Getting Too Old? Dye Your Hair Before The Interview!

Hide your Gray!Catchy title, eh? Let me explain.

In my job search I met a man who was extremely accomplished (an executive in transition). He had some gray, which is how I got to know him. This guy was doing a lot of networking, and eventually came to be one of the most connected people in my city. One day he showed up to the network meeting with beautiful jet-black (or very dark brown) hair. It was… interesting.

See, my hair isn’t really losing it’s color (I’m balding, that’s for another post :)), so I hadn’t really thought about coloring it. When he, as someone who I really respect, came in with colored hair, it was as if he was trying to hide something (his age). I’ve hired older people before (I’m in my 30’s in case you were wondering) and really respected what they brought to the table. And this guy would have been an awesome catch for any company. I couldn’t understand why he was coloring his hair.

So without going into one of my lengthy posts, with bullet points and opinions and all that, I’ll throw it to you… what do YOU think about this issue? Should he have colored his hair, or just left it? I do know that he spent a lot of time thinking about this, so it wasn’t just on a whim.

35 thoughts on “Getting Too Old? Dye Your Hair Before The Interview!”

  1. I would like to remind you that if you are women with “GREY” hair, we are talking about another dynamic. You mentioned that you are in your thirties, and I wonder if you have thought about what happens when you will turn gray.

    I respect this individual for wanting to feel good about himself, and please allow him to be how he wants to be, this is not your call! It’s about him, not you. Hire people for their talent, their value and leave the subjective judgment to yourself.

  2. Good point Denise, when I wrote this post I wasn’t thinking about women with grey/gray hair.

    I didn’t write this post to be a snotty 30ish person making fun of people who have gray hair. It was just a “what would you do” or “what should someone do” or “if you are the hiring manager, what would you think” post.

    Of course it’s not my call. But I do think it’s part of the first impression. I’ve seen people with horrible color jobs and formed an impression (I’m human). Subjective judgment sucks, I agree, and there are even laws to help us get past it, but it is rampant.

    So you called me on this, maybe I’m totally off-base, but I don’t think it’s uncommon, and I thought it would be an interesting discussion point – and I certainly appreciate your position.

    As for me, I wish I was going gray instead of bald. You see, I’d like to shave my head, but it’s deformed (really). Nonetheless, I’m guessing that in the next few years you’ll see bald Jason because I regularly shave it.

    Seriously, no harm or offense intended with this post.

  3. Jason,
    I did not take your comments as a “snotty 30ish person”, more as a person that needs to understand that people have the right to make choices without someone’s else’s judgments.
    My point is, why do not praise this person for taking some action to help him believe in himself, and do everything the “he” thinks will convey the best image of himself.

    That’s all I have, take what you want and leave the rest….

  4. I feel like I’m digging myself in a hole here. Thanks for helping me understand why he colored his hair, I agree that he should do things that are going to help him with his confidence, especially if it will help him land that job that he wants/needs.

  5. Hair dye is a touchy thing. It NEEDS to look natural, so have a professional do it. If you do it yourself, it will look like you’re trying to hide something. If it’s done right, then you will take years off your age.

    If you’re going to do it, do it right.

  6. Jason, this is a good topic. And a sensitive, touchy, very personal one for sure. The thing that I would add is that if you’re going to color, or highlight your hair, find a pro who knows HOW to do hair color so you don’t turn out looking like a wierd experiment or something. Seriously, just because you go to a professional doesn’t mean they are color specialists. I learned this tip from my own hair designer. So I would say find a specialist who is an expert, really knows his/her stuff, in the color processing arena so that it looks genuine and natural, if you elect to pursue this endeavor.

  7. Interesting topic! What I’ve noticed is that it seems to be accepted, and even expected that women color their hair. Not even to cover gray, but just for enhancement.

    As far as men, the color question seems more ambiguous. I know some younger men get highlights with positive response. I have also heard people comment in a negative manner about older men who dye their hair.

    I wonder at what age gray becomes a distinguishing factor rather than an aging indictment?

  8. Jason,

    It’s a very valid question on your part and concern on his part. We are told that age/wisdom/experience are virtues but often times, hiring practices tell us something very different. It’s tough to know how to play it.

    My guess is the guy had networked himself into a frenzy and wasn’t getting the bites that a man of his value should get. So, he tried something different. Can’t really blame him. Unfortunately, his methodology called more attention to his age and got him teh opposite reaction he was going for.

    Ironically, I just wrote about the age issue over at Marketing Profs Daily Fix. I’d love your take on it as well.

    http://www.mpdailyfix.com/2007/11/can_we_outgrow_marketing.html

    Drew

  9. So, now, not only are we judging a person on the fact that “HE” decided to color his hair, but this discussion has reached a new low in regard to what people are capable of in putting others down. How does your hair look?
    We should have the same passion for our health care and homeless in this country. A man colored his hair…WHO CARES!

    To take this to some professional level, it would be great to have input on what resources people could use to improve their image. Also, if you encounter someone that you thought could use advice with their image, how would you approach hem to let them know?

    My apologies, but I do not believe in putting down others and mocking them. Pretty easy to do when you do not know a name, face, or have to look the person inn the eye.

    To those who want to keep bringing up that age is a negative…try writing a marketing paper on the value of a human being. My next paper will be on the immaturity, lack of any appreciation and the lack of respect the youth of today exhibit. As today’s youth expects to have everything delivered to them immediately, think again…your job may be the next to go.

    Let’s write papers on how do we keep the standard of living in the US on a rise, as of now it is on a decline. Lets’ write a paper on how to keep jobs in the US, on how we can assure everyone in this country can get an education. Seems like hair color is a little silly to focus on.

    I think Bill Gates said it best when he addressed the graduates at Harvard…

    “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

    William Henry Gates III

  10. Interesting post, Jason!

    This is not an uncommon concern for mid-life job seekers, and for them it can affect confidence and be a source of anxiety. So, it is a real and a fair issue for discussion. To put it in perspective, I don’t think this is about judging anyone, nor is the central issue having or not having a professional color your hair.

    Rather, I see it as about using your personal image to support your brand. First, though, you need to know what your brand is, and then figure out the image that works. And while I’m not an image consultant, I’ll bet it won’t come down to hair color alone.

    But wait!

    Here’s a thought: On November 8, the “Brand You World Global Telesummit” will feature a panel discussion by image and personal branding professionals; they will discuss “Exude Your Brand: What Does Your Image Say About YOU?” So, I encourage your readers to register for the event at http://www.personalbrandingsummit.com

    See you there 

  11. They always say that you never have a chance to make a first impression. That’s why people go into interviews well dressed and groomed.

    Although I disagree with the process, having grey hair can make you look old which in turn can give an incorrect impression of who you are.

    If there is a job you really want, I really see no reason why you shouldn’t color your hair.

  12. I think this is a great post! Coloring hair is up there with how one dresses, weight (Penelope Trunk did a post on this in the last couple of weeks), hair/clothing style, etc. They’re all sensitive subjects but incredibly important because as much as we would like to let everyone be who they want to be, the fact is that we all judge people’s looks. And these factors become critical when we’re interviewing for a job. When the firm where I work is in interviewing season, I hear more about how the candidates looked than anything else (but I’m also writing from Italy where the Bella Figura factor is king).

    As someone mentioned earlier, I think all hair coloring should be done by a trusted professional. They know what to do and how to make it look natural. Frankly, I think men don’t have much to worry about when it comes to their hair or lack thereof because it makes them look “distinguished” (as long as their overall image is consistent). The story is different for women (I’m 36 and have already started covering the gray). Not fair but if I need a job or want to establish a relationship with a potential client, I have to bite the bullet and conform to society’s standards about image AND be damn good at what I do.

  13. I worked darn hard for my gray hair, and earned every one. I’m not going to cover them!

    I’ll probably get chewed out by Denise, but there is a double standard in effect. Women are expected to color their hair. Men, not so much. Men with dyed hair, or toupees, or hair plugs, just don’t look natural. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’ve been in many meetings where I spent time gazing at some wig or combover, and thinking the guy should just man up and get a good haircut. And does it affect my judgment of them? Of course, just the same way as if they had a pin through their nose, or if their shoes were different colors.

    Go bald with pride, Jason.

  14. I have to share a story 🙂 A few years ago when I was sitting in the office of the CEO of the parent company, discussing my pending title and role with their subsidiary, I was making a case to be president of CEO, just like the guy before me.

    You have to understand that I had a pretty good relationship with this big CEO, and had been in his office and home a number of times (I was the IT manager, and he was always wanting some kind of help). It’s not as if he was standoffish, or as if I was intimidated by him. Anyway, at one point in the conversation he looks at me, touches his head of gray hair, and says:

    Jason, you just don’t have enough of this!

    He was basically saying I was too inexperienced, too young, etc. I thought it was a bunch of crap, but he gave me a very interesting perspective about gray hair. I definitely disagreed with him, and thought he was full of himself, at the same time forming an opinion that the older (grayer) people on a team are hopefully going to bring wisdom, judgment, experience, etc.

    For me, at that time, I wasn’t able to be president or CEO (for some very dumb reasons), so my title became “general manager.” All because I wasn’t gray enough (maybe… maybe I should have colored my hair gray ?? 🙂

  15. Wow- this topic really seemed to touch a nerve with some of your readers. As Drew stated, I think your question was incredibly valid. I attend a networking group where almost all of the other members have many years of experience, along with some gray/grey. They always talk about the difficult time they have had in interviews because of their (perceived) age. If there is a way to eliminate this factor in the hiring process (i.e. dye your hair) then why not do it? I feel this is a very minor change in your appearance, and if doing it will up the probability of you landing a job, why the heck hesitate? All of us in the job market know that the smallest thing in an interview can make you standout/eliminate you from the position. Why make it about your age/hair rather than your abilities?
    And for the record, the age discrimination can go both ways- I am also in my 30’s, but look younger, which in many cases is a blessing. However, I have been told that I do not look credible enough to hold leadership positions, even though my resume states differently. I can tell right away that is the thinking when I hear the comment, “Well, you were probably not born yet, but I remember when…” Oh, it has happened a few times in interviews. And I promise you- it is demoralizing. My experience and the hard work I have put into my career are being dismissed because someone believes I don’t “look” like I have had experience. I would rather go into an interview with my age being a non-issue, a very similar goal, I imagine, of your friend who resorted to dying his hair.

  16. I find it interesting that this subject might be considered sensitive at all. Sure, making judgments about someone based on their hair color is not usually a good thing, but we all do it. If we didn’t, no one would dye their hair. Instead, every woman I know colors her hair. Every single one of them. We probably shouldn’t make judgments based on what people wear, either, but I don’t think it’s an issue to mention wearing “professional-looking” clothing to a job interview because everyone knows that – right or wrong – the clothes make a difference in the employer’s perception. That’s why they’re called “professional-looking”- because they change the viewer’s perception. Same thing with hair color, and as a result, grey is most certainly a significant thing to consider when job-hunting. As others have mentioned, it’s not always a bad thing, and it is certainly a personal choice. No one can say for someone else if they should or should not do it, but there’s nothing wrong with considering the topic.

    For the record, I gave up coloring my hair. I like my grey streak now. Then again, I’m not out there in the professional world so I have some freedoms that many others don’t have.

  17. Great topic, Jason. I’m 46, so I’m sympathetic to the desire to project a more youthful appearance in the professional world. Denise’s commented that “people have the right to make choices without someone’s else’s judgments.” Ideally, yes. But the judgments will happen, like it or not. We can fight our natural inclination to prejudge, and I hope that we all do fight it every day, but the initial “gut reaction” is still going to occur. It sounds like this man’s choice to dramatically change the color of his hair left people (Jason) feeling embarrassed for him, and even pitying him. Definitely not the intended reaction! Done well, hair color on men can be a nice change. Done poorly,iit can backfire, as evidenced by the aging TV sportscasters who have orange Brillo Pads combed over the tops of their heads.

  18. Julie, you bring up an interesting point… I’m not sure I felt embarrassed for him, I think I was just trying to figure it out and didn’t know what to think. But here’s something to consider.

    WE at the network meeting already knew him, and were used to the gray that he had. Our first impression was long gone, and we got to know him as an incredible executive… the gray had no impact on us.

    The effort to change the appearance, taking out the gray, in my opinion, was more of helping create that lasting first impression at the interview. So, I *think* this was more a tactic to make sure everything that could go right in that first impression/first interview would go right… right?

  19. It’s a personal decision, certainly, but something to be considered. Age discrimination definitely exists; it’s real and it’s more prevalent than people would like to admit.
    What little hair I have left is gray, and I think it has a true impact on my interviewing. Looking young is always an asset, but when you’re over 50, it’s harder to hide your age, and people in their 30’s and 40’s won’t understand the impact until they reach that point.
    I’ve thought about dying my hair, but I wear it almost buzz-cut and I’d have to dye it almost on a weekly basis.
    The true issue is not whether or not someone should dye their hair. The problem is simply age discrimination, which is almost impossible to prove and very difficult to overcome.

  20. As a 30yr old, with some grey in my own hair, I think that many people color their hair for how it makes them feel about themselves and not necessarily for how others will perceive it. I’m sure that the perception of others is a factor, a rather large one in some cases, but it’s more of a self confidence issue than anything. When I was first started making sales calls(on the phone) from home I used to dress really well to make them because I felt more confident. Now I can make them in my underw….oops!$$ too much information.

    If a person feels better by coloring their hear go ahead. You are being hired for what you know and not what you look like, unless you are an actor or work in the media, and if darker hair helps you make a better impression and feel better about yourself, go for it.

  21. Wow, fascinating topic. Between posts on depression in job search and posts on hair dye, you’re getting the elephants in the room out there, Jason.

    So many strong opinions and valid points in the comments. Fascinating. I wonder if it comes down to comfort in your own skin? Is the person who dyes his or her hair to avoid often rampant ‘ageism” in the marketplace or to please him or herself by looking a certain way confident in their new look, or uneasy in it?

    I think ultimately, that’s the point. Because being uneasy about the way we look does get communicated to others – sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, but it’s there. And does that negate the effect of a possibly younger or better appearance?

    I don’t know the answer, but I’m guessing that a confident candidate – dyed hair or not, is going to have the edge over one who is uncomfortable in a bad dye job, or is wishing he or she had had a dye job. It really comes down to authenticity, as Walter mentioned.

    As for me, my hair is going gray faster than I’d like, but I’m not inclined to dye it. It’s just too much work and I’m comfortable with being 55.

    Then again, when Jason and I shared a cab to the airport after a conference a while back, the cabbie asked if we were mother and son, so maybe I should rethink that decision… 🙂 And if I were looking to be hired in corporate America I might be thinking about contacting a colorist. But I work virtually, so that’s not an issue. Then again, I do a lot of conference presentations. Does gray hair make me look wise, old, or just blah? Aarrgghhhh…it’s too much to figure out!!!

    This is getting confusing … think I’ll listen to the image consulting panel at the Brand You World Telesummit on Nov 8! 🙂 http://www.personalbrandingsummit.com

    Deb Dib, the CEO Coach
    “Unabashedly passionate about helping visionary, gutsy, fun leaders with a conscience build great careers, mold great companies, and even change the world a bit.”

  22. Ok no one has mentioned white hair. At 55 I have alot of white hair and some grey. Last year while searching for a job I felt very discriminated against. Wisdom and experience does come with age. If a person can give an employer 10+ years that should be considered great. Hire the young and ambitious and find them gone in just a few years. Why should an employer worry about how old you are and if you will be retiring soon? In today’s job market 5 good years may be the most an employer can hope for with any employee.

  23. The effort to change the appearance, taking out the gray, in my opinion, was more of helping create that lasting first impression at the interview. So, I *think* this was more a tactic to make sure everything that could go right in that first impression/first interview would go right… right?

  24. To each his/her own. But if you’re going to do it, you really should make it natural otherwise it highlights your age rather than hides it.

    This topic came up in a job search work team discussion and I joked that my strategy of dying my hair grey (I’m in my late 50’s) was working. For two jobs I was a finalist on age was a factor – but a positive factor. They were looking for experience to lead and develop the groups I would be put in charge of.

    When interviewing for a prior job the President of the company mentioned that “you don’t see a lot of grey hair in the IT dept (I was interviewing to lead that group)”. I replied “True, but when things go bad and they will, a case of when not if, who would you rather have in charge – an old grey hair who been through that before or a youngster who has to manage a crisis by trial and error”. Being a grey hair himself he apparently saw the truth in that and I got the job.

    My point in all of this is grey hair is a hindrance only if you let it be. If people are going to discriminate based on age all the hair dye in the world won’t stop them. I say use your experience and maturity as an asset.

  25. So lets take the other end of the spectrum for a second – what if a 30 ish person walks in to an interview with green, or blue or red hair – what are the thoughts and perceptions then?

    In a time when we are all making faster decisions (not always right ones of course!), digesting information in bite sizes and forming opinions of people before we even meet them the first impression is becoming more critical.

    As I talk on personal branding the question of image is coming up more and more, and the image consultants I know are getting busier – so it must be playing on the minds of the candidates and the corporations who hire (a lot of the image work is now paid for by the employer). The general rule of thumb with image is what makes you feel comfortable AND is relevant to your target audience. Hard to ask the target audience ahead of time as to their reaction of hair colours and dyes I know.

    For those interested in hearing more on this subject I am hosting a panel of image ocnsultants at 9 pm EST on Thursday November 8th as part of the global Personal Branding Summit – more detaisl can be found at http://www.personalbrandingsummit.com

    Just my toonies worth

  26. Some people look o.k. with the gray. Some do not. (I am one of them.) As for natural looking hair color, most women use highlights and that is obviously not natural. Men in California get highlights too. It’s a form of sculpture. It’s not meant to look natural. I have my hair colored the natural color I had when I was young. In the Southwest, I had highlights, just like everybody else. The sun bleached out the highlights and my hair. There are regional variations. People in the Southwest are going to have a lot of blonde streaks in their hair when temperature outside is 110 degrees and one is at the pool every evening.

  27. This has been excellent dialog – thanks to all who have contributed, and hopefully this helps people as they move forward on this decision. I think it’s fair to say that some important things to consider include:

    1. Is this going to help you be more confident and have a better self image? Go ahead and do it.

    2. Make sure you do it professionally, even by someone who is a pro at coloring hair.

    3. It may be a benefit to have gray hair… maybe YOU can make that a benefit!

    4. This is NOT an age or gender issue.

    5. The whole issue, with regard to employability and discrimination (not necessarily vanity or personal self-worth/image) just plain SUCKS. It’s too bad this is even an issue, although I still believe that we aren’t going to get over it anytime soon (in other words, the discrimination isn’t going to go away).

    6. Jason Alba will go bald before he goes gray, probably, and he isn’t really happy about that, but oh well. Que sera, sera!

  28. Ok no one has mentioned white hair. At 55 I have alot of white hair and some grey. Last year while searching for a job I felt very discriminated against. Wisdom and experience does come with age. If a person can give an employer 10+ years that should be considered great. Hire the young and ambitious and find them gone in just a few years.

  29. @iso


    Hire the young and ambitious and find them gone in just a few years.

    I think there are going to be a lot of issues with Gen Y (or, the young and ambitious) that we are going to see… and the impact it will have on the older crowd getting (re)hired is going to be very interesting over the next few years.

  30. Jason,

    The older crowd will get hired (or rehired) if they do a few simple things. 1) Do not get grouchy – I’m serious. As a career advisor for more than 20 years, I’m amazed at the number of people who get really cranky as they age. No one is going to hire someone who is cranky!!! 2) Be very comfortable navigating around a computer. I tell people if you can drive a car, you should be comfortable with the computer and internet. (You do not need to know how a car runs – – you just need to know how to drive it – – the same applies to a computer). 3) Always, always, always be aware of new opportunities and/or a downturn at your present place of employment. Listen to the water cooler rumor mill – – it usually has some truth buried in with all the gossip. 4) Accept the new gravitational law of employment – – you will change companies 5 or more times during your career

  31. Ok no one has mentioned white hair. At 55 I have alot of white hair and some grey. Last year while searching for a job I felt very discriminated against. Wisdom and experience does come with age. If a person can give an employer 10+ years that should be considered great. Hire the young and ambitious and find them gone in just a few years.

  32. Ok no one has mentioned white hair. At 55 I have alot of white hair and some grey. Last year while searching for a job I felt very discriminated against. Wisdom and experience does come with age. If a person can give an employer 10+ years that should be considered great. Hire the young and ambitious and find them gone in just a few years.

  33. I am a woman in my fiftys and 15 months ago stopped dyeing my hair now I have been satisfied up to now.Then looked in the mirror and thought I need a lift as I was all silver now.So had a speak to my hairdressetr and she put some caramel highlights in and gave it a good cut and hey presto I felt a million dollars,and it does look good.So I think it is up to how you feel and how you want to present your self ,great subject Jason.

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