Anyone who has accepted an offer of my help, or who has indeed sought out my personal advice will tell you that I will show little hesitation to point out what I perceive as barriers to employment. While this is helpful in getting an issue out for discussion that needs to be addressed, I’m also quick with suggestions, ideas and have a willingness to look at ways to address the barriers. In other words, it’s one thing to say to someone, “Here’s your problem…” and another to say, “Here’s an issue and I have a few strategies for overcoming the problem.”
Now this being said, I am going to launch into a subject that many will find uncomfortable and I may either get some backlash on for even raising at all, or I might get a message or two of support for having the courage to raise the issue. Either way; avoiding a conversation or talking about the issue doesn’t change the fact that the barrier to employment exists in the first place.
So what am I leading up to? The issue of obesity for those seeking employment who like all job applicants are evaluated and judged by interviewers and company representatives among other things on their appearance; that all important first impression.
You know it’s one thing to critique a person’s resume or cover letter; both examples of an external product. It’s far easier for someone to hear that their resume needs a complete overhaul because it is extremely bad than it is for the same person to have someone else point out their excessive body weight. Likewise, it is also more comfortable for the Coach or Counsellor to point out problems with applications than it is to have a frank discussion about physical appearance and being overweight. It does not serve the job seeker however to avoid topics which the Coach or Counsellor find uncomfortable. I have found over time that when trust is built between me as an Employment Counsellor and those I work with, they appreciate my honesty and they appreciate too the suggestions I give on how to tackle the subject in an interview.
We must be honest and agree that prejudice is all around us. We have our own biases and prejudices and we all size up those we interact with. It is no different to acknowledge that we ourselves are going to be sized up and evaluated when we meet others. Some of our meetings are going to be first with a Receptionist followed by an interviewer or perhaps a panel of interviewers. While you can perhaps hide a tattoo or manage to skirt an issue with your previous employer, you cannot hide your physical presence when you are overweight.
Some jobs of course require a person to be in excellent physical condition. If the posting itself indicates there’s a lot of heavy lifting and the job is physically demanding, not only are you wrong for the job, but quite frankly the job is wrong for you. You could seriously harm yourself through over-exertion and ultimately have to quit because your health is endangered. In such a situation, a company official has to take your physical health into consideration and you may be disqualified in part or in whole for being out of shape and obese; this isn’t discrimination.
On the other hand, if the job doesn’t involve physical exertion and you have the skills and experience, being rejected based on your weight is discrimination. They may not say it outright, but you could probably read into their body language and cues that you’ve been rejected before they actually tell you you’re not what they are looking for.
To combat this barrier here’s a few ideas. First get a medical checkup and have a serious conversation with your doctor about your weight and decide for yourself if losing weight is what you want to do. It may not only be good for your employment prospects but also good for your heart and your health.
The most immediate thing you can do is to ensure your clothing matches your size. Getting the right size clothing often costs more than a standard cut but the end result is a better look. You’ll want to look comfortable in your clothing too during an interview, and the right sizes can keep you from fidgeting with tucking in a shirt or trying to keep your stomach tight etc. And of course the right size clothing can help you avoid over-sweating and snowballing your anxiety.
Arrive early, visit the restrooms and take stock of your appearance. This is the best place to change into your interview attire – especially if it’s a very hot day. Freshen up with hygiene products and be as discreet as you can as another visitor could be your interviewer.
If you feel upon the first few minutes of the interview that things are going badly, be prepared to gamble the opportunity by talking about your goals to lose weight, your plan to make it happen and refocus back on your actual qualifications. In fact, you could even praise the interviewer for not making the mistake like other interviewers who have held open prejudices about your weight. How can they now do anything but agree with you?
Being overweight is not a comfortable topic but you should be open to the discussion.