Career Advice for the Unattractive

By Marty Nemko
U.S. News & World Report

It's well known that beautiful 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 that, 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 appear comfortable with yourself, others will be more comfortable with you.

"Executive comportment is the big thing now," says Catherine Kaputa, author of U R a Brand. "When you enter a room, pause, enter slowly, with good posture, then greet people. Introduce yourself; play the host." Even if you look like the Elephant Man, confident demeanor will help you 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 sounds obvious, but it's not–just glance around the office. 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 look? Dress for the job you'd like to be promoted to.

Consider having a signature color. 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." She also recommends having a visual trademark. You could wear distinctive jewelry or other accessories, such as suspenders or wraparound glasses.

Don't dress suggestively at work. As with any job applicant, 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 or a silk blouse with stains or an expensive shirt that's unbuttoned at the bottom, revealing belly hair. Ewwww.

Don't smoke. If avoiding cancer isn't a good enough reason, consider the impression it 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 decided not to shave 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 simply wear your hair fairly short and combed back.

You're getting (or feeling) old. Get at least seven hours of sleep a night–fatigue adds years to your face.

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

Stand straight. Legendary Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown once 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 everything and still feel your appearance brings you down, you might be more successful in a job where you work alone or with the same group of people each day. That provides time for your personality and competence to override other negative impressions you're worried about.


It takes effort to convert yourself from creepy to captivating. To get motivated, think how you'll 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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