DEAR HARRIETTE: I have brightly colored hair and a nose piercing. I know my image is not always seen as professional, and I find that to be a reason why I get turned down for jobs. However, my image is an expression of myself, and I am not willing to change. I honestly feel that times are changing with my generation starting to move into the workplace. People should not judge each other based on how they look, but by what they can do. I am well-qualified in my field, and I feel that should speak for itself. What do you think about the professional world evolving? -- Self-Expression and Work
DEAR SELF-EXPRESSION AND WORK: It is true that at this time in history, the workplace offers much broader opportunity for potential employees to express themselves freely. Yet it is still largely true that for many, if not most, jobs, dressing in some version of professional attire and styling is preferable. Many employers look to hire people with the necessary skills and worldview to match or at least fit in to the culture of their company.
The good news is that in many creative fields, there is a lot of flexibility around piercings, tattoos and hair color as well as style of dress. If you look hard enough, you are bound to find a company in a creative field that may welcome you if you have the skill set required. This may require you to move. Bigger urban centers tend to be more welcoming of diversity of all types.
Since you have experienced rejection firsthand that you attribute to your appearance, you may also want to reconsider how you present yourself in a job interview. Without compromising your integrity, what choices could you make that define you more professionally without denying the core of who you are? A mistake that people sometimes make is not understanding that it is possible to “be yourself” while also being respectful of what is expected of you where you are going. When you learn how to balance your personal desires with the requirements before you, you will likely find your life much more effective and fulfilling.