WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo)

I recently interviewed someone who was scruffy and wearing trainers.

I did not appoint him. Now I feel guilty that I discriminated. Should I?

No. Oscar Wilde said: "It is only the shallow who don't judge by appearances." Of course appearances matter. Research consistently shows that first impressions of people are based on what we see rather than what we hear. No matter how hard we try to be unmoved by someone's appearance, studies prove that first and lasting impressions are significantly shaped by the visual image that we are presented with.

This is not a question of right or wrong, but simply an observation on how we make judgements. You were right to take into account the fact that the candidate was looking scruffy. Does it matter? Well yes, I think it does. I assume you were not interviewing for a boiler-room attendant - in which case trainers would have been entirely appropriate. If you were interviewing someone who was to have any contact with clients or stakeholders, then scruffiness is not acceptable.

Gone are the days when some in the sector glorified the unconventional, and scruffy was fashionable. We are a professional sector and understand the importance of appearance when we are tackling stakeholders. If you were making a pitch at a fundraising event, meeting a local authority for a contract negotiation, or speaking at an event, you would hardly want to be represented by someone looking scruffy. It would reflect back on the organisation.

It doesn't cost anything different to dress decently as opposed to scruffily.

I am sure your candidate has decent shoes as well as trainers. Why wasn't he wearing them? If he were keen on the job he would have made an effort to dress appropriately. I suspect this may say something about his general attitude, so you were probably right not to select him.

Some might argue that we should not make any judgements on appearance because this amounts to discrimination. I don't agree. Interviewing involves discrimination in one form or another - discrimination against the people who don't get the job, and discrimination for the person who does.

Clearly, there are aspects of discrimination that are both unacceptable and unlawful - discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation or age, for example.

We need to be clear that the impressions we draw from candidates don't stray into areas that will offend our sector's strong commitment to diversity.

But scruffy won't do.

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