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WORKING WHILE UGLY: Career Advice for the Unattractive

By Marty Nemko

It's well known that attractive people earn more, but what should you do if you're, well, homely?

It's tempting to gripe about society's shallowness and refuse to capitulate to style over substance. But, unfortunately, in most careers, that will cost you.

Here are some strategies which, while unlikely to land you on the cover of People, should make you more successful and confident.


Work hard to present a winning personality

Even if you don't feel friendly and upbeat, act that way-often, the feeling will follow.

Poke fun at yourself. For example, a bald person might joke, "I never have a bad hair day." Someone with a big nose might say, "I have a great face for radio." If you're in a wheelchair, quip, "Wanna race?" If you appear comfortable with yourself, others will be more comfortable with you.

Catherine Kaputa, author of U R a Brand ( adds, "Executive comportment is the big thing now. For example, when you enter a room, pause, enter slowly, with good posture, then greet people. Introduce yourself, play the host."

Follow the above advice and even if you look like the Elephant Man and are just moderately competent, you’ll likely succeed in the workplace. People may even like you better than your hottie coworkers—everyone will be impressed that, despite your looks, you're appealing.

Dress carefully

It's especially important that unattractive people wear nicely cut, quality clothes--no shiny polyester! If you're on a budget, instead of shopping at bargain-basement department stores, try high-end thrift shops where you can often find top-quality clothes at 70 to 90 percent savings.

How formal should you dress? Dress for the job you'd like to be promoted to.

Consider having a signature color. For example, celebrity attorney Gloria Allred usually wears, you guessed it, red. Sandy Dumont, a Washington, D.C. and Brussels-based image consultant ( <> ) says that navy blue and blue reds (as opposed to orange reds) look good on almost everyone. Kaputa adds, "You're generally safest with monochromatic outfits."

Kaputa recommends having a visual trademark. Madeline Albright is known for wearing beautiful pins, Larry King always wears suspenders, Bono is rarely seen without his wraparound glasses. Want to make something your trademark?

Don't dress suggestively at work. You instantly lose credibility.

The perfect outfit becomes a liability if wrinkled or stained. You'd think people who spend a lot of money on clothes would know better, yet there are people in every workplace wearing a designer suit that's wrinkled, a silk blouse with stains, or an expensive shirt that's unbuttoned at the bottom, revealing belly hair. Ewwww.

The safest hair option for both men and women is a moderate-length cut in a timeless design.

Don't smoke. If avoiding cancer isn't a good enough reason, consider the impression in conveys: Smoking appears ugly to most people, and, of course it makes your teeth yellow and your breath stink.


You're overweight. Of course, it would be helpful if you lost weight, but that's often easier said than done. So for now, avoid tight clothing, and on the other extreme, the muumuu look. Busy patterns also make you look fatter. Instead, consider monochromatic outfits in dark colors.

You're balding. Here, I speak from personal experience. For a while, I tried combing my sparse hair forward or to the side. Forget it. Eventually, my friends told me that I wasn’t fooling anyone. I then tried a hairpiece—for a few days. It looked good in the morning, but by day’s end, unless I was willing to fuss with it every hour, its artifice started to show. Even one moment of detectability ruins months of perfect appearance. I rejected transplants because, except on a commercial, I’ve never seen one that looks good. I also rejected shaving my head—that is just another transparent attempt to hide thinning hair. Worse, it makes you look hard and unapproachable. Painful as it may be, it may be wisest to just wear your hair fairly short and comb it back.

You're getting (or feeling) old.

Get at least seven hours of sleep--fatigue adds years to your face.

Walk purposefully, even quickly--that conveys youth and energy.

Stand straight. Helen Gurley Brown said, only half joking, "After 40, it all comes down to posture."

Age shows most in our eyes and hair color. So wear flattering glasses and consider coloring your hair. Men, include your mustache or beard.

Your face is unattractive.

Draw attention elsewhere. A great hairstyle, or accessories such as jewelry, scarves, handbags, and shoes can refocus people's gaze.

If you're considering cosmetic surgery, here's one way to find a good doc: Call a cosmetic surgeon’s office, then ask the receptionist to recommend a few plastic surgeons other than her boss. The names that come up multiple times are good bets.

Consider working alone or with the same people each day.

If you've tried the above, you might be more successful in a job in where you work alone or with the same group of people each day. That provides time for your personality and competence to override the negative first impression.


It takes effort to convert yourself from creepy to captivating. To get motivated, think how you'd benefit from projecting a better image at work: You'll get more praise, enjoy better job security, maybe earn more money. It might be hard to stick with your plan, but it may yield bigger payoffs than being good at your job. Alas.

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