Q: I usually sport a two- to three-day growth of beard as part of my personal look, and I wear an earring—kind of a hipster look, you might say. Now I’m thinking of getting a tattoo, and I was going to put it on my forearm; but my boyfriend suggested I locate it in a more private place so it won’t be visible when I’m looking for a new job. What do you suggest, Mr. Manners?
A: I wish that everyone heeded the age-old admonition not to judge a book by its cover. Alas, books and people are judged by their covers and their clothes—or, in your case, personal style decisions such as facial hair and body art. This might sound a bit stodgy, but the fact is that how you present yourself in the workplace does matter, whether you’ve just graduated from college or you’re in the middle of your career.
If you have doubts about how to dress or groom yourself, I think it’s generally best to err on the conservative side. Those of us who wouldn’t even consider wearing a suit to work often put one on when we’re interviewing for a job. The same could be said for getting a shorter-than-usual haircut. But closely consider the company in question: The look you put together when employed at a software startup or as a barista will certainly differ from the way you suit up for a bank, law firm, or CPA consultancy.
Now, sometimes companies make life easier—at least in terms of clarity—when they post an official dress code. For instance, I know of several large companies whose dress codes not only prohibit men from wearing earrings; facial hair is also verboten. As an example, one major U.S. company has only recently started allowing mustaches. The company’s policies state that mustaches must be neatly trimmed, no longer than the corners of the mouth, and grown during the employee’s vacation. As if that weren’t enough, the policies also say that sideburns cannot pass the earlobes. Got that? On the other hand, many police departments allow mustaches (no surprise there), but untrimmed beards are prohibited because they’re said to look unprofessional.
Bottom line: In most workplaces, it’s generally acceptable for men (including transmen) to sport a soul patch or a two- to-three day growth of beard. But if you’re still not sure, try to glean clues by visiting the office ahead of time or asking a friend or colleague in that same line of work or at the same company.
As has happened with facial hair, workplace policies regarding tattoos and piercings are morphing rapidly. Although some workplaces still ban visible ink and metal, in others they’re considered on par with stylish haircuts as simply another way to distinguish yourself. As one manager told me when I was researching my new book, “It doesn’t matter to me if my employees show off their body art, because it doesn’t mean they work less, make them stupider, or leave them any less of a person.”
Still, if you’re one of those who bristle at the idea of shaping his or her sartorial sensibilities “just” for an interview, I’d suggest focusing on the goal of landing a good job. Think of it this way: The idea is to take appearances completely out of the equation, so that you can present your qualifications and sell yourself without distraction. Once you’ve been hired, presumably you can be freer in how you dress.