Evil HR Lady gives what I think is some unusually bad advice to a 400-pound job-seeker who wonders if it’s their weight that’s the problem. (Unusual in that her advice is usually good, that is. This particular advice is all too common.)
You said, “If I had indications of something I needed to work on, I’d work to address the issue.” The reality is, you do have an indication of an issue you need to work on and it’s your weight. You’re right that walking in and saying, “Hey, I may be overweight, but I can still do the splits!” is probably not the best way to go about it. But confusing the ideal (people should be judged on their skill and value they bring to the company) with the reality (people hold negative stereotypes about overweight individuals) doesn’t get you anywhere. I have no idea if you have underlying medical conditions that make weight gain easy and weight loss nearly impossible, or if you just like eating too much. Either way, though don’t delude yourself saying, “There’s nothing I need to work on.” This is, undoubtedly, affecting your career and most likely you can work on it.
So, because stereotypes exist and people make stupid decisions based on them, you should bend all your efforts to leaving the stereotyped class. Never mind the tons of evidence that diets don’t work, or that people often end a weight-loss attempt fatter than they started. Also never mind that hungry and cranky may not be the best way to go into a job interview, or the adverse health effects of dieting.
I’m all about putting your best foot forward by dressing nicely and having a professional-looking haircut, but thinking that you need to alter the shape and size of your body is way too far. While we’re at it, do we want to suggest plastic surgery, since pretty people are more likely to get hired than plain ones? Or how about sex changes to address the gender gap in pay?
So here’s my advice to the letter-writer:
Yes, people probably are biased against you, but I would *not* encourage you to try to lose weight to get a job. There are a million reasons for that, but one is purely pragmatic. Lots of dieters gain back every pound they lose. If you get a job at your low weight that you wouldn’t have gotten at your current, what happens if the weight comes back? Will your new employer decide you’re lazy because you’ve “let yourself go” and will that inhibit your potential with the new company, after you’ve already burned your bridges at your current job?
Also, you’re already handicapped by people’s stereotypes; I think going into an interview while on a diet just gives you another handicap. You want to go into an interview at your smartest, most articulate, most creative best, not hungry and light-headed and pissed off at the universe.
I also would definitely not point out your weight to a prospective employer, *especially* before they’ve seen you. Between the fact that fat looks very different from person to person and the fact that so many people routinely lie about their weight, most people don’t know what 200 or 300 or 400 pounds looks like. If you, weighing 400 pounds, walk into an interview, an interviewer might guess your weight at 300, or even less. If you say, “I weigh 400 pounds,” they will picture Jabba the Hut and will think worse of you before you even walk in the door.
Dressing nicely is important. Because it’s hard to get clothes that fit when you’re above a certain size, it’s worth investing in professional alterations so you can have interview attire that you look sharp in. And because people automatically assume that “fat” means “sloppy” and “lazy,” you’ll probably need to pay more attention to your hair, your nails, and every other aspect of grooming to make a good impression. I’d focus on those, as things you can control, rather than your weight, which you can “work on” but not necessarily with any degree of success.
I know it’s not much consolation, but people who won’t hire you because you’re fat are probably not people you’d want to work for anyway.
Notice that I’m not making any recommendations about your health because you didn’t ask for that, and because your health is none of my business. Much as it’s none of your employer’s business. (And no, health insurance doesn’t make it your employer’s business. If the fat stigma were really about health and healthcare costs, there would be a prejudice against hiring athletes with all their expensive injuries.)