dreaming of is Ginnifer Goodwin’s pixie cut, which manages to be quite versatile despite its short length. My concern is whether such a hair cut may potentially negatively impact me when I begin my job search in the fall and (hopefully) have interviews. Could some established academics (in particular those on hiring committees or those with fixed opinions like Rob Jenkins) still be put off by a woman with short hair? I don’t know and that is what is bothering me. When you hear colleagues judging candidates based on their shoe choice (I’m not kidding! Someone was bashing a candidate because his shoes were too shiny, pointy, and fancy!), deciding whether to take the leap and cut your hair short becomes a bigger decision than whether or not you’re personally ready to take the plunge.

Yet I’m also concerned that leaving my hair as long as it currently is may also not give the best first impression. I look young, and long hair tends to accentuate youth. I feel like that would work against me in potential interviews and that could be worse than looking too “edgy” or trendy with a super short cut.

So I’m now considering the compromise below.

mid-length hair, heavy bangs, edgy yet professional

Compromise Cut via Pinterest

brunette, highlights

Compromise Color via Pinterest

This cut and color combination may provide the best of both worlds: the cut is professional and timeless while the bangs still add a little edge, and the color is basically brunette with subtle highlights to add interest. The other benefit is that I’ll still be able to pull it back into an oh-so professional bun if I choose.

I haven’t made my decision yet, but it’s amazing how something as mundane and personal as hairstyle can seem to have larger connotations and permanent consequences, particularly when job prospects are so dismal. Where clothing can be selected specifically for an interview and quickly discarded, hair is less easily professionalized.

Thoughts??? Could hairstyle be a concern when it comes to making a good first impression when job searching, or am I simply over-thinking things?


4 thoughts on “Making a Good First Impression: Does My Hairstyle Matter in Academic Job Interviews?

  1. I can tell you that my decision to cut my hair into a bob and get highlights my first year in grad school was an attempt to avoid the kind of sad academic long grayish hair I was seeing, but it ultimately didn’t feel like me. I have obviously opted for styles since then that make me feel my best (first bangs and light highlights, then blond to cover gray, massive layers, and now working my way back to an admittedly colored mix of my natural color (mousey brown) and blond highlights). While upkeep is expensive, I think as long as hair is attended to, the style doesn’t matter so much. I know I don’t want to have a lot to do with my hair and makeup in the morning, but on a day where I am working at it it still only takes five minutes, so I feel like I have finally found something that works for me. But really, whatever style you choose (and these will all look great on you), as long as it is clear you take care in your appearance, I think that’s all that matters. If you show you take care of yourself, it may be better perceived that you will take care of your job, too. And if you FEEL good about how you look, then that will show through in your interviews.

    • Those are excellent points! I do think I’m leaning towards the compromise, though, because if I decide I don’t like the pixie, it is not going to look good over the next year as I try to grow it out (there is inevitably an awkward phase when growing out hair that short). So maybe the pixie can be my “Yay, I got a job!” celebration hair. 🙂

    • UPDATE: Got the pixie cut and LOVE the pixie cut! And bonus, it actually makes me look more professional, especially since I’ve been wearing it more like Twiggy and Michelle Williams than the messier, edgier look of Ginnifer Goodwin.

  2. I know I’m a little late to the party here, Shandi Lynn, but I just came across this post. For the record, my, um, fixed opinion is that I wouldn’t consider a pixie cut (or any other form of short hair) “extreme.” Examples of extremes would include bright colors (pink, blue, purple), long spikes, mohawks, and shaved or partially shaved heads. And I’m not telling anyone they shouldn’t wear those styles. Do what you want. I’m just trying to inform job applicants that, in all likelihood, such styles would not be considered professional by us old codgers on search committees–and that includes the women on the committees, who in my experience are more likely to be put off by extremes than men.

    Thanks for mentioning my column in your post. Glad the pixie cut worked out for you. Best of luck on the job market.


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