You are going on the biggest job interview of your life.
Here is my fictionalized version of my phone ringing. Who is it on the other end of the line but none other than my pretend friend, Sonia Sotomayer, calling me, Stephen Viscusi, America's Workplace Guru, to ask for advice.
Sonia tells me she has a tough interview coming up for a big job in Washington. This interview won't be one-on-one. It will be nine guys, plus a room full of people interviewing her - not to mention that it will be broadcast on TV. In this fictional phone call, she tells me that she read my book, Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins), and that she thought I overemphasized the importance of "image" in my book. Even so, Sonia thinks she is qualified, but she's no Sarah Palin or Nancy Pelosi when it comes to her appearance. So, how does she prepare?
Whether we like it or not, women are often held to a separate standard than men, when it comes to the way they look: dress, hair, jewelry, makeup, and famously, shoes. This was very much a part of Sarah Palin's argument about the way she was judged on the campaign trail and why her wardrobe was partially financed by outsiders.
As I write in my book, Bulletproof Your Job, image and looks are big influencers for both men and women. Consider the fact that statistically, most male CEOs are over 6 feet tall and we all know that women in the workplace - and in public offices - seem to be held to a different standard.
I read more about Speaker Pelosi's Botox and plastic surgery than I do about her legislative accomplishments. It's not fair and it's a distraction. I can also tell how many men, from CEOs to politicians, look like they have had some cosmetic enhancements - ahem, Joe Biden's hair transplants. Not to mention that I live in New York City, where our own mayor looks "refreshed." It is not limited to politics - it also applies to every corporate boardroom.
So let's get back to Sonia waiting on the phone.
"Well, Your Honor," I say, to which she replies, "Stephen, please call me Sonia. And tell me how you think I can get this job."
Taking a deep breath, I say: "Sonia, I saw you on TV at the start of the hearings. Nothing personal, but are you the only woman in the world that has not heard of SPANX? Come on - go buy some."
I tell her that one time I was flipping through channels and thought I'd stumbled upon an interview with the host of "Dance Your Ass Off," Marissa Jaret Winokur, testifying at a Senate hearing, but it was really Sonia testifying before the Senate. I even tell Sonia that when I first saw her, I assumed she was getting her hair colored by same person who did Ronald Reagan's, until I realized that person must be dead by now.
Sonia is a woman you'd want to be selected for a surprise makeover on Kathie Lee and Hoda's fourth hour of "The Today Show." Her hair is driving me crazy.
I just wonder why she didn't blow-dry her hair, even in the ladies room of the Senate building, where the hearings were being held. I get that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is no glamour-puss, but this is a woman with the heritage of Rosie Perez and, I might add, single - so, as my mother would have said, you never know..."Mr. Right could be watching!"
But here's the thing. Her Honor really killed my entire theory about looks.
The "hiring authorities" (as we call them in the headhunting world) who were interviewing Sonia, regardless of their political party, were far more obnoxious then any single human resources executive, or potential boss that any one of you reading this will ever come across.
Therefore, Sonia Sotomayor brings us to the newest dimension in finding a job today: my new mantra: attitude. She had a great attitude and won everyone over because she was not high maintenance, not obnoxious, and she seduced everyone into liking her (also another chapter in my book).
So, "looks" aside, she will get the job, in spite of her Spanx-less appearance, because she is qualified and knowledgeable in her field.
Sotomayor should be a role model for all the less-than-glamorous men and women who are always ready to blame their appearance for their job woes. Sonia's interviewers were tougher than anyone else's, and sometimes people delude themselves into believing that everything is based on looks, when it has more to do with "chemistry" . And, apparently, attitude and a winning smile will beat out Spanx.
You're always welcome to write me with your career dilemmas, and I'll answer you on this column.
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Stephen Viscusi is the author of two books about jobs and the workplace. Charles Gibson from ABC's World News calls Viscusi, "America's Workplace Guru".