a poorly timed rebellious phase
February 20, 2012 12:47 AM   Subscribe

I am going to be interviewing for jobs soon. My hair is currently a rather vibrant shade of purple. How much of a problem is this going to be?

Me: female college student, soon to be interviewing for (non-software/computer) engineering co-ops/internships. Appearance-wise, a "tiny asian girl" (not my own words, but pretty much accurate...). The hair in question is neat, cut in a bob, healthy-looking, and approximately #660066. Will this be all right, if I dress conservatively, am extremely polite, know my stuff and am generally a kickass candidate?

(possible anticipatory followup question: does anyone have any experience dyeing over Goldwell Elumen hair colour?
posted by btfreek to Work & Money (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It really, really depends on the job you're applying to. Can you name the city and general field (electrical? civil? aerospace?)?
posted by hattifattener at 12:52 AM on February 20, 2012

It depends very much on the kind of jobs you want. Where I work (software engineering - I know you said that's not what you do), that'd be a complete non-issue. If you're working in the defense industry, my impression is that things are more conservative regardless of the kind of engineering you do. Can you give us a bit more information? What kind of engineer you are, what sort of setting you're looking at (academia, or what industry in the private sector? Company sizes?)

Having said that, my guess is that you'd be fine with that hair - a lot of internship interviews are over the phone, not in-person, which should give you a chance to feel out how uptight the organization is about appearance. And as a college kid, my experience (I'm in my mid-20s, so not long out of college) is that you'll have a lot more leeway on personal choices like that anyway, in a way that doesn't apply to, say, dressing professionally.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 12:52 AM on February 20, 2012

I think it depends on the company. I had a job interview and opted not to get coloured streaks put in my hair. Everyone at the company is under 30, we party together, my boss plays loud music. A few months after getting this job, they gave me money to get the streaks put in my hair as a cancer-research fundraiser! If your interviewers have piercings, tatoos, or dyed hair, I'd say it might even work to your advantage.

That being said - if this is not the case, I wouldn't risk it. It might be fine. But it might not. You don't know what their perceptions will be. A job interview is all about first-impressions.

Along that note - even if your interviewer doesn't consciously see it as a problem, there's the unconscious perception. That is HUGE. This is where the interviewer thinks "They're both really well qualified....tough decision. But I just have a better feeling about [other candidate].

(I also chopped the long hair that I loved but that made me look like a kid before job hunting. I doubt it was a huge factor, but I got a job I love right away, so no regrets.)

Practically - if you have long hair, try a peek-a-boo style. If you dye over the top portion of your hair and leave the purple underneath, you can wear it down for the professional interview look, and then when you put it up, you've got the sassy purple style.

Best of luck interviewing!
posted by Jade_bug at 1:03 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been told that it's good form to call and ask what dress code the office culture has and then go from there. If you get "suit and tie" answers, then maybe consider dying your hair. Otherwise, rock that berry-colored bob like no other.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:13 AM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! I'm based on the west coast, and am majoring in mechanical/mechatronics engineering, but I'm casting a fairly wide net in my search... These are all short-ish (~4-8 month) placements and I'm still in the process of figuring out what I really want to do.
posted by btfreek at 1:16 AM on February 20, 2012

You should be okay with that colour, but if you're applying to a more conservative environment, consider grabbing some Manic Panic or the like in a much darker purple and laying that over, bringing it down to a #330033 or potentially darker.

I did this recently, where my Hot Hot Pink jumped down to a nice Infra-Red. Conservative enough for interviews/serious business, edgy enough for, well, being my hair.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:35 AM on February 20, 2012

It depends on the company. I've worked for a software company that explicitly forbade "unnatural" hair colours, and I've worked for a bank that explicitly did not care about hair colour if your general appearance is tidy and professional. I'd say that if you had a lot of work experience or special expertise, you could probably chance it; however, being just out of university, I'd err on the conservative side.
posted by neushoorn at 1:37 AM on February 20, 2012

Best answer: An alternative to dyeing your hair or taking a gamble: you could wear a natural-looking wig for work. A friend of mine loves dyeing her hair every color of the rainbow, but also works in an ultra conservative workplace. So she wears a wig. Her coworkers and HR don't know her real hair is pink (or purple or whatever color combo she currently fancies), and they can't tell she's wearing a wig (or, if they can tell, they haven't said anything about it). She wore the wig to her interview, since she knew beforehand about their stance on dress code. I believe her wig was reasonably cheap to purchase too, considering how comfortable it is to wear and how easily it passes as her real hair.
posted by cuculine at 2:09 AM on February 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

I nth previous posters' opinions that it depends on the company.

As another perspective - check out this interviewer's dilema in judging non-mainstream appearance.
posted by Jade_bug at 2:45 AM on February 20, 2012

I think you shouldn't take the risk.

One time, when I was securely employed, I shaved my head to a "peach fuzz" just to see what the experience was like. It looked amazing, for a while, then it became unmaintainable. So I started to grow it back. [1]

Meanwhile, I decided to apply for other jobs. By the time I was interviewing, my hair had done that thing where it goes up and then gets just long enough to start keeling over. I looked like one of those aggressive comediennes with horn-rimmed glasses and Very Wacky personalities, but I accepted that as a consequence of shaving off my hair, remediable only with time. The really cool finishing touch was the iron train-track braces on my upper and lower teeth, though. I always thought it was the combination of the two that clinched my entire lack of success at securing alternative employment after 11 interviews (my usual hit rate was, and remains, at least 1 in 10). I guess I'll never know the real reasons, though.

But I'd dye your hair back to normal. You can always sniff out the company culture and dye it back if you're sure they won't mind.

[1] It took six years to grow it to shoulder length, whereupon I took it to WellKnownWalkInCheapHaircutChain to get the ends trimmed. The girl said "do you want it feathered towards the ends?" I said yes, then watched her nostrils flare in panic as she accidentally lopped off the entire right side to mid-ear length again. I tried to live with it for a few days, then had it bobbed. But I digress.
posted by tel3path at 2:58 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd day this hair color is not out of the ordinary nowadays. I've been in hiring positions and this color would not influence my decision in any way, as long as the person behaves professionally and takes care of their body as is suitable for team work.
posted by knz at 3:09 AM on February 20, 2012

The way I think about it is that it's just one of those things where you'll never know. If you stay purple and don't get hired, you may always be second-guessing yourself that it was because of the color. So in this economy, I'd vote for going conservative with the interview look. You can always recolor once you're in.

As far as coloring over it, I'd go to a salon. I've just had a few too many "I can do it!" from-the-box experiences where I've ended up pure black or orange or something hideous. If you can afford it, go to a reputable colorist.
posted by kinetic at 3:49 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, go to a salon! I had a real "hair don't" once trying to self- apply highlights that left me looking like an orange skunk and had to have it fixed by someone who knew what she was doing. Seconding go more conservative for your job search, and it you get hired by a place that does not care you can always bring the purple back. My husband always had jobs where nobody cared how he looks or dresses, but in this economy better to give yourself every advantage to get hired, and a neutral look can't hurt.

Good luck in your job search.
posted by mermayd at 4:16 AM on February 20, 2012

If it mattered, you probably wouldn't want to work there anyway.
posted by empath at 4:31 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

In this day and age, with the economy like it is, why would you do anything that might work against you? Change your hair color. You can always change it back later.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:49 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As someone who used to do hiring in a (non-engineering) workplace, I couldn't have cared less if somebody had purple hair and blue skin with green polka dots, but since I shared the hiring decisions with another person, the fact that I was okay with that wasn't enough to get the person the job. And with the economy being the way it is these days, that could be a deciding factor.

A friend of mine came home from work one day and was a little hurt that she had been told to "tone it down" with regards to hair colour and dress (she was an undergrad research assistant to a psych professor at the time). I grudgingly reminded her that once she had a few more years in the field and had distinguished herself, she would be able to wear whatever the heck she wanted. It pained me to say that to her, especially since I'm a tattooed lady with a love for bright hair colours.

I'm a big fan and former wearer of the Elumen shade you list above. To get rid of it, I pretty much had to dye it over with a much darker colour and let it grow out. What seemed like an eternity later, I went to bleach a few streaks to put more colour in, and the Elumen was still under the dye, vibrant as ever. Nthing all the suggestions to have this fixed at a salon, since you can never be too sure how one dye will react with another.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:19 AM on February 20, 2012

If it mattered, you probably wouldn't want to work there anyway.

This is kind of a strange thing to say. It's the same attitude as the one you're supposedly deploring (appearance, and concerns about appearance, communicate something important), just mirror imaged. I don't really think that makes it better. There are all kinds of decent and historical reasons, inertia, basically, why someone might not be thrilled to hire someone with purple hair. They might not be great reasons, but they don't necessarily communicate membership in the John Birch Society either. I'd probably put it the opposite way: If someone shows up at an interview with purple hair*, they don't care enough about making a living to be a good worker.

I wouldn't hire you. Part of interviewing is showing that you understand that the interview is a time when you do absolutely everything to put the focus on your work, while also showing that you understand generally what the middle of the road is in workplace culture. If you came in loudly chewing gum, dressed in sweatpants, with a resume filled with typos, or with flip flops on, I would be an idiot to think you were communicating anything about your intelligence or your ability to actually do the job at issue. But I wouldn't hire you because you would have demonstrated that you either don't understand (in a very fundamental way) the importance and purpose of an interview, or you don't care and think the rules of interviews don't apply to you. If the interview is the first business date, interview presentation is where you show you can clean up nice and be charming and attentive to the potential love interest you don't know well enough to take for granted.

*I think we can all agree here that purple hair is not within the bounds of workplace normal, unless there is specific information to the contrary. Indeed, the question makes no sense otherwise. Look, I have a bunch of tattoos, and I make sure to keep them covered in job interviews. My feeling that they have no bearing on my performance (which is absolutely true) does not overwhelm my sense that interview decorum frowns on the slightly unusual.
posted by OmieWise at 5:57 AM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with Omie that if in doubt, you should be doing every little thing to be the absolute best candidate when you interview. That said, I wouldn't not hire you. I would expect recent graduates applying for short-term internships to still have a toe through the door to their student life. If it were an issue, I'd say "you are an ideal candidate, but our dress code does not include purple hair--are you willing to colour it naturally to get the job?"

But I'm not the one interviewing you. And I have no idea about office culture in your field in California. I would speak to your professors and other support staff in your department about this (they're supposed to be there not just to teach you but help you transition to the outside world). If they can't give you definitive answers, they can probably direct you either to people in HR at the sort of companies you're looking at or some graduates from previous years who have gone on to work for those companies.

You'll probably start to get the same answer from them though: it's worth being 100% your best (in their eyes) at the interview so stick to a natural colour until you're safely in the job.
posted by K.P. at 6:15 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a mechanical engineer, hi!

In my experience, you may get a little side-eye for the hair during the internship interview, and I imagine most people would comment on it good-naturedly. It will probably not count against you if you indicate that you're willing to grow it out or dye over before the internship starts.

At some firms it won't matter at all - interns aren't client-facing and it's generally understood that undergraduates are experimenting with hair color and such.

A close friend of mine went to his internship interview with a blue, spikey mohawk and he still got the job. IIRC he shaved his head before work started.
posted by muddgirl at 6:17 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even people who say they would still hire you suggest that would be a factor you have to overcome. For example:
I've been in hiring positions and this color would not influence my decision in any way, as long as the person behaves professionally and takes care of their body as is suitable for team work.
It will probably not count against you if you indicate that you're willing to grow it out or dye over before the internship starts.
That, as much as anything, says to me that you should play it safe and dye it back. Even if you are not disqualified because of purple hair, it is at least likely to be a subtle factor you have to overcome -- and if there is another qualified candidate they like, you might not get the opportunity.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:25 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just dye it back. Game theory says so!
posted by MangyCarface at 6:34 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I knew a lady who was a mass spectrometry goddess, who I'm pretty sure had a brilliant pink stripe dyed in her had when she was hired by a slightly less uptight version of the company I used to work for.

For that matter, I have a hairdo that's somewhere between Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn and Rasputin and the only person who ever said anything about it to me was a maintenance guy asking if anyone ever said anything about it. It was shorter during my initial interview, but was pretty much where it is today when I was converted from contractor to full time.

Today, the older and wiser version of myself vague considers cutting it back when I go looking for work again but part of me thinks I should just leave it as a means of weeding out potential employers who are more about style over substance.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:54 AM on February 20, 2012

J. Wilson didn't quote the second part of my comment, which was that some firms don't care at all. It's really company-dependent.
posted by muddgirl at 7:11 AM on February 20, 2012

My experience has been that the United States workplace culture is significantly more conservative than Canada and that may be informing the reactions you are getting. I'm a librarian (so, traditionally, a conservative environment) and my hair cut/colour (currently a chelsea with purple bangs) has not been held against me for the past decade or so.

The West coast seems even more uncaring about "traditional" appearance. Alberta I would say may be the one exception, but as noted above, it is really dependent on the firm.

If you feel you have many interviews set up then I would risk it and see what you can get by being yourself. If you are kickass at the internship, the differention of "purple-haired engineer" may make you memorable.
posted by saucysault at 7:38 AM on February 20, 2012

I think that it's a bit much to come into the interview with purple hair, even if it wouldn't matter a whit once you're hired. What about using a wig at the onset?
posted by desuetude at 7:46 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

And when it comes to hair for women I think the ratio of what is acceptable goes from normal hair cut and colour ---- > normal haircut, crazy colour ------> crazy hair cut, normal colour -------> crazy hair cut, crazy colour. So you are pretty good on that scale.
posted by saucysault at 7:47 AM on February 20, 2012

I wouldn't risk it.

There have been a lot of comments like that, but, what's the real risk? Not getting a job, or getting a job where you don't like the culture? I know you said you're not in computer engineering, but just as an example, I wouldn't worry about it if you were, not because companies tend to be more laid back, but because the CE job market is so good that there's no risk of not getting a job, if you're even marginally competent.

When I interviewed, I'd wear something between shorts and a t-shirt, and a sweater and jeans, depending on the weather. At conservative companies this meant waiting in the lobby with twenty interviewees in suits, in my sandals. Luckily for me, the CE job market was solid back when I was coming out of school (2005), and I got a job everywhere I interviewed (with one exception). But, if I hadn't gotten an offer because of how I dressed, I wouldn't have wanted to work there. Why would I want to work at some place that's so stodgy that they'll reject a candidate because of how he's dressed? You're interviewing them, too.
posted by suncoursing at 8:06 AM on February 20, 2012

what's the real risk? Not getting a job, or getting a job where you don't like the culture?

Really? Maybe your economic situation is different from mine, but I'd much rather have a job where i didn't like the "culture" than have no job at all. As far as I'm concerned, I make it clear that working at whatever job I'm interviewing for is my fondest wish, until I get an offer. I make my own decisions about which offers to take, for my own reasons, and those might well have to do with workplace culture. I don't feel or display false loyalty to employers, but neither do I hold idiotic loyalty to the personal fashion choices that might prevent me from earning a living. I don't give people reasons to reject me for issues unrelated to my abilities.
posted by OmieWise at 8:36 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You say you will be going to mulitple interviews possibly, and this is the first. So, you will come across a range of company cultures and this first one may or may not be the most liberal. If you have possibly multiple interviews, it seems to me you will be stressing the hair color detail for any other interviews you may have. If that might be the case, why put yourself through the stress of that detail. I vote for dyeing it back just to take away that factor of potential stress.

You said you are Asian, so putting black hair color over purple is much easier than making black hair purple (as I'm sure you know!) I have worked with the professional line of Goldwell colors, so going over purple with a black will do the least amount of damage to your hair. You might even get away with putting a semi-permanent color black on top of the purple, which would be ideal, in my opinion.
posted by foxhat10 at 8:46 AM on February 20, 2012

I sent MeMail.
posted by foxhat10 at 8:55 AM on February 20, 2012

Best answer: Honestly, I would go to the drugstore and buy several bottles of Fanci-Full (a temporary, shampoo-out hair color) and use them before interviews.

At the interview, you'll see whether purple hair would work for that particular employer. But using the Fanci-Full will give you the benefits of dyeing your hair black or brown-black or whatever a reasonable natural color is while still letting you keep the awesome purple.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:05 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an aerospace engineer in the Bay Area. I've seen one Asian girl at work with a bold red streak in her hair, and there's one guy I know who wears a fauxhawk, and another guy who has shoulder-length hair - I believe they're all recent college grads. I don't know if that's how they showed up to their interviews, though (long-haired guy probably did, since I don't think he could grow it out that fast). I'm female but relatively androgynous, and when I came to interview my hair was short enough that the security guard didn't know whether to direct me to the men's or ladies' restroom. I still got the job.

All that said, the vast majority of engineers I work with are more conservative in appearance than that. We're not a suit-and-tie workplace by any means, but hair like yours would be a pretty big outlier, and I feel like that's probably true for most aerospace companies (though there is one space company I can think of that especially prides itself on being young and edgy). Academia and research seemed less staid in my experience, and there are probably some really small firms out there where the overall vibe is less traditional (though small size could backfire if a place did turn out to be conservative, since nonconformance would stand out even more). And mechanical engineering is broader than aerospace, which does skew somewhat more conservative among engineering fields. Still, though, I'd think it would be safest all around to take the purple hair out of your hiring equation.
posted by sigmagalator at 11:50 AM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks again everyone. I might go talk to one of the co-ordinators at the university, but it seems like the general consensus is that to play it safe, I should lose the purple (sigh.) Now looking at temporary solutions (oooh, I hadn't thought of a wig.. and does that fanci-full stuff really work?), since I don't want to lose this fantastic colour until absolutely necessary...
posted by btfreek at 11:55 AM on February 20, 2012

I don't feel or display false loyalty to employers, but neither do I hold idiotic loyalty to the personal fashion choices that might prevent me from earning a living.

It's about more than fashion choices. To me, if I'm applying for the job, and they reject me because of something superficial, they're doing me a favor. I actually did get rejected for a job I applied for because I wasn't dressed professionally enough for the interview (I wore khaki's and a polo instead of a suit). I ended up taking a job with no dress code at all for the same salary, and I'm way happier here than I would have been at the other place.
posted by empath at 12:01 PM on February 20, 2012

Fanci-full worked for me in my blue-haired days. I have dark brown fuzzy white-lady hair, so ymmv. It's really affordable, and doesn't gunk up or dry out your hair, in my experience.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:09 PM on February 20, 2012

I ended up taking a job with no dress code at all for the same salary, and I'm way happier here than I would have been at the other place.

I'm glad that worked out for you, seriously, but what if it hadn't? What if you'd received an offer for $5k less, $10k less, no other offers at all? The point here is not that these things never work out, but that choosing to not maximize your chances of getting any particular job is a luxury. Of course you have the choice, but it isn't always between stuffy uptight devil corp. and rad progressive workplace. Sometimes the difference is between an offer, and no offers.
posted by OmieWise at 12:18 PM on February 20, 2012

Sometimes the difference is between an offer, and no offers.

We're not talking about an ex-con looking for a job in the mail-room, here. She's a fulltime college student looking for an internship, not something to put food on the table for a family of four.
posted by empath at 1:33 PM on February 20, 2012

It may be different in Canada, but in the US for mechanical engineering positions, 'project experience' can include more than just internships. On-campus research, large school projects for credit, and so on, can reflect equally well.

Not that internships are important, but I think the case can easily be overstated.
posted by muddgirl at 2:01 PM on February 20, 2012

...Not that internships aren't important.
posted by muddgirl at 2:04 PM on February 20, 2012

Both my current (non-software) engineering firm, and the firm where I worked as a student were surprisingly conservative. We're definitely business casual, but a very very boring business casual. No one dresses in a way that would draw attention to themselves, and I guess we all just picked this up from everyone else. No dyed hair (almost no one dyes their hair at all), no piercings, no cool hair cuts, no tattoos, no bright/interesting clothes, nothing. Also nothing tight or revealing (and I mean moderate V-neck revealing), and no heels.

So, I vote for dye it back, then once you get the job and they know you better, you can dye it watever you want.
posted by piper4 at 6:36 PM on February 20, 2012

Like everyone else said, it depends on the company.

I have never worked for a company--corporate or ad agency--where any employee was allowed to have any extreme looks---no outwardly showing tats (little showing fine, full sleeve-work? No way), piercings beyond a nostril or eyebrow (not multiples), for hair color or odd cuts---no way unless it was a few strands.

They are worried about the outward appearance to their customers. Even if you're customer service sitting in a hole of call centers, you move about the company floors, Mr. Million Dollar Client/High Influence Client walks by and OMG the world is going to end.

Shame but true. Trust me, I work in corp and every year it's a debate on letting women wear *gasp* open toed high heel shoes ("toes aren't professional").

Ugh. The man keeping us down.
posted by stormpooper at 12:48 PM on February 21, 2012

You're at University; ask the Career Dept.; they may know about the companies that are hiring.

As a woman in a traditionally male field, anything perceived as frivolous may affect interviewers' perception of you as a kickass candidate. So, it may depend a lot on how risk-friendly you are.
posted by theora55 at 6:43 PM on February 21, 2012

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