Shave or not shave?
March 29, 2011 3:17 PM   Subscribe

I have an important interview coming up with a big law firm. Should I shave my beard? Special circumstances inside.

I'm a guy in my late 20's. I haven't interviewed in some 2 years, and in the time since I've worn a small, neatly-trimmed beard and am quite happy with it. The current environment I work at is not a law firm, and is perfectly fine with beards, so it hasn't been an issue. But the job hunt is another matter.

I'm fairly certain that I'm more attractive and present better with a beard, and in the days when I was shaving, my skin seemed to have an adverse reaction to it. No matter how often I shaved, my face appeared darker, like a constant five-o-clock shadow or perma-stubble - so, ironically, my shaven face came across as less 'professional' than the appearance I have now.

I know the common wisdom in conservative professions is to shave for interviews, and when I look at the profiles of attorneys on the law firm's web site, the men are clean-shaven. I'm just wondering if my circumstances might be special.

To add to the issue, I'm Indian and dark-skinned. My mom complains that I look like a terrorist, and while I could care less what she thinks, I wouldn't want a partner in charge of hiring to come away with the same impression.

Thanks for the advice!
posted by naju to Work & Money (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think neat and trimmed is sufficient. And my milieu includes big law firm lawyers. Just be otherwise formal in terms of suit, shoes, tie, etc.
posted by bearwife at 3:20 PM on March 29, 2011

I'm an attorney at a large law firm and can't imagine anyone thinking less of you for a neatly trimmed beard, especially if you are more confident and look better with it. That said, I'm in a west coast office of a west coast origin firm and we wear jeans on Friday, so YMMV if it's a more formal east coast firm or office.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 3:25 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would have a barber that is good with beard trimming have a go at it along with the haircut you are going to get. A professional should be able to shape it and clean up the lines to make it look quite nice.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:31 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Are you still in school? If you are, I would talk to career services about it. I don't know any lawyers with beards. Some of the older men have mustaches but not many. As much as I feel opposed to changing one's appearance for an interview it would be a shame not to get a 2nd interview because of your appearance.
posted by useyourmachinegunarm at 3:50 PM on March 29, 2011

If you get the position, are you going to wear a beard? If yes, then you should interview with a beard.
posted by gagoumot at 3:58 PM on March 29, 2011

I have worked with several BigLaw lawyers with beards (including partners). While certainly not a majority fashion choice, I don't think the presence of a beard makes any difference. As long as you are neatly groomed (and not sporting a Unix guru-type beard), I don't think any BigLaw partners (in Charlotte or otherwise) would think twice about it.

I think you'll be fine. Feel free to PM me if you want to talk about my BigLaw experience in the South.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 4:07 PM on March 29, 2011

Nth'ing a trimmed beard.

Don't do the mountain-man/terrorist/computer hacker look, that's all fail. Do do a nicely trimmed, well-maintained beard. You can do this with any length of beard, it doesn't have to be short.

Just be well-groomed, in all aspects. Make sure you don't have ear/nose hairs, that your eyebrows are trimmed neatly, you don't have chest hair escaping from your collar, etc.
posted by jpeacock at 4:09 PM on March 29, 2011

While I hate the idea of it, looking older often warrants you more respect and the ability to ask for more money. I shaved my long beard off recently at a job where I had one for many years and it kinda freaked people out how young I looked.
posted by straight_razor at 4:09 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have been in exactly your position. I've done law firm interviews, with and without beards.

In my view, the beard didn't cause any difficulties - I interviewed for my current job with a beard. The question is whether you look professional.

BTW, my mother said the same about me. Maybe it's an Indian mother thing...
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:11 PM on March 29, 2011

I'm no expert, but am in law school and my male classmates with facial hair just trim it. Plenty of bearded classmates seem to get biglaw jobs, so it's probably not an issue.
posted by elpea at 4:16 PM on March 29, 2011

Are you able to post a photo of yourself with and without a beard?
posted by wilful at 4:27 PM on March 29, 2011

I shaved my beard between two interviews with the same biglaw firm. The lawyer who saw me both times razzed me for trying to conform (I honestly don't remember if that's actually why I shaved.) YMMV.
posted by Xalf at 4:30 PM on March 29, 2011

Normally I'd say go clean-shaven to a law-firm interview. But given the details you mentioned, I would probably keep the beard and but make a special point of trimming it to look professional. It might help if you could post a photo.
posted by John Cohen at 4:33 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

As somebody with a beard, I am amazed that this even comes up. Do women have to worry about having curls or straight hair, above or below the shoulders, etc., and their "employability" with that style?

As long as it looks nice, why should it matter?

That being said, I have interviewed with and without a beard and to my knowledge it has not been an issue either way. Just trim it and look professional.
posted by Leenie at 5:04 PM on March 29, 2011

As long as it looks nice, why should it matter?

Why does it matter? Because people form opinions about others based on their looks. Despite what some would have you believe, lawyers are people too, and therefore susceptible to the same bias, whether unwitting or not. The answer to the question seems to be maybe.

What the study found -- which makes perfect sense to me -- is that whether a beard is a plus or minus really comes down to which field you're trying to get a job in. According to the study, people expect men with beards (and glasses) to be in jobs like doctor, professor, psychologist or pastor, whereas clean-shaven men are seen as a better fit for positions like salesman, politician, lawyer or managing director

The bottom line? Much as you might decide how to dress at work based on what your colleagues are wearing, the best way to get a sense of what impact your beard might have on your career prospects may be to take a look around your office.
If a lot of your colleagues have facial hair too, you're probably OK. But if you're the only bearded one in the office, you might want to get shaving.

Erring then on the side of caution, I'd lean toward shaving the beard, unless it makes you look unduly youthful.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:35 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

As somebody with a beard, I am amazed that this even comes up. Do women have to worry about having curls or straight hair, above or below the shoulders, etc., and their "employability" with that style?

I've never heard anything about hairstyles but some career services' offices will tell women to wear skirts to interviews.
posted by useyourmachinegunarm at 5:42 PM on March 29, 2011

What city is this firm in? What position are you applying for? Do you break out or anything, or is it just a 5 o'clock shadow you're worried about?
posted by J. Wilson at 5:49 PM on March 29, 2011

I'd rather not answer further questions or post photos, since I'm already worried about outing myself to my current employer. Great responses so far, thanks.
posted by naju at 6:01 PM on March 29, 2011

Leenie: yes. Yes, we do.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:03 PM on March 29, 2011 [8 favorites]

Do you break out or anything, or is it just a 5 o'clock shadow you're worried about?

Not much of a problem, mostly just that shadow/discoloration. Like a brown Homer Simpson (okay, slightly exaggerating!)
posted by naju at 6:12 PM on March 29, 2011

I would shave. I worked for 6 years among two different biglaw firms. Last year, I sat on the summer associate committee, which decided who would get a full time job. The talk, when it came to hiring, was always about "the right fit," which meant, ideally, someone with a witty, bright personality but who was also able to conform in every way to the most conservative, corporate environment without complaint.

Beards don't fit into the most conservative, corporate environment. Also, if your mom thinks you look like a terrorist with your beard, there's a non-zero chance the profusion of white people interviewing you will think the same. You probably noticed there's a lot of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice floating out there, right? I doubt it's enough for anyone you meet to start cracking terrorist jokes after your interview, but (a) they might, and (b) your beard might unconsciously give them reason to dislike you.

I don't see how your darkly pigmented cheeks give you any such problems. If you have a problem with a 5 o'clock shadow, shave (twice) a few hours before your interview.

Basically, I'm saying that if there's any racism at play during your interview, it'll be aroused by your beard, not simply because you have a dark, South Asian complexion.
posted by hhc5 at 6:13 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, well, where I was going with that was that it might make a difference to the answer if you're in NYC, DC, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Seattle, Charlotte, or LA. It also might make a difference if you're trying to be a paralegal or an associate, although your excessive nervousness makes clear that you are in fact an attorney.

I'm a hairy white guy who looks like he has a 5 o'clock shadow right after he shaves. I don't think that's an issue in this kind of situation. Play it safe and shave.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:17 PM on March 29, 2011

Do women have to worry about having curls or straight hair, above or below the shoulders, etc., and their "employability" with that style?

I am a woman with longish, thick curly hair. I wear it down 99.9% of the time. I wear it back (smooth low ponytail) for interviews. (Or, at least i did until i started working at ad agencies. )

If my hair is the female equivalent to your beard, i vote shave it. If i can come into work with my hair down every day after i get the job, then it stands to reason you can grow your beard back.
posted by Kololo at 6:48 PM on March 29, 2011

Do what makes you comfortable. Imagine getting that job and having to shave every single day because that's what you did at the interview.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:27 PM on March 29, 2011

Cut it as close cropped as you can get it without it just looking like scruff. Long beards are "terrorist", short beards are George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:55 PM on March 29, 2011

So... I ended up shaving, and it looks pretty objectively awful. I look more respectable and intelligent with a short, close-cropped beard. I have at least 2 1/2 weeks until the interview and my hair grows quickly, so I think I'm just gonna let it grow back!
posted by naju at 9:12 PM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

As somebody with a beard, I am amazed that this even comes up. Do women have to worry about having curls or straight hair, above or below the shoulders, etc., and their "employability" with that style?

Oh my god, yes. I've been told to my face and read in countless publications that curly hair is "messy" and "unprofessional" and that it should be permed or blowndry into a respectable style.

I think neat and trimmed for our OP is better than raw and miserable. This sounds like a time to value common sense over the "typical wisdom."
posted by desuetude at 10:45 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to second desuetude's comment and go with the OPs decision about staying with the beard. The only thing worse than someone else judging you by appearances is you second guessing yourself or feeling uncomfortable. Go with what leaves you feeling the most self-confident.
posted by michswiss at 10:52 PM on March 29, 2011

I'm in a Big Law law firm, have interviewed literally hundreds of candidates, and (coincidentally) sport a popular-in-the-mid-90s beard-moustache combo. Keep the beard, shave the beard, it really doesn't matter, so long as you're otherwsie dressed and groomed appropriately.

What matters infinitely more is learning something about the firm with which you're interviewing (recent victories, kinds of clients they represent, their more well-known partners, areas of expertise, etc.), arming yourself with thoughtful, relevant questions that permit some real back-and-forth discussion and generally coming across as someone your interviewers would trust and would like to work with. If you can do all that, you will be miles ahead of the competition, I guarantee you.
posted by hawkeye at 11:06 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do women have to worry about having curls or straight hair, above or below the shoulders, etc., and their "employability" with that style?

I would guess that women have even more of these kinds of decisions to make. Clothes (it wasn't so long ago that wearing a pants suit was risky), makeup (not too much, but enough to not look dowdy), hair (I always wear my (long, blond) hair tied back for interviews.

I would generally say shave for a Big Law interview, but in this case I think a neat beard is fine.
posted by Pax at 10:26 AM on March 30, 2011

I have a short, neatly trimmed beard and it has not caused me any problems getting a biglaw offer or a clerkship (no strange reactions either).

Actually, the only time I ran into problems was interviewing for a job waiting tables. The manager not only told me I'd have to shave it if I worked there, but also seemed miffed that I had the temerity to show up sporting facial hair.
posted by dredge at 4:27 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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