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A woman seeking a VP job in HR was told her appearance didn't cut it – Business Insider

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Melissa Weaver, 30, who has worked in human resources. After a recent interview for an HR job at a tech company, conducted by video, the New Yorker was disappointed to learn she wasn’t moving to the next round. When Weaver asked for feedback, the recruiter replied in an email viewed by Business Insider that she was “concerned that you didn’t put forth enough effort into your appearance given you were interviewing for a Vice President role.” The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.
I was laid off from my previous job in December. When I started looking for a new job, I wanted to make sure it would be one where I felt like I could contribute a lot. I found a posting on LinkedIn for a vice president of human resources role, which I understand is ironic, given what happened.
I looked at the job description and knew it was in line with what I had done previously. I researched the company and their core values, which, again — very ironic. Then I applied. The recruiter reached out and said that my background aligned with what they wanted.
The interview was by video. I had on a black blazer and a collared shirt, both of which were ironed. I wore small gold earrings. I’d done a blowout on my hair and had beige-colored nails. I did everything in line with proper professional attire. But I didn’t wear makeup, which I didn’t think was a big deal. But apparently, it was to her.
I thought the interview went really well. I had good answers to questions. Having a recruitment background, I know how to have conversations with people. It was supposed to go 30 minutes, but it went closer to 40. I was really optimistic when the call ended.
A couple of days after the interview, I got an email from the recruiter saying that I was in line with what they wanted in terms of experience and that my values aligned with theirs but that they wouldn’t be moving forward. I decided to ask for feedback. She wrote back and said she was concerned that I didn’t put enough effort into my appearance.
My reaction was a bit of shock. One, that someone would write that in an email. But more so, that in 2024, this is still happening. I had so much enthusiasm about the company, and I knew I was good for the role. I can only assume her concern was that I didn’t put on makeup because I’d done everything else. So hearing that because I hadn’t done that, I was somehow less qualified or didn’t seem like I was as enthusiastic about the job was just baffling.
I don’t tend to wear that much makeup for various reasons. One, makeup is so expensive. There’s a reason cosmetics is a billion-dollar industry. It’s also just not something that I enjoy doing. I have a lot of friends who are happy to spend 45 minutes to an hour on their makeup. It’s their zen time. Props to them, but I’d rather invest in my skincare. My dermatologist and I are on a first-name basis.
I grew up in the South in a culture of you have to put your face on to just go to the grocery store. My mom and I joked that there are probably women whose significant others have never seen them without a full face of makeup. At night, they’d take off their makeup and put on a fresh face of it just to go to bed. To each their own.
In the comments for a TikTok I made about the experience, people say things like, “I actually heard that I’ve worn too much makeup in my interview.” Or, “I’m not supposed to wear red lipstick because it’s too much of a power move.” One woman said she got more assignments at work when she started wearing makeup. For someone else, it was losing weight. Reading that — in 2024 — our appearance somehow correlates to our ability to do our jobs is very disheartening. A lot of people use makeup to enhance their features. But the idea that that’s a requirement is kind of insane.
I was dressed up for the interview. Dressing nicely shows that you have enthusiasm for the job and take it seriously. That applies to both men and women. So, in recruitment, I never judged someone if they wore makeup or if a man had long hair, as long as it was well-kept. I did have someone show up in a video interview in pajamas once. In that case, I was like, “I’m not really sure about this for a senior-level position.”
The fact is, makeup just applies to women. It’s not expected that men wear foundation or contour or whatever. But that something gender-specific can somehow impact a role is not good.
It might have been more shocking had the comment come from a man because, having worked in recruitment, I never had a male colleague comment about a woman’s makeup. Maybe, for women, it’s a matter of them wearing it themselves so they would expect it from another woman.
I don’t think this experience is necessarily going to change my approach to a job search because I want to be part of a company that has a supportive culture and that doesn’t have the sort of expectations of women having to wear makeup. Making sure that companies have an inclusive culture is incredibly important to me.
I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to judge an entire company based on one person, though recruiters are typically the face of the company — or the first face you see. So that’s something to be mindful of. I don’t think I could learn all I want to know about a company’s culture based on the first person that I meet with or even the first few people. That’s why I appreciate a hiring process with multiple interviews with different people. As draining as some people can find that, I appreciate it because you do get a feel for a lot of different people in the company.
Something I’ve always loved about being an HR is that it is a people-facing role. That’s why I want to find an employer with an inclusive culture and where I can contribute to that. This is about women supporting women and men supporting women as well. It’s given me an extra boost in terms of knowing what I’m passionate about, which I want to be sure I can bring to a company.
I didn’t write the recruiter back because I didn’t think it would make a difference. Several people encouraged me to forward her email to the company’s head of HR. I don’t know if I will. You also worry about being blackballed.
HR can be taxing work, but at the end of the day, I love it. I love working with people. And so I know that it’s the lane that I want to stay in.
I didn’t make the TikTok to bash the company or anything like that. I never wanted it to be a crusade. I just wanted people’s opinions, and if it generates a conversation, then I’m happy about that. Many of the comments I’ve received have been supportive and have called out a double standard. The fact that so many of them were encouraging made me feel positive and that just because one recruiter felt that way, it’s not the majority opinion.
Do you have something to share about an interview process or what you’re seeing in your workplace? Business Insider would like to hear from you. Email our workplace team from a nonwork device at thegrind@businessinsider.com with your story or to ask for one of our reporter’s Signal numbers. Or check out Business Insider’s source guide for tips on sharing information securely.
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