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I manage the faculty for a training program that provides urban young adults with hands-on skill development, college credits, and paid corporate internships. Many of my students have some confusion regarding what is acceptable business dress and style.
We recently had a discussion about braided hair on young men, and whether this hairstyle was appropriate for an information technology position in a mid- to large-size corporation. Our general reaction as a staff was: Yes, times are changing, but in general, conservative styles will get you through the interview process more easily and ultimately land you a job. What is your opinion?
Applying for a job implies that you’re interested in becoming part of an organization that already has its own standards. If you show you respect these standards through your dress and appearance, you have a leg up over the person who doesn’t.
Therein is the key issue: Like it or not, your job search is not just about you, it’s about how you stack up against the other candidates.
Remember, for one firm, the braids may not be a problem, but for another they may be the difference between getting the job or not. My litmus test for what is or isn’t appropriate is simple: If people focus on my clothes or the way I look—“why is he dressed like that?”—rather than on me, then my clothes or appearance are negatively affecting my success. And it goes without saying that, regardless of your wardrobe and hairstyle, being neat and clean is a must.
A version of this article originally appeared on April 3, 2005, in Peter Post's "Etiquette at Work" column for the Boston Globe.