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And the Sign Said, "Long-Haired Freaky People Need Not Apply"

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My role as a matchmaker between Healthcare IT job seekers and the recruiters and/or employers who seek them is always fascinating, sometimes humorous, and occasionally gut-wrenching, all rolled up into a day’s work. As you can probably imagine, I get some really thought provoking queries via email, from members of both camps. It can be a stressful time – one is seeking a new opportunity, perhaps in transition (aka unemployed), and the other is tasked with finding and securing the best possible teammate, leader, or visionary. So the questions can sometimes be . . . shall we say. . . wince-inducing. Why do you think I didn’t at least get an interview? Why in the world would this candidate lie about her degree? What do I need to do to be more competitive? And then there’s this one I received over the weekend. The hopeful Healthcare IT candidate had emailed what appeared to be a very simple question, along with two files attached to his message. “Greetings! I’m applying for a Healthcare IT position I saw on your site, and saw the option to upload a photo. I don’t have a current business photo since I’ve worked from home for the past several years - will this one be acceptable? Thanks – I’ve attached my resume, too, for your review.”

A quick scan of the resume revealed a very promising candidate. Experienced, educated, and credentialed. And I could tell from his email that he was friendly, polite, and articulate. So far, so good! Oh, yes, the simple question still needs to be answered – is this photo acceptable? I click on the attachment and up comes. . . this:

Well, okay. Not this exact photo, but one very very close to it. (I don’t want to embarrass the guy). Hmmmm. So much for a simple question.

Sure, it would be great if we all were judged solely on our talents and experience, and not by the way we looked. It would be nice if we ourselves could judge others that way, too. And I suppose in years past, IT professionals could hide out in cold basement server rooms and stay there for days until someone in Accounting, or Marketing, or HR did something really lame to illicit the “blue screen of death,” and then up would come the IT Guy. But those times? Long, long, gone. IT professionals are no longer on the periphery of a company’s success. Today, IT professionals DICTATE a company’s success. From the simple tech support position all the way up to the hospital CIO, IT professionals have now been moved to the forefront, required to interact with all facets of an organization. In other words, IT has gone (cue gasp!) mainstream.

So, what does this mean for the long-haired freaky people? Do they need not apply? That’s a tricky question. So, tricky, in fact, that I put it out there for my fellow Twitterers to answer:

Tweet: Quick question for Healthcare Informatics blog post - would you hire a male IT professional w/ extremely long hair?

Reply Tweets:

“If he doesn't have to face customers, yes. If customer facing is required certain hospitals are too conservative.”

“Depends on qualifications AND what culture does he originate from? In some of them LONG hair is the rule rather than exception.”

“Long hair if it is clean and groomed, no problem. It is what the person brings in personality and knowledge.”

“I get away with it because I work at an Indian clinic :> Our COO has longer hair than I do.”

Personally, I can see good points on both sides of this issue. I’ve known more than a few extremely inept yuppie (boy, I’m really dating myself with this post!) “professionals.” On the other hand, can a guy who looks like he’s the missing member of ZZ Top get the respect his IT talents deserve in a room full of suits? Not sure. What I do know for sure is, I can’t get this song out of my head now, and misery loves company, so here you go:
 

My role as a matchmaker between Healthcare IT job seekers and the recruiters and/or employers who seek them is always fascinating, sometimes humorous, and occasionally gut-wrenching, all rolled up into a day’s work.

Comments

Gwen - great post. It brings up an issue that can be very, well, hairy. And, by the way, I cant' get that song out of my head either!

Gwenand everyone else
Thanks for the great post and great follow-up comments. Gwen, your initial post has inspired some very interesting replies! When I read it, a thought came to mind, which is that the question of professional presentation really brings up, for me, an underlying issue, and that is the question of what IT executives do, with regard to the specific issue of self-presentation. Years ago, most IT people really did work either literally or conceptually "in the basement" and it didn't matter too much how they actually looked, so long as they were clean and decent-looking, as anyone in a hospital would have to be. But as IT professionals move into more executive roles, they move more and more out of the purely "tech-head" positions and into more managerial ones, thus gradually more and more joining the cadre of "front-office" managers and executives. Now, I'm not a hospital executive, but I personally wouldn't have a problem with a man who had extremely long hair working in my IT department if indeed he didn't have a lot of face-to-face contact with people external to the hospital or with c-suite and similar executives within the hospital (and as long as he presented himself in a clean, decent manner, of course). There truly are "inside" people who don't have public contact or visibility. But obviously, any position that begins to get close to the CIO position, or any position, no matter how "high" or "low," that involves contact with the public, requires some parameters of presentation. The question then becomes, what should the standards/parameters be, and who will set them? Inevitably, I think, there are many gray zones, and every department, every organization, every culture, will have to establish its own sets (note the plural!) of norms around all this, as well as make individual judgments across a range of cases. Clearly, an organization cannot afford to be embarrassed by any of its employees but one could err too far on the other side as well, and end up with a very fascist cultural environment, and one that might avoid hiring good people who could do a good job for an organization. In the end, we all as individuals and as groups have to make choices. I have been a hiring manager and obviously have been an employee, including in mid-level management positions. It's a fascinating area, and I think it's hard to make absolute hard-and-fast rules. Obviously, it would be hard for the CIO of a large multi-hospital system to be too unconventional in appearance/presentation but there are many gradations and sub-issues involved. Does anyone else here sense the complexities involved...? Things have also changed a great deal over the years from when we all first started out in the business world, too, of course! Thanks for such an interesting and thought-provoking post, Gwen, and thanks to all those who have commented.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. Can't you read the sign? Great post Gwen. The world's view on this subject will certainly change in the next few years as the next generation steps up to the interview plate.

Thanks for all the thoughtful and thought-provoking comments - as always, I appreciate the dialogue!

Pam - you have my vote to head up karaoke night at HIMSS next year! :)

G.

I think that one's goofiness, eccentricity or lack of conformance to societal conventions of grooming and dress needs to be in step with intelligence and ability. For example, the smarter or more effective you are, the wackier you can be.

Gwen, the guy in your photo had better be the second coming of MacGyver.

Gwen,
Very provocative post!

To repeat your question: "would you hire a male IT professional w/ extremely long hair?"

I've met and worked from several brilliant, effective and delightful folks that match that definition. Most did deal with the public. They absolutely had to overcome first impressions. That's problematic since there are predictable times when the first time you meet an IT professional in a support situation, you're likely to be emotional (by which I mean - less than fair and rational.)

For me, the question hiring question is the candidates clarity and over all grooming. Interview clothes absolutely must be clean and not tattered (unlike the picture.) The candidate must have compensatory social skills, including eye-contact, use of names, empathetic listening, and a strong connection be their articulation of the need skills listed on their resume, and the details they share during the interview on how they achieved those accomplishments.

If they've got that, hair length was a distraction from a great find. We've hired a diverse group of folks, including many with pony tails.

Mark did an excellent job of covering the local culture issues.

I've got another song to drive you crazyI was just in NYC last week and saw "Hair". For those born in the Age of Aquarious, it certainly brings back memories, here it is:

She asks me why, I'm just a hairy guy.
I'm hairy noon and night, hair that's a fright.
I'm hairy high and low, don't ask me why, don't know.
It's not for lack of bread, like the Greadful Death.
Darlin'

Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair.
Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen.
Give me down to there hair, shoulder lenght or longer
Here baby, there, momma, ev'rywhere, daddy, daddy.

hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Hair, hair, hair.Flow it, show it,long as God can grow it, my hair.

Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees,give a home to the fleas in my hair.
A home for fleas (yeah) a hive for bees (yeah),
a nest for birds, there ain't no words for the beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my:

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it,long as God can grow it, my hair

I want long, straigth, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty,
oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen,
knotted, polka dotted, twisted, beaded, braided,
powered, flowered and confettied, bangled, tangled, spangled and spahettied.

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Hair, hair, hair.Flow it, show it,
long as God can grow it, my hair

They'll be ga-ga at the go-go when they see me in my toga,
my toga meade of blond, brilliantined, biblical hair.
My hair like Jesus wore it, Halleluja I adore it, Halleluja Mary loved her son,why don't my mother love me?

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Hair, hair, hair
Folw it, show it
long as God can grow it, my hair

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Hair, hair, hair
Folw it, show it
long as God can grow it, my hair

Long hair is cool.