AdviceSisters.com Classic Remix: I’m Overweight But I Can Do The Job! Why Won’t They Hire Me?
Q: “I’m overweight (300 lbs+) and having a hard time convincing employers I’m a good hire. As a graphic designer who has been forced into temp work for almost a year and it seems impossible to land a full-time job. When I’m interviewed I’m told that I’m not qualified. But I know they mean they don’t want an overweight person! I am physically able to handle the physical activity needed to do the kinds of jobs I’d want. Recently I was on a temporary assignment. When the position became available permanently the Manager said she knew I’d do a good job but gave the job to someone else. What am I supposed to do while I’m trying to slim down? What if I can’t do it? Don’t I deserve a chance to live and work like any other person? I feel so alone…can you suggest something to help me?”
A: It’s heartbreaking that you have to deal with this kind of discrimination. However, the ugly reality is that employers tend to select employees that they feel most comfortable with. If someone in the position to hire feels uncomfortable around a larger-sized person s/he can choose another person if their skills are equal to yours.
You are wise to know that your physical appearance plays a part in your ability to market yourself and land the jobs you really want. I think there is an unfair general perception that overweight people are lazy, weak, and have no willpower. All too often, overweight people have this same negative perception of themselves!
Thin = Happiness?
In our society, being “thin” is equated with happiness, love, success, money, power. Losing weight and staying healthy are fine goals, but if the rest of your life isn’t good, losing weight will not bring you success, a sense of well-being, or a great job. That doesn’t mean you should give up on either your diet or your job search.
Emotional bias aside, there is really no reason for an employer to turn you down. You are experienced, skilled, willing, and capable. You are physically able to handle the work demands of a graphic designer. A great portfolio, a very positive attitude, and strong personal references will help deflect objections to your physical appearance and help employers see that you are just the type of employee they shouldn’t pass up.
What To Do Now?
As a former image consultant and career advisor, I have seen many people who are overweight who want to be thin. Like anything else worth having in life, losing weight is a process that may take a long time, but it is an investment that will pay dividends for a lifetime. It is lonely and a challenge to do this alone, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you need to, join a support group; get professional counseling; seek spiritual guidance; harness the power of self-affirmations. Make sure your weight loss goals are reasonable, reduce wisely, and safely under a doctor’s care. Most importantly, do it for yourself!
Shift The Narrative:
Meanwhile, it is unproductive to describe yourself as: “I’m overweight” and to express negative feelings about yourself no matter what you weigh. Since you are already demoralized, this may be sabotaging your ability to present yourself in a positive way. If you want others to see you as a wonderful, worthy person, you have to treat yourself as wonderful and worthy first. Don’t go into interviews with a chip on your shoulder, expecting to fail. Don’t focus on your weight or others surely will do it for you.
Instead of agreeing to the description: “I’m overweight,” shift the narrative, and talk about how you are working on your life goals. Start taking stock of all the positive attributes you have to offer now. Accentuate your skills, your enthusiasm, your willingness to do the job right, smile, positive answers, etc. Make sure you look the best you can. Since so much business is being conducted over Zoom now, look flawless at least from the neck up!
Encouragement From Richard Simmons:
Many years ago, when I first received this letter from a reader, I contacted the undisputed champion of the overweight, Mr. Richard Simmons AKA. The Weight Saint. Here is what this kind man had to say to you and to all who need encouragement:
I just finished reading your letter. If I told you how many letters I got like (name withheld) you would quit writing your advice column and we would both join a prayer group. From the time we are born, we are taught to visually judge people by the pound. This is wrong, so very wrong.
Overweight people are sometimes treated like lepers and yes, they are discriminated against in the job market. For some reason, people think that there is something wrong with overweight people. They are sloppy, they are always tired, too many sick days off, bad attitude — aren’t we generalizing here just a bit! There are a lot of groups that fight for the rights of those who have great skills but no in the weight loss department.
But now let’s talk reality. I don’t think everyone’s going to turn into Mr. Nice Guy. There are just some employers who feel that overweight employees give the company a bad image. Boy, have they missed the boat! The truth of the matter is that because this discrimination will never go away, we must all work harder on our health and our bodies.
I remember hiring a 340 lb. woman. She was quite put together, very groomed, and articulate. During the interview, she spoke up “I have just lost 30 pounds. I’m feeling great about myself and I know I’ll be great for your company.” Now THAT’S the way to get a job!
Richard Simmons, Beverly Hills, CA.