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Is the job worth a nip and a tuck?

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in Career Management,Workplace Communication

A 64-year-old receptionist in a Chicago doctor’s office—we’ll call her Jane—recently received an ultimatum: Do something about your thinning hair or be transferred to a job with less patient contact.

Jane says, “I was absolutely devastated.”

U.S. workers—especially those currently looking for jobs—are feeling the sting of age bias. Some job-seekers are updating more than their skills, turning to teeth whitening, teeth straightening, Botox treatments and facelifts to gain a needed edge in the job hunt.

How far would you go to stay competitive by improving your looks?

Before you answer, consider this:

√ Looks matter. One psychology professor at Harvard Medical School found, after a 25-year research project, that attractive people are more likely to be hired and promoted, and earn higher salaries.

√ Is it really so different from investing in your skills? Some workers are already qualified for jobs but still aren’t getting them. They don’t need to invest in new skills.

In almost three decades on the job as a pharmaceutical sales rep, Charlotte Doyle never heard anyone say anything about her looks or her job performance. But as a job-seeker, Doyle has become acutely aware of her age, after recruiters told her to omit or finesse key dates on applications.

She decided not to lie on her résumé, and opted instead for orthodontia. “I would do it all—Botox, lasers, everything—if I could afford it,” says Doyle. “If it meant getting hired, I would do whatever I could to stop time.”

√ Better packaging won’t necessarily get you the nod as much as the ability to adapt to a constantly changing workplace and networking, says Jacquelyn James, of the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.

“Of course, you want to do everything possible to look appealing, but you don’t have to restructure your face,” says the 63-year-old research director. It’s more important to be social and “get in front of people and show them the positive energy and the light in your eyes.”

If you’re thinking that such extremes sound crazy, you have company: Kathy Kacen, 59, says she’s been unemployed or underemployed since 2005, but she would never get “work” done. “It’s just not me,” she says. “If I had that kind of disposable income, I’d invest in education.”

In the case of the receptionist with the thinning hair, she found her way to a salon that could artfully blend an addition with her hair to give it more volume.

“Hair is the first thing that people see,” says the receptionist, shaking out a full head of auburn curls. “But no matter the problem, no matter where you work, do something before everyone starts noticing.”

— Adapted from “A new wrinkle for job seekers,” Bonnie Miller Rubin, Chicago Tribune.

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