If a candidate is very hairy on the chest and back, should they just shave right down every day to below their collar line?

Recruiting Animal

This question actually came up on last week's radio show with a hilarious response by guest recruiter Joshua Letourneau...check out my music list for the audio clip, provided for your listening pleasure courtesy of the host himself. Thanks, Animal!

Dear Recruiting Animal,

This is an interesting question because one person’s preference is another person’s turn-off, and personal hygiene is -- well, personal. I'm glad you brought it up, though.

I used to think that hair had nothing to do with hiring decisions, until I had a candidate whose toupee slid down the back of his neck in the final interview due to excessive sweating. He did not get the job offer. Neither did the candidate who shaved and waxed his head until it was shiny, because the hiring manager had a distinct bias against bald men (something to do with a messy divorce, I later discovered). Chemistry is funny that way.

But before you begin stocking disposable razors in your bottom desk drawer, take a moment to look at the bigger picture of the match you are trying to make. How diverse is the environment you want to place the candidate in? Is it a more casual or formal dress code? Is the hiring manager a stickler for details, or more strategic in focus? These can give you some hints about whether or not you're proposing a good match.

On the candidate side, this is another time to watch carefully for trends of similar behavior. Are teeth unbrushed? Does clothing look stained or slept in? Is there a pervasive odor from all of that hair? People grow long hair for lots of reasons (self-expression, medical conditions, forgetfulness, laziness)...regardless, we're not talking about hair growth here, but one’s personal choice to keep it under control.

A good rule of thumb for personal appearance is that if a problem can be fixed easily (like spinach in your teeth, or hair that can be trimmed), you mention it to the person. And if it can't, you leave it alone. If you absolutely must have The Chat with a candidate about personal hygiene, here's a tip: be direct, and be respectful. The classic outline for an intervention goes something like this:

This is what I see. You've got a lot of body hair.

This is how it makes me feel. I'm concerned that this will draw more negative than positive attention to you in the competition for this job.

This is what I want. It's my job to present you with opportunities for which you can be a top contender. I know this employer pretty well, and recommend that you keep your hair trimmed below the collar and wrist lines if you'd like to be considered seriously.

And here are the consequences if you choose differently. Of course, it's up to you to trim or not. If it's important to you to keep the body hair, then maybe this isn't the right opportunity for you. Let's move on and look for something in a more diverse environment where the hair won't be a distraction.

And if pervasive odor is part of the problem, you might consider having the conversation over the phone.

Got a question you'd like answered in this weekly forum? Submit it here.

Views: 290

Comment by Joshua Letourneau on April 16, 2008 at 1:32pm

Now this is true A-level talent, my Friends :)
Comment by Andy Headworth on April 16, 2008 at 1:43pm
What about hairy ears? or 'mad' eyebrows? Do they count? (and no I don't, before you ask!!!)
Comment by Claudia Faust on April 16, 2008 at 1:46pm
Well, never let it be said that this group shies away from a lively discussion.

I actually agree with Karen that a recruiter's role is to help the hiring manager understand the supply-demand economics impacting their search for talent. And in that process we do sometimes have to help them see beyond what is truly unimportant.

That said, I also believe that the primary role of the recruiter is to make a Match, not just a hire. And a good match takes into consideration all of the factors: technical, social, and cultural. As the recruiter, I ought to know when to fight for the candidate, and when to just close it off.

I stand by my advice. Josh, don't you have a day job? :-)
Comment by Steve Sill on April 16, 2008 at 2:06pm
Unless, a person has hygiene issues or needs help with how to dress... leave it alone. To take issues with physical appearance does lead down a dangerous path. What will you recommend next... and tummy tuck, face lift, hair implants... etc.(all of which would get you sued)?

Now with the fun... the only reason Gen Y does not favor body hair is that they are only now reaching the age at which it will grow. That will soon change as they lose their hair up top and begin to cherish what little hair they do have. A hairy chest should only be accompanied by Gold Chains. Lastly if you must do a comb over, do not under any circumstance go out on windy days.
Comment by Anthony J. Meaney on April 16, 2008 at 2:08pm
I once knew a guy who was completely bald but extremely hairy everywhere else. I mean downright furry. This guy shaved his neck to his collar line. When he was in a t-shirt or shirtless it was a little off-putting to say the least. I guess excessive neck hair might fall into the same realm as excessive nose or ear hair.
Comment by Joshua Letourneau on April 16, 2008 at 2:21pm
Time Out - what happened here? We're having fun, joking around, and then this? Every time I turn around, there's a new reason somebody can get sued. Instead of hedging against every frivolous lawsuit that we can be hit with, let's just get back to work.
Hopefully my comment here about getting back to work doesn't break any laws, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Comment by Amie Ernst on April 16, 2008 at 2:57pm

I think you are missing the point with your post.. You can not just work as you want until someone sues you and be unethical or discriminating to get the positions filled until that happens. This leads up to recruiting being dealt a blow like finance has with Sarbanes Oxley headaches. If we can not act morally and legally responsible in our hiring practices, then the federal government will come in at some point and make sure we are doing it. That would be a sad sorry state of HR / Recruiting. Yes, recruiting is as much sales as it is HR, but when you let the almighty dollar take over in your hiring practices, then you not leave yourself liable, but every other professional who will have to conform to new laws because of one persons recklessness.

Yes, the discussion was also some slapstick humor, but there is an issue here that is usually simmering.. do people in our industry consider themselves HR professionals or Sales professionals? I think that it hovers more on sales generating than it should. I can tell you that I do work personally with a commission structure, and I know the drive to make more money is always a desire for me, but I am not going to compromise to get a hire.

Should we live in fear of lawsuits? No, but if you dont play with fire to begin with, you wont get burned. As a professional though, you do have to comply with the laws already in place.

Just my 2cents...

Comment by Slouch on April 16, 2008 at 3:07pm
Hey karen, you should put a link up on Jim's blog in your post linking back here to this original post so that your readers have some point of reference not to mention that it would be appropriate. Afterall, it's the basis of blog etiquette.
Comment by Amitai Givertz on April 16, 2008 at 3:17pm
Ah, just like the good ol' days. Rock on, Tommy!
Comment by Joshua Letourneau on April 16, 2008 at 3:32pm
Amie, I understand where you are coming from. I'm just saying we were having fun and then a refrigerator dropped on our heads! Of course, I know that I can't tell candidates to shave their heads (and I know I can't do it for them). At the same time, I have to be honest that I'm not worried about every little thing I can be sued for or go to jail for :) What I'm saying is that there is a balance between being overly fearful and not fearful at all.
This has been like a huge 'buzzkill' - I would just like to see everyone get back to having fun. I mean, I'm talking about gorilla hands and shaved arms one minute, and them I'm talking about lawsuits the next? This industry is classic :)


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