Every month (or module) at my school I am tasked to write a short essay on my knowledge and research of various soft-skills, apparently to gauge my readiness to enter a professional career. This month the subject was dental health and how having bad teeth can effect the hiring process. I stopped short of simply stating “Good teeth is not a soft-skill.”
Dental Health, Hiring, and Expectations
I have to admit that this topic has been difficult for me to write, as I can find no correlation between dental care and soft skills, most of which describe qualifications that have no basis on appearance (such as being a “goal-oriented self-starter” and ability to multitask, as noted by Larry Buhl in an article posted in the career advice section of the website monster.com) (Buhl, L. 2014). The major determining factor in oral health appears to be access to affordable dentistry; something that is not ubiquitous and which impacts poor communities the hardest (Wallace, B.B. & Macentee, M.I. 2012)
Breaking away from the association between soft skills by definition and having nice teeth, I’m going to address the definite fact that a lot of people do worry whether the appearance of their teeth will make it harder to get hired. A reader at the Ask A Manager blog writes in to ask if her dental accident might be effecting her chances of being hired, worrying that “it marks me as someone who doesn’t care about their appearance or is unprofessional”. The blog host writer, Allison Green, responds with a story about an applicant who asked her to forgive the chip in his front tooth, and explains that she would have never given it thought until he mentioned it. She then implies that it may be a bigger problem for her than for her interviewers by saying “I do wonder if your self-consciousness about the tooth is affecting your confidence and the way you interview, or even making you less likely to smile, so pay special attention to that.” (AskAManager, 2010).
Not being a trained psychologist, I can only surmise that this kind of worry is largely due to insecurity and an individual’s ability to scrutinize and judge ourselves far more than others generally do. We humans have a particular skill when it comes to performing the spotlight fallacy; that is, to find significance in a few but extreme moments of criticism but dismiss or not even recognize the instances within which our faults were overlooked (or not an issue at all). I find that a lot more people worry “Will they hate my teeth?” than worry the same from the other end. I don’t find people writing about how worried they are that their next applicant will have bad teeth; and if I can get a little more opinionated here – I wouldn’t want to work for someone who did.
Halitosis and the appearance of cracked or bleeding gums might indeed be justly judged as unfit for a position, especially ones that require face to face client interactions or in visual media (such as television, fashion, photography etc.). These problems indicate a medical issue that is of greater importance than mere looks.
Of all the stressors that we bear in life and in the pursuit of career, I think that this is merely one more that we pile upon ourselves. If any soft skill can be demonstrated in this area, it is the ability to let go of insecurities that might hold back your performance.
AskAManager. (2010). is my dental problem scaring off employers?. Ask a Manager RSS. Retrieved from http://www.askamanager.org/2010/07/is-my-dental-problem-scaring-off.html
Buhl, L. (2014). Soft Skills That Could Land You the Job. Retrieved from http://career-advice.monster.com/job-search/getting-started/6-soft-skills-that-could-land-you-the-job-hot-jobs/article.aspx
Wallace, B. B., & Macentee, M. I. (2012). Access to Dental care for Low-Income Adults: Perceptions of Affordability, Availability and Acceptability. Journal of Community Health, 37(1), 32-39. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21590434