Ask FGG: "How do I take the focus off my weight during a job interview?"
Posted by Tee in Ask FGG
Lauren looking smart + no-nonsense in a chic jumper dress
I've been job-hunting since October after being laid off from the job I've had since I first started putting on weight about eight or so years ago. So before now I never had to sit in front of an interview panel as the only fat girl in the room. It's VERY uncomfortable! I think it shows, and I keep getting hesitant vibes like they're not sure about me even though our phone and email chats went great before meeting face-to-face. It's not like I'm not applying for a manual labor job or a ballerina, I'm an executive assistant! I just want to relax and forget about my weight and show them why I'm the best candidate, but I can't seem to get over it, and judging by the lack of job offers, it seems they can't either. Suggestions?"

I remember an interview question from all the way back in 1998: "This is an old building so we don't have an elevator, only one flight of stairs. Will this be a problem for you?"

I probably don't need to say that I was no longer interested in the job after that, and for self-respect's sake I'm glad I spoke up and said so. But it gave me my first taste of fat-related interview bias, and I've spent years since then making sure employers and clients get it, from the first handshake, that there is nothing about any job or project they could offer me that my weight would get in the way of.

With the help of two pals and former co-workers (also chubby) who are both involved in hiring at their respective companies, I've got three great tips I've learned (and used) below. I haven't had that problem since.

While fat bias is unfortunately found in the workplace more often than it's not, when it comes to hiring, it's often less about a candidate being fat and more of an ignorance about fat that's the problem.

Today, the combination of energy, confidence, speed and smarts are the holy grail for most companies. These people want to hire people who are mentally agile, always on-the-go, full of moxie and ideas, and ready to tackle anything, anytime with a roll-up-your-sleeves and dig in approach. Sadly, they've also been exposed to the unrelenting images of fat folk as lazy, lacking ambition, moving slowly and having very little confidence with which to make critical moves or decisions. Maybe they've even had an employee or two who fit that description and now they're convinced.

To battle that, you need to show, not just tell, that you've got the muscle and motivation it takes to do the job. When you apply, line your resume with examples of volunteer work or even hobbies that fly in the face of fat myths - even if it doesn't directly relate to the job. Teach dance class? List it. Coach softball? List it it. Volunteer at a special needs summer camp? List it! When you arrive, walk briskly into the building or office. If you're winded from stairs or rushing, stop in the hall or visit the restroom first to catch your breath, and then go in. Shake hands firmly, use a friendly but authoritative voice, and start right in asking your own questions. If they feel like they're trying to keep pace with you, they won't have time to wonder if you can keep pace with them. But don't overdo it - pushy and bullish can be a turnoff, too.

Loose-fitting, frumpy or shapeless clothes can give the impression of sloppiness and poor self-esteem, and can even affect your posture and physical focus when you're the center of attention.

This was a big one for me, as for years I had such a hard time resisting the temptation to cover up my lumpy spots with clothes a size too big, thinking that, what, I don't know...that maybe they wouldn't know I was fat? Ha! Not so. I now notice a huge difference not only in others' reception of me, but my own self-confidence and poise, too, when I wear clothes that fit really well and actually show my body shape. I've noticed I stand up straighter, and do a lot less fidgeting with my sleeves or other parts of my outfit if it's not hanging off me. That's a distraction, and all eyes will be on your moo-moo-like apparel instead of where it should be: your eyes, your words and your resume.

Obviously going bold with your wardrobe can backfire if your clothes are too tight or revealing, or too casual, but finding the balance between professional and body-confident is an easy way to get impressions to swing in your favor from the moment you walk in the door.

Talking about your job history and qualifications in task-related terms can give hiring executives the impression that you're a corporate drone, or a just-here-for-the-paycheck employee. It's achievements and action that get their attention and let them know you're a can-do candidate.

This advice is true for anyone who's stumping for a new job, but for women who are overweight, it's a serious tool that can make or break how the person/people doing the interview sees you in relationship to the job. Don't go on about all the phones you answered or what a great alphabetician you are in a filing room or how impressed your old boss was that you know the lost art of shorthand. That will make your potential employer visualize you moving from machine to machine or paper stack to paper stack, and the chances of them visualizing you as "just another fat person" in their own position go way up.

Instead, talk about your experience in terms of accomplishments. Did your overhaul of the customer service process boost customer loyalty by 24% last year? Did the extra marketing classes you took at night turn you into the company's go-to person for social media? Did your reputation for going the extra mile earn you an employee-of-the-month award? Talk about it!

An interview is the last place you want to be shy, and you want to leave hiring personnel buzzing, imagining all the cool, above and beyond stuff you'll do for them if they hire you.

If you add these three tips to your arsenal, along with an already-strong background in the job you're applying for, and they still don't hire you: move on. Chances are they're not a company you want to work for anyway. Keep at it and find the one that fits no matter what size you are - they're out there, and they're waiting for ya.

Good luck!