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:

  • 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.



  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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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