I was recently reading your interview advice for a phone interview I had for a teaching position at an elementary school in Michigan. Apparently I did really well and the interviewer subtly indicated that I would be invited to an in-person interview, which is really great. The only problem I have is that I wear a veil over my face, I’m Muslim. I was reading your advice on acing interviews and I’m not sure how to increase my likability factor, or to make myself more like the interviewers. Short of taking off the veil, do you have any ideas for how I can increase my likability and still get the job with the veil on?

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12 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Well, this is a great reason why people would say wearing a veil holds women back – because its so difficult to connect with people outside your home.

    People connect with faces. Your ability to support yoursel depends on being to connect with people outside your home. Honestly, I dont know how you would get a job wearing a veil. Because you can’t compete with people who can use a much wider range of social cues to do their job well.

    Not that you asked, but maybe a good compromise is covering everything but your face. In that case, I think you’d do fine on the workplace.

    And, I’m wondering, what do you think about this reply? You must have done way more thinking on this topic than i have. I am curious.


  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I appreciate your response, Penelope. Thank you.

    At first I was frustrated because it doesn’t help me at all. I understand why you’ve said it and I acknowledge that it’s true but, I’m not satisfied with my two options being that I either sit home or take off my veil.

    I’ve interviewed successfully for positions before, but the stakes are higher this time. The interviewer said over 2,000 people have applied but that I’m looking pretty good when compared to the competition. I am quite charismatic and easy to talk to, but I have an anxiety disorder which usually dominates the first few meetings with people that I’m intimidated by. I’ll either have to somehow meet with the principal before the actual interview (that might show I’m really interested but hopefully not over-eager) or consider wearing a half-veil that shows my eyebrows and forehead (in the hopes that my enthusiasm will somehow seep through my eyebrows) in addition to my eyes.

    The only thing worse than not getting the position would be to not interview for it.

  3. Avodah
    Avodah says:

    A few things here.
    1.) It is my understanding that Muslim women are not obligated to cover their faces. That is a custom followed by some branches but not a law. (Just as Orthodox Jewish women are not obligated by Jewish law to wear wigs, they need only cover their hair.)

    2.) I studied Orthodox Judaism for my graduate degree. It is very common for Orthodox men to get special permission to remove their kippah at work. The reason behind this halachic (Jewish law) ruling is that one cannot serve God without having a roof over their head and food. If you can’t work, you can’t provide those things for yourself.

    3.) Is there a spiritual advisor with whom you could speak about this? Maybe you can get an exception for the interview.

    4.) Ms. Trunk touches upon mroe esoteric understandings of “the face” that have been addressed by Emanuel Levinas. The face is what makes us human and allows others to see us to see the humanity in others (Buber’s “thou”). How do you want to be seen?

  4. Avodah
    Avodah says:

    On a related note, I found this article in Marie Claire http://www.marieclaire.com/career-money/jobs/ethnicity-in-the-workplace

    Maybe it will shed some light on your situation?

    Also, my previous post have suggested that I think that Orthodox Judaism’s laws are “the same” as your religion’s- certainly not the case! Just trying to draw some comparisons and hopefully give a new angle on your conundrum. Keep us posted as the interview process goes along!

  5. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    Choosing a mainstream occupation but being a part of a clique is the real problem here. The lady is hoping that the schools will look past the veil – they might, but the parents won’t. And while it is important for school kids to learn and understand diversity, it is more important for them to learn social cues at their age.

    Suppose instead of Michigan you were living in France. What would you do then? You would have to either do away with the face veil or be at home. You would have to make a choice. So why the qualms here? Working moms give up their careers to stay with their kids- its discriminatory, but they are clear on what’s important to them. And that’s pretty much what you need to be clear on.

    FYI- I’m a Muslim woman living in Pakistan, and I do not wear or endorse the face veil or head scarf.

  6. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    This is a great discussion! I am a converted Muslim and cover my head. I would like to tell a bit of my story to address this topic.
    I live in Pakistan where many people do (and many people dont, like Sadya). I dont stand out here because I am doing what many others are doing. Islam asks women to be conservative. It actually does not ask us to cover our faces anywhere in the Quran. The trouble is, when I go to Australia (my home country), if I wear a scarf I am stared at because I look so different, and people have often negative ideas about Muslims. To me this is not what Islam is about… it is not about me being stared at. In fact it is quite the opposite. It asks me to protect my modesty. Now if everyone i walk past is staring at me, that is not protecting my modesty- right?
    My solution is to wear a hat that covers all my hair… luckily these are pretty fashionable these days and there are plenty of them around. I also wear a scarf around my neck and loose clothes. This way I am modest, can still be stylish, and not attract any attention. I am not a walking billboard for Islam and I dont need to be. My Islam is on the inside and is between me and God. It has nothing to do with the other people around me – they dont need to know if I am a muslim or not.

    I guess what I am saying is that as muslims, it is important that we dont lose sight of the reason we are covering ourselves in the first place. Dont you think?

  7. Alicia
    Alicia says:

    Danielle, I just had to respond to your comment here. I too am a muslim, and I live in Australia. I don’t wear a veil/hijab because of the reasons you said – modesty is about people ignoring you as a sex object and treating you as a person, not having people stare at you.

    I guess we’re getting a bit off-topic here, but it’s nice to talk with careeristic muslim women :)

    As for the OP, I do agree that parents may be a bit of an issue. I know there are sects where women cover their faces, and I suppose that when you have to interact with people it will always be an issue (how much depends on who you’re interacting with).

  8. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I am so excited that this conversation is going on here. I just want to say thank you to you guys. This is one of my all-time favorite career discussions on my site. I have learned so much about the world, and the discussion will help other women to figure out how they want to assert themselves in the world.

    So, this is just me saying thank you.


  9. Avodah
    Avodah says:

    @ Danielle, great points! It is about each of our personal relationships with God and living a life that honors God and our fellow humans. When your observance impedes that- its time to, at very least, start questioning some things.

  10. Aaron
    Aaron says:

    You’re interviewing for a position with 2,000 other applicants? Well god job getting to the interview! I guess I’m wondering: is there a way to pursue a position in your profession that isn’t listed publicly? By building a network, you can get the inside track for a job before the teeming hoardes know about it, and it might render the question of the veil less critical either way.

  11. Jess
    Jess says:

    I am curious what happened with you interview. Also, with all due respect, I wonder if you are using the veil to shield the anxiety disorder, which you mentioned. Perhaps you can get some counseling to ease out of your anxiety and then you don’t have to rely on the veil, which others have mentioned are not required in Islam- especially in Michigan. Good luck.

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