I do think the What Should Candidates Wear survey is the silliest of the Hiring Librarian surveys. For one, the response choices are a bit flippant, “poor attempts at humor.” I am also not someone who thinks very much about clothing, and I don’t particularly notice what others wear unless it’s arty or shiny.
Nevertheless, I’ve been interested in the responses, and the responses to the responses.
People who take this survey invariably feel that candidates should dress “professionally.” But, and I say this knowing that my mother sometimes reads my blog and hates this kind of language, what the fuck does that even mean?
Is it ok for a professional librarian to wear a fedora, even if they are not a YA librarian? Will your choice to get full sleeve tattoos, or dye your hair blue, make you less professional? Can you be a professional librarian without dressing like a certain kind of white lady?
These are some of the less subtle questions, but there are many details to worry about, in deciding if your interview outfit is “professional.”
“Professional” is not a term with a standard definition. It’s more like pornography, in that the eye of the beholder and the “average person, applying contemporary community standards” are integral to defining it.
You get what I’m saying? It’s subjective. It’s not a good instruction to give someone who doesn’t know you very well.
When my mother was my age, a woman’s professional outfit always included pantyhose. Is this still true? That’s why we ask about pantyhose. Not because we’re trying to convince women to wear it, or that it matters to us personally, but because we want to know if it does still matter to other people. People who might have a say in whether or not someone gets a job.
In the survey I just posted, the respondent took issue with three questions. The first was the true/false:
Bare arms are inappropriate in an interview, even in the summer.
The respondent says,
I have always thought this was a very sexist question and wonder why you continue to include it
What does this have to do with sex? Both men and women wear short sleeve or sleeveless shirts sometimes, particularly in the summer.
The second is:
If a woman wears a skirt to an interview, should she also wear pantyhose?
The response is:
again, why do you ask this kind of question? do you care what kind of socks male candidates wear?
Personally, I don’t care about men’s socks, but neither do I care about pantyhose. I don’t wear skirts to interviews, so this isn’t even something I care about when dressing as a job hunter. But I don’t hire so my opinions don’t really matter in this context. I’m curious if others are still measuring “professional dress” by the same pantyhose standard of previous decades. And in fact, 34% of people who answered this didn’t consider pantyhose a dealbreaker. (We didn’t provide an “I don’t care” option for this one, unfortunately. Hindsight.) Isn’t it nice to know that’s it not particularly a requirement for a “professional” women’s outfit?
And the final question and issue is:
Women should wear make-up to an interview:
likewise on the sexist side
13 respondents (5%) think that women should “always” wear make-up to interviews, and I inevitably hear from disgusted job hunters when those surveys are posted (usually via Tumblr. There are a lot of gender activist types on Tumblr). Is it sexist to think women should always wear make-up? I don’t know. Is the question itself sexist? I don’t think so. Even if you think “women should always wear make-up to interviews” is a sexist statement, why would it be sexist to ask whether or not people think that? Is it sexist to ask, “are you sexist?”
These last two questions, the pantyhose question and the make-up question, get the most flak.
Here are some thoughts. Many, perhaps even most, people would hold men and women to different standards when deciding if an outfit is professional. There are a lot of different kinds of women who are or want to be librarians, and some (many?) of them might be waffling about pantyhose, or makeup. That’s why we asked the question. Women who want to dress on the feminine side for an interview might be interested. In case that’s you, I hope this helps.
But women, and men, and people who don’t particularly identify as either, I hope you will feel free to ignore those answers and dress by your own standard of professional. Just as I hope you will feel free to ignore any answers you find on Hiring Librarians that won’t work for you. It might help to look through the Stats post here and look out for all the people that choose “I don’t care” as an answer. Getting hired isn’t about doing a majority rules thing. It’s about finding the people who run the kind of show you want to be a part of, and giving them your best.
Here is what I’m thinking about now. I run vanity searches for the term “hiring librarians” on Twitter, and I ran into the post “On Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Librarian Image” and some tweeting by Cecily Walker, the woman who wrote it. On Twitter, she talks about how some of the Hiring Librarians posts make her feel “squirrelly.”
Now, I’m a white lady librarian, and it’s only a matter of ticking minutes before I become a white lady librarian of a certain age. I’m pretty sure Jill, who co-wrote the survey, is also a white lady librarian (although I don’t know, as we’ve never talked about her race and never met in person – I’ve only ever seen a photo of her).
So while I say and mean very strongly “women, and men, and people who don’t particularly identify as either, I hope you will feel free to ignore those answers and dress by your own standard of professional,” I am who I am and I know that there’s at least a soupçon of white lady privilege inherent in my own perspective, and in this survey (white middle class lady, no less).
I would like very much if librarianship was less of a white lady profession and more of a all-kinds-of-people profession. I think the work we do is too important for homogeneity.
Here’s another point – I generally know very little about the identity of the respondents – nothing about biological sex parts, or gender-identification, or race, or class, etc. etc.
The most recent respondent said,
honestly I think you need to drop the questions about makeup and pantyhose.
So I’m considering – should things be rewritten? I have about 100 unpublished responses, should I still put those up? Are the responses harmful, or hurtful? Or merely occasionally annoying?
I’m interested in your thoughts.