Beards and Your Career

—Urban Beardsman

You’re young. You’ve just graduated from college and you’re on the hunt for your first career job. You have some experience, an internship or a background of hourly jobs. You’ve also been growing a beard. It’s a staple of your personal style, and if you’re honest with yourself, you’re attached to it and the concept of shaving it off is depressing to you.

Your relatives keep telling you that you’ll have to shave if you want that elusive first job. They’re telling you that beards are unprofessional, and what’s more, the people doing the hiring are from a generation of clean-cut no-nonsense people who won’t understand or appreciate any form of individual stylistic expression, let alone a beard.

You’re conflicted. You feel like you shouldn’t have to shave just to get a job, but you also really need that first job and you’re not exactly in a position to be turning down opportunities over facial hair. Do you shave, and give into the idea that professionals can’t be bearded? Or do you stick to your guns and hope that the company you have an interview with next week is cool with it? Well, it depends. Let’s break it down.

Do Your Homework

First off, let’s get one thing out of the way: there are some jobs that simply require shaved faces, whether it’s for safety reasons, health reasons or otherwise. If your career path is pointed in that direction, you may have to accept it and shave. Jobs at industrial plants with large machinery often bearded men on the premises, and some jobs in the healthcare industry might not allow them due to health concerns. These jobs are few, but they’re still out there. Do some research on your ideal career job and find out. Sometimes there’s gray area, like in food processing, where you can have a beard, but you have to wear a hair net on your face, but this is also pretty marginal.

So you’ve done your research now, and it’s looking positive. The job you want, whether it’s a desk job or otherwise, would theoretically allow you to sport some scruff. The next step is to research the company (or companies) you’re applying to or have interviews lined up for. Where are they located? If it’s a large city like New York City or Chicago or Dallas, then that’s likely to be more promising. Large cities tend to be more diverse and therefore more tolerant of varying lifestyle choices. That’s not to say suburban or rural communities are hostile to beards, but they’re more likely to have some more conservative viewpoints.

How old is the company? If it’s a hip startup, you can pretty much stop reading here. Startups typically are run by young people who lack the prejudices of the generation that came before them – beards are probably cool there, and you probably won’t be the only guy there with one. Conversely, if the company is about to celebrate its 75th year, their leadership team might have some more, ahem, old fashioned ideals.

Do the other men who already work there have facial hair? Look them up online, see if they have photos of the employees. If you’re seeing beards in the pictures, you’re probably in the clear. If not, then you may not fit in with the crowd.

Now that you’ve made some general judgments on the company and their assumed stance on beards, you’re still feeling confident about keeping it. Great! Things are looking up for you and your furry face companion.

Shape Up

Ask yourself now – how does it look? Is it clean and even? Or have you let it grow without a second thought, letting it do its own thing? If you answered yes to the latter, then it’s time to do some maintenance. If your future employer is cool with beards, it probably comes with some strings attached. Every company wants their employees to represent them well, and an unkempt beard typically isn’t a good look. Clean it up a little before your interview – trim the fly-aways, maybe take a little length off (it’ll probably make your beard look fuller anyway).

Time To Talk Beards

Now you’re feeling more confident. You’re pretty sure the company is generally okay with beards, and you’ve made yours presentable and looking like “Yes, I meant to do this. I didn’t just forget to shave for six months.” But you’re not in the clear yet. You need to be prepared to talk about it in the interview. If your beard is a defining feature of your face, then you might get a few questions during the interview. Be prepared to defend your beard’s honor, and be able to explain why you chose to keep it. No, “I just think it looks cool” isn’t a good enough answer.

Use this as an opportunity to impress the interviewer and make yourself more desirable to the company. You have made a conscious decision to show up to this interview with a beard. Own that. It shows bravery, it shows commitment, and it shows that you march to the beat of your own drum. If you’re confident in it, then even if the interviewer was on the fence about it, you can prove to them that it says some great things about who you are as a person, and as an employee.

We Regret To Inform You…

Now you’re past the interview, and you’re sure it went great. The interviewer seemed receptive to your beard, and you used it to your advantage. But then you get that terrible email that starts something like “we regret to inform you.” You’re disappointed, and you’re wondering what went wrong. Don’t be afraid to ask them why you didn’t get the job. (Be tactful here, make sure you don’t come off whiny. Tell them that you’re grateful to have been given the opportunity and that you just want to know how you can improve your performance for future interviews.) They may just ignore you, but they might help you out and give it to you straight. It could be one reason, or it might be a few reasons. If any one of them has anything to do with your beard, don’t take it personally. Make a mental note of it though, and use this information strategically.

Think about what kind of company it is. Are you interviewing with other companies that do the same thing? That have similar goals and ideals? Then maybe consider shaving before your next interview. If your beard was a problem for one company, then it might be a problem for the others. You’re already one rejection into your job search, and every day that passes is another day you don’t have a job. It’s the beginning of your career – you don’t exactly have a whole lot of options or leverage. Strategically, you need to optimize your chances of getting the job, and if the beard is the only thing separating you and that coveted starting position, then you probably know what to do.

Here’s another scenario: either during or after the job interview, the interviewer tells you, point blank, that if you get the job, you’ll have to shave. If this happens, then you have to ask yourself: is this your dream job? Or do you have other promising opportunities lined up? If this is your dream job, and you’re not expecting a call from another position, then you should probably bite the bullet and shave. If you’ve got other opportunities lined up, and you’re feeling confident about them, then don’t be afraid to say “no, thanks” and walk away. At the end of the day, this is your choice, and you’ve got to make the one that’s right for you.

Change The Way Society Views Beardsmen

Here’s the plain truth: I can’t tell you whether to keep your beard, and I can’t tell you whether that job you want is going to be cool with it. No one can, with 100% accuracy, except the company itself. The simple fact of the matter is that there ARE people out there who are prejudiced against beards, and some of them have hiring power. You just have to make a choice, and do your best to calculate the risk involved. If your beard is precious to you, then keep it and wait until you find the job of your dreams that will value it as much as you do. Just know that you might have to wait a while, and you might get passed over a few times. If that’s okay with you, and you have enough financial security to do that, then by all means, don’t compromise. If not, whether it’s because you don’t have a source of income at the moment, or because your options are more limited in the field you want to work in, then you have to make a difficult decision. There’s just no two ways about it.

In a perfect world, no one would judge you for having a beard, and you would get hired based solely on your merit as a worker. But we live in an imperfect world, with imperfect people, and sometimes that means you have to do things you don’t want to do. As your career goes on, and you accrue more experience and a positive reputation in your field, then your appearance will probably matter less and less. At the beginning of your career, though, it’s unfortunately all about first impressions, and your appearance plays an enormous role in that.

As time goes on, and the generations of people who hold certain prejudices get phased out, then this will become less and less of a conversation. For now, though, it’s one we have to have, and we have to face the reality of the situation. Some people place beards in the same category as face tattoos and septum piercings (no judgment if you have either one – you at least understand the concept of being judged for your stylistic choices). Some people are more tolerant, though, and what’s more, some people will love your beard. Here’s to hoping you land a job with those people. Good luck, and beard on.

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