Your weight matters when it comes to getting hired and getting a promotion. No one wants to believe employers are shallow enough to care about how much a person weighs, but study after study points to discrimination against obese job candidates and employees.
"We are living in such a politically correct society where we are deluding ourselves into believing overweight people are not discriminated against," says Steve Siebold, a consultant to Fortune 500 companies and author of Die Fat or Get Tough: 101 Differences in Thinking Between Fat People and Fit People. "Many employers look at obese candidates and immediately think, 'this person failed in controlling their own health, how are they going to run a division,'" he says.
Earlier this month the Wall Street Journal, citing data from the Center for Creative Leadership, reported overweight executives and those with higher body mass index readings were often looked at as less effective in their job both from a performance and interpersonal relationship perspective.
In addition to being perceived as ineffectual, Siebold says employers are also concerned that obese people will be sick more often, which will result in lost productivity and higher healthcare costs.
Although losing weight would be the ideal way to combat discrimination, it is easier said than done for millions of Americans. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, two-thirds of U.S. adults are either overweight or fall into the obese category. Fighting and proving discrimination can be an uphill battle but there are ways overweight and obese people can portray themselves in a better light short of shedding those pounds.
"If you are aware of what the biases are, and what the stereotypes are you can to try to combat them," says Pamela Skillings, co-founder of job coaching firm Skillful Communications. "You can try your best to counter the unspoken by presenting yourself as professional."
According to career experts, since people all too often judge a book by its cover, what you wear to a job interview, especially if you are carrying a few extra pounds, matters. "For a person who is a little bit overweight it's really important to have good grooming," says Terry Pile, principal consultant of Career Advisors. She says to choose clothes that are slimming and fashionable and stay away from those that may be frumpy or outdated.
Another way to fight the discrimination is to be cognizant of the type of companies you seek to work. For instance, if you are obese, Pile says you may not want to apply for a job at a fitness company or at a fashion house where the employer is obsessed with appearance or where they may discriminate against you. Pile says to research the company online to see the type of people that are working there. "Are they the beautiful people or are they normal people? It will give you a sense of that culture or industry," she says.
One of the major myths about overweight people is that they are lazy and don't have the self-control and the stamina to do the job well. While many people don't subscribe to that belief, there are others that unfortunately think that way. That's why it's important, say career experts, to weave examples into your job interview that counter that perception. "Emphasize how you worked hard, stayed late or worked over the weekend and how you have the endurance and energy," says Skillings.
Siebold goes as far as to say the candidate should address their weight issues at the beginning of the interview to avoid the interviewer from coming up with the wrong conclusion. He says to say something like, 'I've gained a few pounds last year, and I'm actively losing weight.' "It would remove the objection," says Siebold, noting that employers want to hear that you are aware of the problem and are taking the steps to change your situation.
In a perfect world you would be judged solely on your own merits, but even in a world full of discrimination it's important not to let any negative experiences get you down or hurt your self-confidence. Part of landing a job is being self-confident, and if it wavers because of things out of your control it could hurt your chances. "Don't let the fact that some people think that way make you feel like you are not good enough for the job," says Skillings. "You can't control what other people think, but you can prove them wrong."
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