Natural Hair on the Job Interview

Last week I attended a lovely natural hair event put together for graduate students in different programs (public health, medicine, dentistry, law, etc) at my school. In addition to sharing stories about why we went natural, discussing the delicate line between rocking your hair proudly and judging others who might not be natural, and debating on whether natural hair is here to stay, one of the questions that came up was natural hair and professionalism. Since the majority of us have been in school longer than we’ve worked, and some attendees are finishing up this year, the focus of the conversation was on whether or not to wear your natural hair in it’s textured, unstraightened state for a job interview.


Two stories were shared that I think capture the kinds of questions that come up when deciding how to wear your hair for a job interview. For one woman, whose hair was in a big blowout for the event, her family urged her to straighten her hair before interviewing at a law firm. She disagreed, they argued, words were shared. However, she stuck to her guns and did not straighten, and it turned out that two of the people she met throughout the day were black women, and one of them also had natural hair! Needless to say, her parents  had made much ado about nothing. On the other hand, another woman did decide to straighten her hair for an interview. She got the job, but then proceeded to be worried about whether she should wear her hair straight, and for how long could she keep that up while maintaining her sanity (she admitted she was fronting) and hair health. Not up to a month on the new job, she stopped straightening and came into work with her textured hair and got so many compliments! Again, she was worried for no reason. Someone joked that they would wear their hair straight or in a weave at least until their 90 day probationary period had passed, then they’d know they were safe.

Interestingly enough, the decision on how to wear your hair when job hunting isn’t made based on how long you’ve been natural, how long your hair is, or how confident you are with your hair. Before I went natural in college, there was one girl in one of the classes above me who wore her hair in a large afro on a regular basis. In my opinion, she was more or less the poster child for natural hair on my campus; while she wasn’t overly vocal about her hair, she wore it out with such confidence that she served as one of my inspirations for going natural. In retrospect, her hair probably wasn’t actually fro’ed out; she more than likely wore twist outs and the like. Fast forward to the present day, I noticed on Facebook that for the past year or so, she has been wearing straight weaves/wigs. I didn’t ask her why the change, so the rest is just my assumption, but she is in her third year of law school and hoping to find work at a law firm. It’s a possibility that she decided that her fro wouldn’t help in that process, and opted for a straight look — despite the fact that she’s been natural for at least 5 years. Another one of my college acquaintances wanted braids or twists to give her hair a break, but felt like she had to wear it in a “sleek bun” for interviews, as braids/twists would make her subject to hair politics “out in the real world”. Finally, one of my homegirls, who has been working in finance for almost two years, and has probably been wearing small braids for the past 8 or so years of her life, made the decision to wear her short natural hair out at work on a daily basis around six months ago. It has been a transition for her, but at the end of the day, her ability to do great work has not changed at all; her hair is simply an accessory that has changed.

Even though some people argue that hair professionalism varies by industry, I think we do more harm than good by feeling like we cannot work in a corporate environment if our hair isn’t straight. Ultimately, natural hair in the workplace just needs to be normalized; once employers in ALL industries see enough of us wearing our hair, it won’t become a topic of conversation. Now that I’m on the job market myself (in the nonprofit sector), this issue has become more pressing and I actually have to think about it for my life instead of just writing about it. I wasn’t planning on rolling up to an interview with my hair in a big blowout or a huge side-puff, but I’m not sure that I need to pull all my hair back or hide it to feel more confident in my ability to convince an employer that they need me to help them be great. I still need to think some more about what styles exactly I’m going to use, but honestly, I’ll probably worry about my outfit and prepping for interview questions a whole lot more.

How would you wear your natural hair for a job interview? What are some styles you’ve chosen for interviews in the past and do you feel that your hair helped you, harmed you, or was insignificant in the process? Is there a certain time frame that should pass before you wear your hair out?

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  1. When I interviewed for my postdoc I wore my hair in it’s natural, curly state. I actually got a lot of compliments on it (one of the white women who interviewed me also had curly hair, and we shared a short conversation about it) and it didn’t affect me one bit. I got the postdoc I wanted! I also wear my hair natural when I go to conferences, when I give presentations, and when I teach, and the only thing I’ve ever heard about it has been positivity. In fact, I have found that I get the MOST positive comments from white people, especially white women.

    The way I feel about it, if a place doesn’t want to hire me because of the way my hair grows out of my head, then it’s probably a place I didn’t want to work in the first place. First of all, I don’t want to have to worry about my hair being straightened or in buns all the time; secondly, a place that places such a premium on “tamed” black hair probably has other racial and cultural issues, too.

  2. I definitely struggle with this. I recently just sort of found a middle ground for me that may work for my interviews: mini twists put up in a sleek-looking bun, but I’ve yet to perfect it. The goal is to make the twists tiny and neat enough that clear people would think that it’s loose hair. Too many non-black people mistaken twists for dreads, and given the reputation that dreadlocks have, I fear that they will think my hair is unprofessional or that I’m too militant – whatever that means. As much as I may get compliments from my non-black colleagues and friends, I’m still wary. So much of “black culture” is popular and celebrated in mainstream American culture except the black people themselves. :/

    But then again, I could be making much ado about nothing.

  3. In my experience, we as black women put more emphasis on our kinky texture than our peers of other backgrounds. I’ve been practicing law for about 6 years and my view on hair is that in more conservative settings and on interviews, my hair (clothes or makeup) should not speak louder than I do. I always always wear my natural texture but tend to wear it in updos or in smaller twist outs (on those days that my hair listens to me). You can definitely have a conservative look with your natural hair.

  4. Great topic! I work in Human Resources so this is very relevant in my industry. For my present job, I was in my transitioning phase and I always wore my hair in either a sleek bun or a single french braid. I did the big chop about 5 months later and all of my colleagues were very accepting. My non-black colleagues always tell me that they love my hair…so I’ve had no issues in the professional realm. Do I have some concerns about interviews for any future opportunities? Perhaps…but I hope that my experience in addition to my bachelor and master degrees can attest to my competencies…not my hair. Collectively, we still have some internal and external stigmas to overcome…those beliefs that cajoled us into believing that afro-textured hair isn’t beautiful. When you start to fully embrace who you are, the majority will eventually come around…we’re multi-faceted and your hair is just one representation of the total being.