Welcome to Asked&Answered, our monthly advice column in which Ellen Mehling, METRO's Career Services Consultant, answers reader questions. Have a pressing concern about your job (search)? Submit your question here.
Q: Should women wear makeup to a job interview?
A: This is something I've given a lot of thought to. I even had a lengthy discussion on this topic with a friend a few months ago.
Some of you may be thinking, "it shouldn't matter" and others may be thinking, "a bit of makeup can help to give a professional appearance." Some people feel very strongly one way or the other.
It certainly can be argued that the presence or absence of makeup has nothing to do with your professional abilities. It can also be argued that looking your professional best can only be to your advantage in a competitive situation like the job hunt.
Makeup is a slightly uncomfortable topic, in part because it is not really an issue for men. Is this unfair? Yes, but so is the process of hiring in general, which has never been objective. If something like typefaces can influence the credibility of printed information, you can be sure that appearance also influences how job applicants are perceived and received.
I have served on hiring committees and I can tell you from the point of view of a hiring decision-maker that appearance, grooming, and clothing matter. They convey to the interviewer(s) that you are taking the interview seriously and that you understand what is expected.
In my opinion, the two sentences in the first paragraph can be joined with a few additional words in between: "It shouldn't matter, but it does, and a little makeup can help to give a professional appearance." A subtle application of make-up is a better choice than none or a heavy application.
You wear certain clothes (a suit) to an interview because that is professional and required, even if a suit is more formal attire than would be necessary once you are hired, and wearing makeup to the interview does not necessarily mean you'll have to wear it every day on the job. It is a small thing which can help you to look polished in a situation where presentation and first impressions count.
Further reading: This article from CareeRealism recommends a light application of makeup and matching the culture at that workplace. A New York Times article discusses the effect of makeup on perceived competence. And check out AskAManager's discussion of makeup for women in the workplace (read the comments too).
Update, 7/31/2015: We (the staff at METRO) wanted to say thanks to our community for letting us know their thoughts on this particular advice column. Needless to say, there are lots of valid opinions on how to answer this question in particular (and even some thoughts on whether or not we should have engaged with this reader-submitted question in the first place). For an eloquently-stated rebuttal to Ellen's advice, check out this post on Librarian Wardrobe.