A Bald Head… and a Job Interview

bald interviewToday’s e-mail is from J, who has a question about bold hair choices and job interviews…

I’m a public policy grad student, graduating in May and applying for jobs all over the place , but many in DC (employers range from government-level, to think-tanks, to smaller non-profits). I am 22. Right now I am pretty average-looking: short, white, size 2, brown hair slightly longer than shoulder-length in a well-maintained cut. I found out this week that my close family friends’ seven-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with leukemia. The girl and I are very close, and I think of her like my sister, so obviously I’m torn up about this. Her mom says she looks up to me, and I know I influence her behavior so I try to be a good role model. She’s going to be getting chemo, the whole nine yards, and I am anticipating that she’ll have a hard time if she loses her hair. I’m thinking about shaving my head to support her. Now I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never had short hair, let alone shaved it before, and I do have some issues about the whole thing — but none of them outweigh my desire to to do something concrete to help the girl. However, my question is, do you think a shaved head would affect my chances at getting a job? Would it be likely to freak an employer out? Any general thoughts?

Wow. We have a lot of thoughts on this, and we’re sure our readers will have more. We’ll try to put our thoughts in a cogent order…

First: Our hearts go out to your sick friend, to her family, and to you.  Words can’t properly express how strongly we hope she gets better.

Second: We get what you want to do with the shaved head — words can’t express it, and to shave your head along with her and show solidarity with her — this is a Good Thing that you want to do.  A few further thoughts:

  • It sounds like your friend has not yet lost her hair — we are unsure of how quickly a chemo patient loses their hair, or how definite hair loss is.  (Background: a  good friend of ours endured a lot of chemo when we were around 19, and she didn’t lose hardly any of her hair.)  And so you may be jumping the gun a bit to get your head shaved immediately.
  • Do you see the girl often enough?  It sounds as if you do — but if you only see her once every 3 months, you may want to reconsider, even though your gesture is incredibly magnanimous.
  • Would you keep it shaved throughout her treatment?  Or would you let it grow out after shaving it?

Third: Ah, yes, the job thing. There’s no way around it, your job interviewers will DEFINITELY notice a shaved head.  But:

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  • Anyone with a heart will sympathize with your reasons for doing it.  So long as your job is behind the scenes, hopefully the person will look beyond your hair.
  • If your job is NOT behind the scenes, or if Important People visit the office where you’ll be working on a regular basis, you may want to prepare yourself — this may not be a job that you will get, unless the person in charge thinks they are running a young, hip shop (whether it be a think tank or a non-profit).  Some people simply will not want an underling who makes more of an impact than they do.
  • It will be your resume and transcript that wins you the interview — so your bald head won’t be an issue until then.
  • On the interview:  You should think about how to explain your bald head in the interview.  We think a bald head does need to be explained, both because a) the interviewer might worry that you are sick yourself, and you should dissuade those fears, and b) this act of shaving your head says a lot about who you are — it speaks to your loyalty, your strength, your sense of self — and these are all good things that interviewers should know. (A quick tip — you might want to simplify the story and just say “my 7-year-old sister” and leave it at that, unless the interviewer delves further.)*

Fourth:  You are young. This is the time to shave your head, or dye your hair blue, or otherwise take fashion and beauty risks. Hair is a great place to take these risks, because it grows out and is back to normal in short order.  Give yourself at least a few years until you force yourself to play it safe.

Fifth: We have less coherent thoughts on this, but as a stream:  We have a number of guy friends who shaved their heads rather than deal with dwindling hair (or because they thought it looked cool).  We have had friends who actually did suffer hair loss because of chemo and had no choice but to rock the bald look.  We also know some very fashionable women who shaved their heads just because they thought it complimented their bone structure (and we’re sure we’ve seen at least, like, 3 models on America’s Next Top Model get it done.)  A bald head really should not be a big deal.

We’ve spent limited time on the DC scene, though, so we asked a friend of ours who worked at numerous places (and was fairly powerful) before she left for greener pastures.  Her thoughts:

My first instinct is that they may look at her and form (ignorant) opinions right away.  My second thought is that it’s a good conversation starter for her and shows a side of her that demonstrates commitment, which is an attractive quality for a job applicant.  However, for # 2 to work, she has to come up with a great way to open up the reason for her hair pretty quick into each interview.  … Also, I’d say that if an interviewer judges her by her hair, she probably wouldn’t want to spend the majority of her waking hours with those people anyway.

All right, readers — what are your thoughts?

* UPDATE: Geez, commenters are going nuts over our suggestion that she simplify her explanation as much as possible.  We stand by our advice to come up with a quick, easy way to explain your baldness, and be open to talking about the issue more if the interviewer wants to.  This shouldn’t be the focus of the interview, though.  We totally disagree that saying her friend is her “sister” is a Lie in the capital L sense of the word — which should never be done in a job interview, obviously, and perhaps “cousin” would have been better suggestion. But: either way it could be explained further, very easily and quickly, if the interviewer wanted to talk about it.

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  1. If they would not hire would because your shaved your head in solidarity with a 7-year-old cancer patient, consider whether those are people you’d want to work with/for at all.

    Good on you. And good luck.

    • Wow, this was a hot mess – too bad I can’t edit! What I meant to say was:

      If they would not hire YOU because you shaved your head in solidarity with a 7-year-old cancer patient…

  2. The thing is, it would be much better NOT to have to bring this up in a job interview. Because it’s so much better not to have to call attention to your appearance. How does one do this gracefully?

    The other thing is that even if people think it’s great, they still won’t want you to be the face of their company, so to speak, without any hair.

    Frankly, as wonderful as a gesture as this is, this is the thing to do AFTER you have a job. Otherwise you’re going to be known as the bald woman. Because all things being equal between you and another candidate, guess who they are going to hire?

    • I agree – I’m an accountant in a corporation – hardly a public face kind of job, and we have a dress code and corporate culture expecting us to represent the company even within the company appropriately. Even back office positions go to continuing education classes.

  3. I can’t comment on anything else besides this one point right now because my head is still swimming –

    “(A quick tip — you might want to simplify the story and just say “my 7-year-old sister” and leave it at that, unless the interviewer delves further.)”

    No no NO. This is not simplifying the story. This is changing the story – she isn’t a sister. This is a lie. Do NOT lie about ANYTHING in a job interview (or ever, really).

    If I interviewed someone who mentioned a sister, and I later learned that the person was not her sister (even if it was a super close family friend, “like a sister”), I would immediately doubt everything else they’d told me.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “my very close family friend who is like a sister to me”.

    • That threw me for a loop, too. In no way, shape or form should you change the truth for a “better story”. Be absolutely clear and honest, and don’t be apologetic. Set them straight at the beginning of the interview that you are not straight from the punk scene or radical in your actions generally, and that the bald look is not forever, and that should be enough. I would be impressed by a candidate like you, if I could see your confidence and strength of character.

      • Wow, I totally disagree (obviously). I’ve had so many friends who mentioned “Uncle Nick” and then later revealed that he was a close family friend when we talked further. Family relationships aren’t important to an interviewer who wants a quick answer. Changing it to “sister” doesn’t make it a “better” story, but it simplifies the telling of it — the less words the job applicant has to trip over in whatever her quick explanation of it, the better.

        Actually, having said that, I take it back — maybe it does change the story, in that it makes it worse — it shows J’s better character that she’s doing it for a family friend and not a blood relative.

        But still: if the interviewer cares to probe further, she will, and it’s easily explained in a sentence. If she keeps it a deep dark secret for three months, it’s going to be weird. But the “bald” thing should not be the subject of the interview; it’s just something to be explained and moved beyond.

        • I think there is a huge difference between “Uncle” who is really a friend, and someone who you think of “like a little sister”. This is a wonderful thing for the letter writer to do and would mean so much to that girl, but there is a big difference between actual sister and young girl you think of like a sister in terms of what it means when you tell that story.

        • That’s different. Many people are brought up to call their parents’ friends uncles and aunts – my godmother is Auntie Louise to me. And I actually referred to her as my aunt the other day by mistake.

    • Right, I’m not even anti-lying about trivial things to smooth over social situations, but that one would come back to bite you if you got the job. Everyone would be asking you how your sister was doing and how your parents were coping, so you’d either have to cop to it and look weird or make up ever more elaborate stories, all of which would unravel when your mom visited and you ran into a co-worker at the grocery store who you’d have to introduce and who would immediately exclaim “I was so happy to hear your daughter was doing better!”

    • Anon, I wholeheartedly agree.

      When I was in undergrad, I was involved in a semester-long project as part of my capstone class. One of our group members frequently mentioned his little brother’s struggle with leukemia. As the semester wore on, his brother’s leukemia progressed, and we let him off the hook for several group meetings and all-nighters so he could spend time with his brother and his family.

      When his brother passed shortly after our big presentation, our entire group made plans to attend the funeral. The day before the funeral, we learned through the grapevine that the “little brother” was not related to him all; rather, he was our group member’s neighbor from down the street. Though we recognized that our group member must have been in a great deal of pain, and that loss and mourning transcend familial bonds, we all felt sort of betrayed. It made us question his motivations with respect to most of what he’d told us.

    • Even if the lie would not be “a Lie in the capital L sense of the word”, any lie is just seems to be a bad, BAD idea. Stick to “someone very close to me”, “my close friend’s little girl”, “a little girl who means alot to me”, etc. It gets the point across quite effectively and you’re not tip-toeing near “Lie” territory.

  4. Do not lie and say she is your sister!! If you get the job and then it comes out that she is not your sister, this will be very, very bad for your reputation. Stick to the truth – the WHOLE truth!! Cannot stress this enough!!!!

  5. I totally concur about NOT LYING and saying it’s your SISTER who has cancer. If the story must be streamlined, perhaps saying she’s your “neice” would be better, as far more people call their parents’ close, lifelong friends “Auntie Soandso” than “my big sister.”

  6. what about getting a wig for interviews (and potentially, for the work day)? you would still be able to show your incredible support outside of work, but it wouldn’t have to impact your career.

    • wig seemed the solution to me, too. you can get a really nice one these days.

    • I agree with the wig idea.

      • I’d have to disagree. A wig would be distracting– people will wonder (1) if writer is wearing a wig and (2) if she is wearing a wig, why? Wearing a wig would bring up the same attention as the shaved head and it won’t be in a good way. I think writer should do it if she wants to and be prepared to explain in an interview. I’m betting most people will think that it is a good thing and move on!

        • Blonde lawyer :

          Not if you have a good wig.

          • Plus, depending on the interviewer, they might just assume she’s an orthodox Jew.

        • A good wig can be perfectly natural looking. An attorney in my office went through chemo and lost her hair and wore a wig the whole time. Those that didnt see her everyday (and thus didnt notice the slight color/ length change when she made the switch) never knew it was a wig—some never even knew she had cancer.

          • wig is the way to go.

          • Anonymous :

            I agree. Take it from me – I know first hand. If she will lose her hair, it might be on day 14 of the treatment (depending on the drug. Is your interview before day 14?) Before you shave your hair, cut it short. Then, get a wig with short hair that looks like yours before you shave your hair. This way when your hair grows back and you are ready to take off the wig, it will not be such a dramatic change from long to short!

        • Wigs are only distracting if they are poorly fit, poorly colored, and/or poorly made. A good, quality hairpiece that is fit correctly and made with real hair is unnoticeable. More women (and celebrities, in fact) wear them than you think.

      • So sorry to hear that your little friend has a tough time ahead & parying that all goes well with her & her family.

        I thought of the ‘wig’ suggestion too for the interview atleast. That said, one of my closest friends had chemo last year and her hair starting falling out only halfway into the treatment. So wait a bit and see how it goes before you shave it off.

        If you opt for a wig for the interview, then, assuming you land the job, I wonder whether it makes sense to discuss with your employer and say that you will wear a wig if needed for the job/ key meetings etc but otherwise will sport a bald look? Obviously depends on how human/understanding he/she is…but just worth a thought.

  7. I agree on the no lying about her being your sister thing. I recently heard a co-worker who is an only child tell a story about a family trip that somehow involved another girl that made it sound like her sister. It distracted me from the story and made me question whether she had made it up. It doesn’t take a lot of extra time to call someone a close family friend and the fact that you are shaving your head emphasizes the tight relationship.

    • Anonymous :

      I’m 30 and I have a kid that lives with me. I’ve known him since he was 11, now he’s 19 and I’m very close with his family. I’ll often refer to him as my “little brother” to simplify interactions (especially when the neighbors ask if he’s my boyfriend). If it ever becomes strange as I get to know someone better, I simply add, “I call him my brother because it’s the easiest explanation of our relationship but he’s not actually my brother.” Most people seem to be satisfied with that. I save the real explanation for people I know very well because it’s terribly personal.

  8. Anonymous :

    You are a very good friend.

    I think there are a lot of other concrete ways to show your support, e.g. go with her to treatment, visit often, etc. As much as the hair will be a very meaningful gesture, nothing beats having someone sit with you and try to distract you during treatments.

    When my mom had cancer my sister cut her hair very short to show solidarity but did not shave her head. She had always had hair no shorter than a bob so the haircut in itself was dramatic.

    Part of me would suggest that you do not shave your head if you are trying to enter the job market right now. It’s just not an easy market and DC is a fairly conservative town. I am sure some employers would really respect your choice, but it’s a risk.

    • Legally Brunette :

      Your gesture is incredibly thoughtful and I wish your friend a very speedy recovery. ‘

      BUT, I completely agree that DC is very conservative and that extends even to the non profits in the area. I have friends who are looking for jobs in DC and have been looking for over a year, without any luck. I would not do anything that would call attention to yourself in a potentially risky way, given how hard the job market is right now.

      Also, I saw a documentary a long time ago about skinheads and some of the women had their head shaved. This is the last association that you would want to have.

  9. 1. Agreed w/ other commenters — don’t lie — any lie, ever, and especially not a lie that sounds like you are playing a sympathy card. This will screw you up professionally forever when people find out that you lied about your (non-existent) baby sister having cancer.

    2. Talk this out thoroughly with the girl’s parents — make sure it will have the impact that you want it to have, and not scare her, or make her sad.

    3. Think through if, at this juncture of your life, this is the right gesture to be making. DC is a conservative (dressing and looking) town, even the liberals. You can visit your little friend daily, plan special “big girl” outings for shopping, tea, zoo, movies, manicures, you name it, every weekend she’s up to it, help with homework, bake her favorite cookies… there are a lot of ways to be “concretely” close to this girl (and a millio other ways — running errands, cooking dinner, spending time with any siblings — to help her family) that don’t involve making a dramatic physical statement that could be interpreted as having a drama queen aspect to it.

  10. I lost my 17 year old cousin to cancer in Fall 2008 and watched her lose her hair a few times during the 4 years she battled cancer. Although it falls out slowly (well, in clumps), in order to make her wig fit properly, there did come a time when she needed to go ahead and shave her head. I was in law school for most of this and wanted to contribute but was also trying to find a job. I opted to grow my hair out and then donate it to try and provide support for her. It was very short after I cut it but still professional and at the end of the day, my cousin spent most of her time wearing a wig or a hat or scarf anyways. For a short time she was able to ditch the wig and we went through the awkward “growing out” phase together.

    I agree with everything that’s been said but you don’t need to shave your head (or even donate your hair) to be a source of support. Making her feel loved and safe and having those precious few moments where she can be a kid is the most important thing. I think my cousin was infinitely more grateful for the trips to Starbucks and manicures with me that let her feel like a “regular” teen than she was about me donating my hair. You can also support her by supporting her parents/sublings. Bring over frozen casseroles and fresh fruit. Offer to help take the 7 year old or her siblings to appointments, soccer, etc. if you have time. There are many things you can do that the family will remember forever that don’t involve making your appearance something that employers will question.

    • Your post reminded me – a woman I know has over the past year or so had to undergo some pretty major surgeries, and her family is on the Caring Bridge site. Apparently it has been an absolute godsend, and helps everyone coordinate bringing meals and scheduling visits. She wakes up in the morning and will find dinner on her front porch. Just something to think about for the little girl’s family.

    • Anonymous :

      I had the same thought. Rather than shaving your head, would it make more sense to get a short pixie cut and (perhaps) donate your hair for a wig for your friend? Because she’s so young, many children her age may not understand what’s going on. It could be better for her self esteem to have a wig to wear when she feels like she needs it. It also allows you to help and support her (and as noted by others, there are SO MANY wonderfully supportive gestures you can make), and it keeps you from having to explain your bald head during job interviews.

      • Anonymous :

        good idea, but I’m not sure that her hair is long enough to donate.

    • could not agree more – donating your hair to locks of love or a similar organization to help make wigs for other cancer survivors is both a touching way of contributing that you can explain to a 7-year old and still allows you to have short hair for an interview…

  11. Anonymous :

    I think a pixie cut would be just fine and would exemplify the same gesture without making people worry that you were sick.

    If people ask you about yourself, say “something that’s been very much on my mind right now is my close friend’s daughter…. in fact, I cut my hair very short because she may soon lose her hair to chemo and I don’t want her to think it’s scary.” then move on. But DO NOT lie — I agree with everyone who’s said it’s a terrible idea.

    And wigs are fine if they’re good ones, but if you’re just buying it for an interview and it’s a cheap one, it’ll look bad. And, again bring up questions of health.

    Could you buy the same hats or scarves and bandanas for yourself and your little friend? And a couple bald caps so you can see what you would both look like? Joking around may make it less scary, and having a big-girl friend with a matching hat may make her feel like the coolest girl in the world when you two are out and about.

    • I especially like the last idea here. Buy yourself and your friend matching headscarves. You can even put your hair up in a bun.

  12. I agree you should show solidarity with your friend, and trust me I don’t want to take anything away from that. But you also need to think of the big picture.

    Get a great job and then make a donation in her name to her favorite charity or to her. Or find another way to show you care. Don’t shave your head.

    You will make a greater difference in the world if you get an amazing job that will afford you the opportunity to make an impact. You said you’re applying “all over the place”. How many times are you going to explain your story instead of what you have to offer? It may even start to sound like a sympathy ploy to some. For others, they may hire you BECAUSE they felt a connection. Neither answer is a good one. You need to find the right job for the right reasons, and right now you do need to focus on that, even as you care for your friend. She probably would agree.

  13. Smaller, liberally focused non-profits in DC will not care. I worked for one, have many friends in them, and know the city well. They are generally fairly laid back and I took all sorts of risks when I was in that field, including wearing brightly colored suits to job interviews. Friends had piercings, tattoos, and weird hair colors. It didn’t impact them.

    If those are your priority, you’ll be fine.

    Think tanks are a slightly different beast, but considering many overlap with the non-profit scene, they probably won’t be shocked. I’d wear a super conservative but stylish suit, and I can’t see it being a huge issue.

    Finally, the federal government is the single worst dressed collection of people ever. You will look presentable if your clothes match and aren’t stained.

    DC has some conservative parts, and I probably wouldn’t advocate this look if you are going for jobs at CATO or in Sam Brownback’s office or something. But if you are going for liberal or more centrist places like Brookings, as well most government offices, I really cant see this being a problem.

  14. Wig, wig, wig. Wigs are no big deal!

  15. Don’t shave your head. This is a tough, tough market. You aren’t selling out your ideals to stay employable. Also, there are those, including interviewers, who may view a voluntarily shaved head on a woman as showing off, or a ploy for sympathy. Many here are reverting to the “well you wouldn’t want to work for these people anyway.” Perhaps that is true. But in this market, early in one’s career, I think it is ill-advised.

    • Thanks for saying what I wanted to say. It’s a great gesture. However, there are other gestures that could mean as much (or more) than shaving a head to the person who is sick. My godfather died of lung cancer after a five-year fight. He had never been to Europe, so his students did a fund-raising drive and just before he passed, he and his wife were able to go. He was a history teacher and it meant an incredible amount to him, for his students and coworkers to do that, so he could see things he had only read about in books. There are any number 0f things the OP can do for her friend that would mean just as much as a shaved head – I would emphasize that time spent together is priceless to people who are going through a serious illness, as there is a tendency for people to stay away from them (either because they are terrified of the illness/infirmity or because they feel like they don’t want to impose. Either way, it leaves the sick person feeling like, great – I am sick AND I’m a social pariah). A shaved head is a great gesture, but it’s just a gesture. There are others the OP can choose. Doing something else and leaving your hair intact so you can get a job is not a sign you don’t have solidarity with the person going through the illness. God bless the little girl and her family. I will pray for a speedy recovery for her.

  16. Instead of sister, say “someone very close to me.” Say it quietly and with dignity and no one will be able to tell whether it is your mother, best friend, whatever.

  17. Heartbreaking story. That’s all I can think about, even as I read the debates about being employabiloity. I have an 11 year old girl. She loves dolls, she’s fragile about her appearance and looks. What ever would I do to comfort her if she lost all of her hair? May God help this child and her friends and family. I think C’s advice is compassionate and spot on. I didn’t think twice about “the lie” either.

  18. PurpleViolet :


  19. As some one else said, I think a pixie cut is as short as you should go. And if your cut hair is long enough, consider donating it to Locks of Love.

  20. I agree – Lying in a job interview is never good – simplifying your explanation so that the point of “I’m a good/loyal/not unhealthy person” is excellent – I don’t need to know your life story, I do need to know that you’re not crazy or likely to have to quit.

    Frankly, shaving your head is impulsive and while it’s a nice idea, its not practical. Help and support comes in many forms – it comes in the form of raising money for treatment, being tested as a donor, spending time with her to keep her from thinking about the pain she will be in. Get her pretty scarves and yourself matching ones if you think looking the same is a big deal, help her find ways to match havng a central line look less alien…

  21. I guess I must be more hard-hearted than the OP because I would not advise, or even think of, shaving my head during economic times like these. First, if you don’t know that she’s going to lose her hair for sure, don’t shave your hair. My uncle – who died of leukemia – never lost his hair even though he went through multiple rounds of chemo.

    Second, is there another way you can show solidarity with her? I am being serious when I say that I think that shaving your head would make you stand out in a way that’s NOT going to be good. You simply don’t want to be remember as “the bald girl” when they’re trying to narrow the choices down to one or two. As someone who does interviewing for my firm (and I know I’m going to be vilified for this here), first impressions DO matter and people DO remember quirky things about applicants. A bald head is definitely a “quirky thing.”

    Third, as a grad student with no job, your first priority should be YOU. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t do everything you can to help this girl and make her feel supported. But, basically, you’re one of possibly thousands of applicants. Don’t be the one who gets an interview based on stellar qualifications and then gets cut out of the running because people can’t understand why you shaved your head (or don’t remember or don’t care). There are comments up there that say, “Well you wouldn’t want to work for those people anyway.” Maybe not. But that sentiment is not going to pay your salary or keep you warm at night after you graduate.

  22. Woman of Color :

    I agree with rocking the wig look for a bit – especially if you’ve never had short hair before. You really have no idea how your head is shaped until all of your hair is gone (lumps, bumps, and crevices may be awaiting). That being said, I have a very close cropped haircut (less than one inch), and it suits me me very well. I am a dark-skinned African woman, and I think my facial features are accentuated by the short hair. But I did however used to wear wigs, ’cause I could, and they are fun. Wigs have come a long way, and would provide you with the best of both worlds.

  23. I am so sorry to hear about your friend. I have been in a similar situation and the need to “do” something to help can be very overwhelming. However, here are a few suggestions to hold you over until you decide if shaving your head is the right way to support her:
    1. Contact the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to see how you can help. They have a Light the Night Walk in several cities that I have done the past 3 years and it is a very inspiring and moving experience. Consider starting a team with your friend’s name and recruiting people to walk for (and if her treatment allows, with her.) LLS also sells “relentless” plastic bracelets which I have worn for a number of years (for petite women, the kids size fits better) and is cheap enough to buy a bunch for family/friends.
    2. Be supportive. If visiting is not possible because of various stages of her treatment, call regularly or send cards or postcards of encouragement (daily, if necessary!) Ask her family what you can do to help, and remember that sometimes supporting the patient’s support people so they can support her is the best thing you can do. Offer to bring meals to the hospital or run errands for her family if they are tied up.
    3. If she does lose her hair, American Apparel makes great scarves that stay in place better than silk on a bald head. We used to wrap the long tails into a “bun” at the back of my friend’s neck so she felt like she still had her long hair!

    If you do decide that shaving your head is the best way to support her, consider doing it as part of LLS: http://totallybaldacious.llsevent.org/

  24. Don’t shave your head. You may have the best of intentions, but you risk interviewing with a cynic like me, who would have the fleeting thought that you invented the story and shaved your head just for the extra attention in an interview.

    Yes, I have a cold and mean little heart, but if I do, others do too.

    • I must have the same cold and mean little heart because I view it as a ploy to get attention. Much better to do something concrete, like spend time, which is a private matter that maybe only your friend will notice, as opposed to some useless public gesture.

    • I had the same thought: shaving your head can also be interpreted as your desire to show the world how compassionate and caring you are; rather than actually doing the hard work that it takes to support a family in crisis. I don’t mean to say that the OP’s intentions were impure, just that they can be interpreted that way. I was raised that drawing attention to your own good deeds negates them, and I’m worried that I would interpret her actions cynically if I was to interview her.

  25. Don’t do it!
    I am a cancer survivor myself (I was diagnosed with lymphoma when I was 24 and will be 2 years cancer free this Monday!) and I can tell you having a shaved head is horrible. Wigs are horrible – hot, itchy, and expensive (not to mention the embarrassment of realizing after hours that it’s askew in some way). I still look in the mirror and hate my hair. At the time, of course, I had more important things to worry about and I didn’t feel too emotional about it but post-treatment I was surprised how much the hair bothered me.

    When I was first undergoing treatment my mom made some allusion to cutting her hair in solidarity. I was horrified and demanded she stop the madness. Of course, I was an adult, but the idea of someone else shaving their head just seemed so embarrassing and senseless.

    However, two things that really really touched me were a) a bunch of friends chipped in to help buy me a nice human-hair wig and b) a friend of mine ran a race in my honor.

    Of course, I can’t speak for a child, but she’d probably be more happy if you went to a few chemo sessions with her or came over and watched Happy Feet (extremely cute – I recommend it). To me the physical pain was much more bearable than the pain of being so so lonely and missing out on normal life.

    Just my two cents!

    P.S. The Leukemia and Lympoma Society is amazing. I’ve since trained for a marathon with their Team in Training and they often have patients and their families as honored guests at their events. The website is lls.org if you want to know more.

  26. Professional women with a bald heads wear a wig in the office (I know at least 4 who have) so to the extent you go through with this, I think the professionally appropriate thing to do is to wear a wig. Of course, if one of these woman (all of whom have undergone chemo) want to wear a head scarf instead, or rock the bald look, I’d say more power to her. But your case is different, and if you showed up bald or nearly bald, I would wonder why you couldn’t pull together a more professional look, as people going through much worse (i.e., the women in my office with cancer themselves) had been able to do.

  27. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I heard stories of patients leaning their heads on their hands and having entire sections of hair fall out, so I shaved my head and donned a fabulous lace front wig soon after my first chemo treatment. DC work environments, including mine, are generally conservative. It was awkward enough having to explain my “new hair” to my co-workers and would have been even more awkward had I gone bald. Unless you are of African descent and have great cheekbones, I don’t recommend shaving your hair. And while your motivations are admirable, maybe you could show solidarity with the little girl by visiting her frequently? Or by asking her what she would like to do and taking her to do that activity? Maybe I just have the perspective of an adult who has survived cancer, but symbolic gestures (i.e. head shaving) meant much less to me than genuine interaction. And if I were interviewing you, I would probably think that you had a good heart, but wouldn’t hire you for failing to take seriously the professional image you project to potential employers.

  28. I just want to say, reading the comments, that I am sorry so many of us have lost people we cared about to cancer. Cancer terrifies me, more than almost anything else. I hope someday we get to a place where no one has to fear losing a loved one to cancer.

  29. two thoughts:

    “I do have some issues about the whole thing — but none of them outweigh my desire to do something concrete to help the girl.”

    Shaving your head will not concretely help her. It would be a symbolic gesture, albeit a thoughtful one. But it would be almost the opposite of concrete help.

    “Also, I’d say that if an interviewer judges her by her hair, she probably wouldn’t want to spend the majority of her waking hours w/ those people anyway.”

    That’s reality. All interviewers are going to judge someone, even if subconsciously, on their appearance. For women, part of that is their hair. Just make an informed decision based on that knowledge. And who in this economy is able to pick and choose to only work with those we’d “want to spend the majority” of their time with, anyway?

    • Just wanted to add–and maybe it’s just my mean, cynical heart as someone above said–I think I would also wonder if you weren’t trying to make this little girl’s cancer a little bit too much about . . . . you? And I know that’s horrible to think, but it would pass through my mind, meaning, it would pass through at least a few other folks’, too.

  30. I agree with the posters who recommend finding other ways to show your support. Many are presenting a black and white image of how your interviewers will react – impressed with your loyalty and commitment or won’t hire you because it’s weird. I think the reality is a little in between. Most people will feel…awkward. They will be trying not to look at your head while you talk, and they’ll be so busy worrying about whether they’re looking that they may not pay attention to what you say. It’s like the C post and commentary on why women shouldn’t dress in a way that turns men on – it’s not that people will consciously judge you for it, but they may still miss what you’re saying because they’re distracted.

    I also think that if I were an employer, I would approve of your loyalty and heart, but question your judgment. You’ll be sending the message that you’re more into dramatic statements than practical, small gestures (which in my business are what matters most). Great if you’re in advertising or show business; not necessarily great for other careers. Given that there are all these other ways to show support, I’d wonder why you chose this particular one (and then, as mentioned by another poster, chose not to wear a wig to the interview). I certainly wouldn’t *not* hire an otherwise qualified candidate for that reason, but it would affect my overall impression of the person, in both positive and perhaps negative ways.

  31. I think there are both selfish and selfless reasons in favor of NOT shaving your head, and would advise against it.

    The selfish reason is that, in this economy, you really don’t need to make it any harder on yourself to find a job, and this could be a big setback.

    But the most important and selfless reason is that, IMO, this is one of those “grand gestures” that doesn’t really require that much effort on your part and is nowhere near as noble as those gestures that cannot be seen by others. Many other posters above mentioned other ways to help out this girl, and all of those have the added benefit of not being a “look at me” type of thing. Even if it’s not your intent, you are going to get some respect points for shaving your head, so it *will* be about you. But I think you get more “heaven points” (or whatever) for doing things that are truly the most helpful for the girl, such as spending your free time with her when frankly you’d rather be at home watching a favorite show or sleeping or out with your friends.

    And if this sounds judgy, I freely admit that I probably wouldn’t do any of these things unless it really was an immediate family member.

  32. I lost my mom when I was 22 after a 2 year battle with breast cancer. My mother went through extensive radiation and chemo treatments and did not loose her hair (I’m not sure if there’s any rhyme or reason as to why some people lose their hair and some don’t, but not EVERYONE loses their hair). That being said – I can say with absolute certainty that if she had lost her hair and I shaved mine to show solidarity, she’d have killed me (she loved my long blonde hair).
    Time is what people in this kind of situation appreciate, more than just symbolic gestures. Time together and the ability to “normal” activities was what meant the most to my mother (watching TV together, going shopping or out to eat). Spend some time with her, watch movies, have dinner with the family, do her nails, and go with her to some chemo treatments.
    If you really want to do some sort of gesture (which I could see to a 7-year old may be nice), my question is if you were to cut your hair pixie-cut short, do you have enough hair that a wig could be made from? Maybe your hair could be used make a wig for the little girl? Otherwise, chip in to get her a NICE wig and some really cute scarves.

  33. I’m having hair issues of a far more trivial nature, but I couldn’t resist your post anyway.

    I let my hair grow for about a year after a lifetime of short hair. It was a big mistake (I’m now seeing with fresh eyes how my very difficult hair has led to a lifetime of extremely short cuts) and is generally driving me crazy. I can’t wait to be rid of it and since I, too, will soon be looking for a job following a resume gap, I also worried that people on the other side of the desk would decide I must have had cancer instead of just the hair from Hell.

    My vote for you is to wait and see how chemo affects the patient–maybe by then you’ll have a job, where (hopefully) you will have made friends who will get the “shaved head” gesture OR the patient’s hair doesn’t fall out at all.

  34. I work in public policy in DC.

    You do not want to stand out because of your appearance in a job interview. DC is a conservative town full of conservatively-dressed people.

    Sorry. I think it would be fine to shave your head as soon as you get the job offer, and invest in some tasteful scarves to wear at work.

  35. There’s a reply to a coment upthread, by (a different?) AC. Thing is, I did submit a reply to my own comment, but referencing that one (by cb); however, the one I submitted, while along similar lines, was a little less, well, baldly stated [pardon the pun]. Just wondering what’s going on with commets?

  36. Hi all — OP here.

    Thanks for the support for my friend and for all the thoughts on the head-shaving. For those who have survived cancer or lost close friends/family, thanks for sharing the stories, and my best wishes to all.

    The majority of commenters don’t seem to think shaving my head a smart idea, and I think you’ve just about convinced me. A couple of things as I skim through the comments:

    1. She hasn’t lost her hair yet. There’s no way I’m going to go through with it if she doesn’t lose the hair, and even then, only if I know she’s having a really hard time with it.

    2. Spending time with her or other meaningful gestures. I agree with the thought. Part of the motivation for the head-shaving is that I go to school in Virginia and this family is in Connecticut, so I only see them when I am home. I would love to be able to visit more than I can, so I was looking for an additional way to show support. However, then the obvious question is: is it still supportive if she never sees it? Which is a big part of my hesitation. I appreciate all the other suggestions re wig, scarves, etc., and I’ll look into the LLS more.

    3. In interviews, I would be worried that the employer thought I was weird or flaky or a skinhead or generally not a good candidate. That’s another major concern I had, and based on some of these comments, it seems valid. I don’t want to get a wig, so I think this whole issue is another check mark in the “don’t do it” column.

    4. Re “the lie” — if I knew I was fudging it even a little bit, I’d probably be so nervous and stutter-y that it wouldn’t work. I think there’s a time and a place where C’s suggestion is perfectly appropriate (i.e. most places that aren’t an interview) but I just wouldn’t feel comfortable.

    5. I’ll think about a pixie cut as a good compromise. The girl and I are different ethnicities, so my hair won’t suit her skin or match her natural hair color at all. Can they dye the hair when they make wigs (to black from light brown, in this case)? Maybe it would be best just to get her a nice one that isn’t my hair.

    6. AC’s comment above mine about “baldly stated” cracked me up. Sorry. Had to say it.

    • Thanks for all the follow up info! I think if you’re in VA and she’s in CT, that pretty much settles it unless you’d consider tying it in with a visit to her.

      I had surgery as a kid that kept me in bed and out of school for several months (not cancer) when I was about that age. Here are a couple things I remember, not all of which would work or make sense today:
      – A sticker book in the mail and follow-up cards and letters with full sheets of stickers from a favorite babysitter who’d moved out of town
      – A new 7-CD changer player from a group of friends’ parents and then a new CD from one of the friends on a weekly basis
      – Visits at lunchtime; one friend (and her mom) would get my order for an ice cream sundae from TCBY and we’d all have ice cream for lunch! This happened maybe 2-3x but it was SO COOL!

      There were also tons of prepared meals, offers to babysit (especially helpful from the couple where one of them was a nurse), and offers to do grocery and other shopping for my parents. I know they really appreciated this.

      • Ditto to Eva’s suggestions. I have 7 and 8 year old sons. Getting packages in the mail is THE highlight of the day for them. Since you can’t be around frequently, mailing her stuff (a card, a letter, a coloring book, DVD, whatever) would be a meaningful thing you could do frequently. My middle son’s godmother sends him postcards from her travels around the world and he loves getting them. She often ends up mailing them from the States after her return but he doesn’t notice; he’s just happy to get the card/mail!

        Babysitting == absolutely awesome. We’ve had our bumps with our kids over the years (including major kidney surgery on #3 when he was a newborn) and the hands-down best help for me as a parent was someone coming to help with the kids, let me out of the house.

        And I’d like to echo what others said about chemo and hair loss. It may or may not happen, depending on the specific types of chemo drugs she gets and how her body reacts. If it does happen, it may take time — it will most likely not happen after the first treatment, but some time down the line. So this head-shaving, IMO, is premature, in addition to not being all that helpful if she’s not seeing you much.

        BTW, one more reason not to do it: if you don’t explain it very clearly up front, employers may be scared to hire you because of insurance issues, not just all of the leave involved with needing treatments and dealing with major illness. My son’s godmother, mentioned above, is living with Stage IV metastic breast cancer. Interviewing is a Big Deal for her b/c she does not want to let on about the cancer.

        And BTW, she’s rocked some pretty cool wigs when bald, though she did prefer the bald with head scarf/hat look for comfort. She’s in chemo now (round #5 or 6, I’ve lost count) and hasn’t lost it this time around. It’s scraggly and cut short, but still there.

  37. Liz (Europe) :

    Having once shaved my hair, I can say wigs are really unnoticeable, you don’t even have to go for natural hair, mine were like 25 euro and no one noticed a thing. But they become super-itchy and hot once you have short hair of your own, and by short I mean very very short, but by then you may already have the job so. Besides, even short hair is so much more acceptable than none at all.

  38. I am a cancer survivor and lost all my hair within two weeks of my first chemo treatment. It depends on what kind of chemo you are taking. I’m an adult, and I don’t know what it’s like to be a child or even know a child with cancer. Maybe they would feel better with the solidarity thing. That’s cool. From my perspective, it’s important to show love and caring, but going that far makes it more about you and not about them.

  39. Just after I graduated high school, I shaved my head partially just because I could (free from school dress code) and partially for convenience (had a terrible summer job where I had to wear a hat in a greasy environment). It was a really liberating experience, but it actually looked terrible on me. I felt so ugly until it grew out.

    I would say that your intentions are very noble, and I think you should wait to see how much of your friend’s hair falls out. Maybe a better idea would be to cut your hair very very short, and wear a scarf over it.

    And you should tell your friend what you’re thinking about. That would mean a lot to me, knowing that my hero cared so much.

  40. Being a lawyer who has been unemployed in a pricey city before- I have to say- you might consider passing on this one in self-interest. Unless you have independent life funding, you need a job and to get your career started on the right foot. There is a LOT of competition right now. Unfortunately the world is judgy and you don’t want to end up unemployed during a recession- that won’t help your friend because you may become broke and unhappy, and won’t be much of a supportive, positive force in her life at that stage- when she may really need you. Playing devil’s advocate here in a way, but I have learned the hard way to put myself first.

  41. My 3 year old daughter has leukemia. The treatment is a 2.5 year course of chemo daily, weekly, monthly.The first 6 months are insanely difficult for the patient and the caregivers.

    Prepared meals, babysitting, dollies, stickers, books, DVDs, coloring things are wonderful for the incredibly long days of clinic visits and hospital stays.
    Dog walking, taking other children out for special dates are also great things.

    As far as the shaved head.
    My daughter has preB ALL, and while her hair thinned in the first 5 months of treatment, it wasn’t until we hit month 6 and two drugs, Doxorubicin and Cytarabine, that her hair completely fell out. My daughter is a girly-girl, and the loss of hair was difficult for her. For awhile she told me she wasn’t beautiful, didn’t want to brush her teeth while looking in the mirror, and wouldn’t let us take any pictures of her.
    It was a hideous time for all of us.

    Her grandpa shaved his head in solidarity. I think it was a good thing–both of them are growing their hair back together now. I thought about doing it myself, but I couldn’t bear it on top of everything else.

    My daughter has a huge array of hats, and she doesn’t leave the house without one. She doesn’t really like the scarves because they fall off. Anyway, I was thinking that you could wait to shave your head until she’s really losing all of her hair–it likely won’t be with the first treatment. That way you could get through the interview(s) without the curiousity.

  42. I close friend’s daughter (age 6) had a very rare form of AML and under went three rounds of chemo before amazingly getting a transplant (thank God) –her hair thinned a great deal but never fell out completely. I mentioned just because you are assuming that all of her hair will fall out but that may not happen. Also, you are assuming that she’ll even appreciate that you’ve done this with her. It may make her feel guilty. Little kids that are very sick often feel guilty that they can’t have fun with their friends and family because they are very self-centered and think that other people aren’t having fun if they aren’t having fun. Shaving her head “for her” may make her feel worse. Also, if you look ugly with a bald head it may make her feel like she is ugly too. Afterall, when you interact with her, she’ll have to be looking at your bald head but can avoid looking at her own most of the time.

    Finally, come on people, this is certainly impact her ability to get a job!!! Even if people think her gesture is noble, they will still think it is strange and anti-social — two things that will lead them to not hire her!

    • Your points are well-taken, but strange and anti-social? Really? That seems totally bizarre to me – what on Earth is anti-social about doing something as a gesture of support for someone you love. Not to mention that the whole “shaving your head for a loved one going through chemo” thing is pretty well-entrenched in the media at this point; it’s not like it’s an unheard of concept.

      This stuff is making me come down more and more on the side of “if they’re going to judge you, you don’t want to work for them.” The letter writer didn’t give the impression of being so destitute as to have to put up with that kind of crap.

  43. I agree with the wig (for you) or cutting your hair if it’s long enough and donating to locks for your love (maybe for your friend going through chemo). I also t hink there’s lots of (other) ways to show your support for your friend.

  44. AlwaysLurking :

    I have a niece who was diagnosed with leukemia when she was five. With the initial treatment, then treatment after a relapse, and then later a transplant, she ended up losing her hair three times. She wore wigs a fair amount, but around the house she generally wore soft hats or bandanas. Like many other posters have said, I think gifts and attention from the OP would mean more to the child than the head-shaving would. I would recommend soft knitted hats with a shape rather than basic skull caps — my niece and her sister still wear some of the ones I bought almost six years ago. If the OP is at all crafty, she could embellish some bandanas. I took glittery puff fabric paint and outlined the designs on standard bandanas and glued rhinestones, etc., on plain bandanas. (Don’t embellish the whole bandana. My niece wore hers the normal way — folded into a triangle and tied at the nape of the neck, so I decorated just the triangle of fabric on top. You wouldn’t want anything scratchy on the part that will be touching her head.). You might also think about a Buff for her. It’s basically a stretchy tubular bandana — I think they wear them on Survivor. The Buff absolutely stays put on my head, which has hair, but I’ve read reviews of Buffs by cancer patients who love them and say they don’t slide off bald heads either. They make Buffs in a junior size that should fit the young girl’s head. The best selection I’ve found is online at PlanetBuff. Another present that might be worthwhile would be a portable DVD player and a bunch of dvds. She could take it with her to the many clinic visits she will be making, and the OP can send new dvds along the way.

    You’re a very good friend for wanting to do something for this child and her family. They’re about to embark on a hard and emotionally draining journey. They’ll need as much as help, love, and support as they can get.

    And to Spacegeek — good luck to you and your family. I’m sorry you’re having to fight this nasty battle. The preB treatment protocol is really rough. I chose to believe that good thoughts from strangers scattered across the globe do some good at some level, and you’ve now got another person thinking positive and hopeful thoughts about your daughter and your family.

  45. Definition of “Anti-Social Behavior”: This term generally refers to actions that deviate significantly from established social norms.

  46. Nope non-conformist does not capture what I was trying to say and I like my definition of anti-social better. Your definition is, I think, more of a pyschological disorder type definition which I would never accuse this person of having.
    While I think that many women look beautiful with a shaved head, it is not a generally accepted or normal hairstyle in the US. I think that women in the US (particulary white women) that shave their head are doing it for attention and are doing it to look out of ordinary and make a statement. Arguable, even this reader is doing it for those purposes. Additionally, people who take extreme measures with their physical appearance are most often doing it (either consciously or unconsciously) to make other people uncomfortable in some way.
    While going bald may be nobel in some people’s minds it is likely to be seen as anti-social, silly, outrageous, ignorant, misguided, excessive, unnecessary or selfish by others. Still others will see it for what it likely is — an attempt to get attention (if not for herself then for the cancer patient friend). Those to whom she cannot explain, will make assumptions and judgments. The time that she is looking for a job is not the time to do this.

    • You don’t really get to make up definitions to commonly accepted phrases and not expect people to be confused by them.

  47. You have got to be kidding! Saying the child is a “cousin” is no better than misrepresenting that she is one’s daughter. Any employer who learned that such a Lie–yes, a capitol “L” Lie– had been told, would likely terminate this individual.
    The easy solution: get a wig.

  48. I just want to reiterate the most glaringly important issue at hand: IF YOU GO TO AN INTERVIEW WITH A SHAVED HEAD, YOU WILL BE SERIOUSLY JEOPARDIZING YOUR CHANCES OF BEING HIRED.

  49. Anonymous :

    May I suggest another very personal way to show solidarity: donate platelets during the course of her treatment. This usually takes a couple of hours and should be done at the hospital where she’ll be treated. Making this donation is personal, may be scheduled with your visits and even if they don’t specifically go to your friend, they are replenishing the supply she is/will be drawing from.
    Meanwhile, the focus is removed from you having to explain your appearance. I’m sure your friend wouldn’t want you doing something that puts you at a disadvantage when she needs your energy, love and support during this difficult time – she’s lucky to have such a good friend and I’m sure she’ll want to be hearing stories of your triumphs to lighten her mood. Finally, my most sincere wishes for a full recovery for your friend.

  50. I live and work in DC–Main Justice, in fact. I’ll reiterate what others have said about DC being a conservative place. So much so that I bought a red suit jacket and wore it once, then I was so self-conscious about it the entire day I never wore it again. Ditto a springy bright/light blue. Black suits, grey suits, and navy suits are more than just the norm here.

    DC is also a one-company town. Almost everything in DC either is the Government, contracts for the Government, or lobbies the Government. And the Government is not known for its empathy. I’d love to say that the people I work for would look past the bald head and applaud your reasons for it (and they probably would, for you as a person), but for you as an employee, I think when they went back behind closed doors and talked about it, they’d probably take you out of the running for a few reasons:
    1 – most of the people who make these decisions are older white males;
    2 – they’ll think it’s wierd (I don’t, but when I’ve sat in on interviews, I’ve heard that over and over again, for things I didn’t think twice over);
    3 – it is likely to emphasize your youth, which is something you don’t want to do in DC. People shaving their head in solidarity with a friend/sister/etc. is something that is often heard in conjunction with high school/middle school sports teams/groups/etc. Again, I reference that most of the people making these decisions in DC are old white men, who–for serious work–don’t always want youth.
    4 – no matter what your position, unless you’re working from home, you will be interacting with people. Looking for a position on the Hill? Get ready to be a receptionist. Looking for a position at a think tank? If you want to get anywhere, you’ll be doing your level best to go with the folks who meet with House/Senate staffers on issues. And no matter how much the hiring committee may laud your personal choice as a personal choice, it will reflect on them when people see you. And the simple fact of the matter is that you’re not going to be able to explain it to every single person you meet or who sees you in the course of your job.

    So my personal advice would be, if you want a job in DC? Don’t shave your head, no matter how noble your reasons.

    All of that aside, if you do decide to do it, I wish you the best of luck with your job search, and hope that I’m very wrong about what I’ve written.

  51. First, I am sorry to hear about this child; the treatment process will be difficult and it is sad that any child has to endure it.

    Secondly, I applaud your wanting to show support.

    Thirdly, I would advise you to wait until you see what happens to your young friend’s hair during her treatments. As was stated earlier, not everyone loses their hair as a result of chemo treatments.

    But, if you *do* decide to shave your hair. Here is a suggestion for a win/win situation: purchase a good wig for interviews and work. Wearing a wig for interviews and subsequent work would prevent any problems that may arise as a result of showing up with a shaved head plus, you can remove the wig when you visit your young friend and show your shaved head when and if her hair is gone?

    A wig is a solution since realistically speaking, most companies *will* make certain assumptions about a woman showing up for an interview with a shaved head…regardless of why. Good Luck.

  52. I’m a little late to the party, but she could also make a fundraiser out of shaving her head, check out St Baldricks for more info.

  53. IMHO, the bald-headed look is only professional for black men. They actually look better bald because of their coarse hair texture, no offense. It just looks neater to me.

  54. by law no workforce can descriminate against you for your head being bald or ask you why its bald know your rights and execute them and remember wear your bald head proudly i.m 54 and i.m bald and love it wouldn.t have it any other way and its by choice not sickness

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