Saturday, October 22, 2016

Clearing Hurdles

On Monday, I'll get to do something which until now I haven't been able to successfully manage since I moved here:

I have a job interview. An actual, face-to-face, come-on-down-and-meet-the-boss, opportunity to score myself some work. It's part-time at a local retail establishment which I don't think it's appropriate to name unless and until I actually get the job.

Sure, I wish it was for something full-time, but hey, I gotta start somewhere and this is a job I know I can do and be good at. It's also for a company with a pretty progressive rep and I know the trans thing isn't going to be an issue. It shouldn't matter, of course, but it does.

If there's anything I've learned looking for work here in Philly, it's that too many employers just don't want to hire a trans person. It's no surprise that they're not open about it. After all, it's illegal here to refuse to hire someone because they're trans so no smart employer is ever going to admit to it. Still, there are plenty of clues which tell me that's what's been going on.

Many of the jobs I've applied for I'm fully qualified for, some even overqualified, especially the ones in retail. Yet in no case until now have I gotten an actual interview. Instead, I get a "Thanks for applying, but..." form email in just about every case.

Having been a retail manager who's made and participated in hiring decisions myself, I have a good idea of what companies are looking for as well as what constitutes a red flag. I've seen candidates rejected for all kinds of reasons, but most commonly for two things: Potential longevity on the job, and physical appearance.

The first one is usually when the job is something that will require an investment in time and (sometimes) money to train a new hire. Many employers are reluctant to make that kind of investment in an employee they believe will quit as soon as something better comes along. This includes young people who will likely be off to college soon as well as those who (like me) also work in other industries.

The other is tied up in how a potential new hire appears and how management thinks they might be seen by customers. Sometimes, it's genuine racism or anti-LGBT sentiment where a manager believes that customers don't want to see a person of color or someone visibly Queer behind the counter. Other times, it's when someone comes in for an interview inappropriately dressed.

While racism and anti-LGBT bigotry are always the wrong things to base hiring decisions on, I have far less sympathy for those who dress inappropriately for interviews. Showing up for a job interview in clothes that make you look like you just walked off the basketball court, a street corner, or out of a club sends a message you don't respect the job, that getting hired isn't important enough to you to dress to impress.

No one expects an applicant for a low-level retail position to show up in Brooks Brothers or Lord and Taylor, but you can say a lot to a potential employer by wearing an outfit that indicates respect, both for yourself and for the company you're hoping to work for. I've seen many potentially good candidates rejected out-of-hand because they showed up in baggy pants and a backward cap, a skirt that was too short, a top that was too revealing, too much or too slutty makeup, etc. These cases can often be sad, because even though the applicant might be fully qualified, no one's going to consider their qualifications once it's been determined that their manner of dress is inappropriate and/or disrespectful.

It's important to remember that regardless of the level of the position, you're applying for work at a place of business, one which the manager interviewing you is highly invested in. If your appearance doesn't reflect the same kind of respect for that job and that business your interviewer has, you might as well just turn around and go home because you're not getting the job.

Simply put, managers hire people who they believe are going to make their own jobs easier and make them look good. If you don't convey that message through how you present yourself for an interview, a good manager will keep looking for someone else who does.

In many cases, trans applicants start with one strike against us the moment we walk in the door. We're trans, and that itself can bring with it a fair amount of baggage in terms or who and what people think we are and how we live our lives. If you can get past the hurdle of actually getting the interview in the first place, proper presentation at an interview can go a long way toward quelling those kinds of fears and inspiring your interviewer to judge you based on your qualifications rather than your trans status.

I've already got two possible outfits picked out for Monday. I'll make a final decision that morning, when I see what the weather's like. For this interview, business casual is the look I'm going for.

Fingers crossed.