Archive for April, 2015

How to Minimize Weight Discrimination in the Job Interview

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Some years ago, I was a guest on an hour-long radio program and the interviewer was the top dog for a large organization. He was charming and personable on-air, but during the breaks he showed his true colors.

When he asked my age I thought it was inappropriate, but I wasn’t offended. Later he told me about a receptionist who used to work for him, the operative term being “used to.” I asked him why she didn’t work out he responded with incredible insensitivity: “She was fat. How can you have a fat person representing an organization? I was embarrassed to have her at the front desk.” He bragged that he quickly found an excuse to give her the heave-ho. His bluntness and crushing insensitivity shocked me, and I found it interesting that his off-air persona was so different from the one he portrayed to his listeners.

Note that he didn’t fire her because of her performance. In fact, when I asked about that he changed the subject, as if to say, “What does that have to do with anything?” She was fat. That, he was certain, was all he needed to say about the matter. When I asked why he hired her in the first place, he said, “I didn’t. My associate did. If I’d done the interview, she would never have gotten the job.” I had to grit my teeth to make it through the rest of the program.

According to Lennon Simpson in an article for eHow, “Obesity reigns as one of the most socially accepted basis for discrimination.” Research bears this out: A 2006 Western Michigan University study found that weight discrimination affects all aspects of employment, and that women are more likely to be discriminated against based on their weight than men.

Dress Appropriately for an Interview

As a résumé writer and career consultant for more than 25-years, it has been my experience that larger women and men already know this, and it can be a source of considerable anxiety when preparing for an interview. The temptation is often to over-compensate: wearing a bold colors and then accessorizing with huge jewelry. Of course, there’s also the other extreme: wearing old jeans and/or an over-sized sweatshirt in an effort to hide one’s body.

At all costs, avoid either extreme. Wear something that is conservative and professional. Darker colors are good, but you don’t have to look like you’re going to a funeral. Throw in a splash of color, but remember not to over-do. For women: when putting on jewelry, reach for the pearls or a single chain, and opt for smaller earrings rather than the three-inch hoops. Also, wear simple pumps that are comfortable and classic. For both men and women: When in doubt, remember that it’s always better to be a little understated.

Of course, it’s possible to be too understated! The key is to look professional, regardless of size. Slacks and a nice blouse or shirt, perhaps with a jacket, are fine. And for women: the old rule about having to wear a skirt for an interview went out with the 60’s. Today it is optional, so wear what makes you feel the most comfortable.

Attitude: The Linchpin

Of course, wearing exactly the right outfit won’t do you much good if you walk in with an attitude. And, as with the mode of dress, there are two extremes.

One is the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude. The other is the I-hate-my-body-and-I’m-too-fat-to-ever-get-this-job attitude. Either one is a killer.

When you meet the interviewer, smile, extend your hand, and give a firm (not limp) handshake. Look him or her in the eye, say their name (“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Smith”), and be prepared to explain what value you bring to the position based on your prior experience. Don’t brag, but don’t sell yourself short, either! Convey enthusiasm and remember that if you don’t tell this company what you can do for them, nobody else will.

Also, do your homework ahead of time and then interact positively, asking questions about the company and the position. Search the Web prior to the interview to learn about the organization’s history and values, and when the opportunity arises work what you’ve learned into the conversation. Believe me, nothing impresses an interviewer more than a person who conveys a genuine interest in the company.

Then, immediately after the interview, write a thank you note to everyone who interviewed you. (It’s perfectly acceptable to ask your interviewers for their business cards.) The note can be hand-written on simple stationery or a note card, or you can send it out via email. Hand-written is a little unusual these days and adds a personal touch that may make you stand out. Emails, on the other hand, get to the recipient faster.

Nevertheless, the thank you letter is a small courtesy that speaks volumes about your professionalism and follow-through. In fact, I’ve had interviewers tell me that for some positions they don’t hire people who fail to send a thank you note, regardless of their qualifications. Others have told me that, when all else is equal, the person who sends the thank you note gets the job.

Let’s face it, discrimination is a fact of life, but people overcome all forms of discrimination everyday. You can, too. Regardless of your size, dress appropriately, look and act like a professional, remain positive and confident, and hone in on what you can do for them. And regarding the very rude and ignorant radio talk show interviewer I had the misfortune to meet, I determined within a minute or two into our conversation that the woman he fired was well rid of him.

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Copyright 2013, Anne Follis, CPRW. All rights reserved

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