I recently interviewed for an assistant sommelier position at a major hotel in midtown Manhattan. After filling out the necessary paperwork, I met with an HR representative who quickly led me to his office deep down in the neon-lit, unglamorous basement of the hotel. Before I even had the chance to hang my coat and take a seat he began his long list of probing questions.
The questions, which were shot at me like the lightning round of a TV game show, were pointed and uncomfortable. I expected to be asked about my knowledge of Bordeaux and Burgundy, not my personal ethics. At one point in the interview he asked me to describe myself in a single word or phrase. Stunned, I wished I could opt to phone a friend to answer this one for me. How on earth can I create a tagline for myself on the fly?
Surprisingly, not one question was asked about food or wine. Instead he asked me to describe things like my most serious regrets and how I react to failure. It felt more like a confessional than a job interview and I was completely blindsided by his hard-hitting questions.
At the end of the interview he said he had one more question that may be uncomfortable for me to answer. My mind began to race, thinking of a question that could be any more uncomfortable than the last few. Would he ask about my sexuality, a death in the family, or how I once shoplifted at the grocery store when I was six? His eyebrows furrowed, he was about to ask something seriously personal.
“Mr. Bean, how attached are you to your facial hair?”
Apparently, this particular corporation bans beards. Well-groomed moustaches are okay but anything more than that is not allowed, unless, he specified, your beard is part of your religious practice.
Regardless of my answer to his question, I felt like the job opportunity was lost for me. My beard conveyed a certain attitude and marked me as some sort of anti-corporate rebel. I left the interview feeling like maybe I should sport a different look. Perhaps a clean-shaven face would open more doors and make me more appealing in certain job interviews. Job hunting is a lot like auditioning for a character role, but the challenge is that you are given no information on the specific qualities you are supposed to portray to win the part.
I never received another call from the hotel and I’m blaming it on the beard.
Since the interview, I’ve had to seriously think about the seemingly small details that may keep me from getting hired. I’m starting to think that it’s the subtle, non-verbal characteristics that set you apart and impress a potential employer. Rather than spending time revising my resume, maybe I should be spending more time with my razor.