This is the story of the most embarrassing job interview I ever had.

Just as I was starting college, and wanted to make some extra cash, I got a job interview in a prominent firm. Despite being skilled and competent for the job, I was still immature to a great extent. At a job interview, you want to leave a good first impression. However, this was the further thing from my mind at the time.

Today, every time I think back to that situation, I feel embarrassed.

I strolled into the interview room wearing baggy jeans, XXL T-shirt with a Biggie Smalls imprint, and a hoodie so large it could be used as a parachute. Since I was extremely skinny back then, everything looked even more ridiculous on my petite body figure.

As soon as I walked in the room, the interviewers gave me the deer-in-the-headlights look and were naturally confused, probably assuming there was a mistake or that they’ve mixed up the candidates. After all, I seemed completely and utterly unprofessional.

Man in a suit holding a banana as a gun
Even this outfit seems better by comparison.

Now, let me tell you another story, which happened a few years later. I was starting a new semester at college and decided to test out a little theory I had. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the people on campus and wanted to make a new first impression. You know, to show how much I’ve changed over the summer.

I decided to dress a little nicer. Nothing fancy, just replacing my baggy clothes with good-fitting jeans, a nice shirt, and better shoes. My outfit was nothing special on its own, but in a crowd of washed out jeans, chucks, and T-shirts most students wore, it stood out.

Since the minute I arrived on campus, everybody was turning their heads as I passed. My male friends kept insinuating how “professional” I seemed and my female friends noted how handsome I looked. This, of course, was a confidence-booster. And my change was the result of a simple truth I realized. The truth hidden in plain sight, known by all, ignored by many.

That simple truth is — looks matter.

Looks matter, deal with it

Looks matter. It’s a scientific fact. It’s not an opinion, a belief, or a personal statement. You and everybody around you naturally judge others based on how they look. It’s a subconscious process and you cannot change it even if you wanted to. For better or worse, it is ingrained in the human condition.

People who are not considered attractive will often have a problem accepting this. They will rage how the “real beauty is on the inside” and “you can’t judge a book by its cover”.  Well, you can actually. That’s why book covers exist and why people pay so much for the perfect design. Without an attractive cover, you won’t even bother picking up a book to read it.

Even if you don’t believe me, your brain does.

Cognitive biases such as the halo effect or horn effect show us how people make their first impression in a matter of seconds. SECONDS! That means before they can get to know you, before they can hear you speak, before they even get close to you. Halo effect is when you make quick assumptions about someone based on basic information, like that a hot blonde must be stupid. Horn effect is when your initial perception of someone is influenced by a single negative trait, like when someone says they root for a rival sport’s team.

This doesn’t mean that your first impression is always correct. It simply means that your brain always judges people by their cover.

All those people who rave about internal beauty or book covers ignore the fact that they judge people this way as well. If an obese woman sees a guy staring at her in a coffee shop, she’ll likely think: “Look at this jerk, staring at me ’cause of my weight.” When, in reality, the guy just might be looking at her shirt. Or maybe he’s not even looking at her, but the person behind her. Or maybe he is actually turned off by her looks. Who knows?

The point is, she will make a judgment about him based only on the fact that he’s looking at her. In other words, she will judge a book by its cover.

And guess what? That’s totally fine. Human beings are driven by cognitive biases. We can’t help it. Looks matter, so what? There is no reason this should offend anybody. The problem is, this statement comes with a lot of misconceptions.

Anybody Can Become Attractive

What stops many from accepting the fact that looks matter is their own ego.

If you were born hot as all hell, you will probably have a certain amount of advantage over other people. This, however, doesn’t mean that the rest of us are screwed. And yes, I belong with “the rest”. I am by no means one of those people who simply struck the beauty lottery.

If nature wasn’t as kind to you with the looks, it just means you’ll need to take better care of yourself. That’s it. Just as some people are better with numbers and others are better at interpersonal interactions, it doesn’t mean that shy people can’t become social or that social people can’t learn math.

It all comes down to this: If you’re better at something, you will have to try less. If you’re worse at something, you will have to try more. If that “something” is being attractive, you’ll just have to put in more effort than someone else. Suck it up and move on.

The other misconception people have is believing that “attractiveness” refers to a certain physical ideal. While that’s true to an extent, and you can’t change things like your race or height, you can directly influence a lot of other elements. Grooming, working out, dressing better, accessorizing… all of these things can drastically increase the level of your attractiveness.

You can’t do much about genetics. But if you put in 0% additional effort into your looks, thinking that genetics are the only thing that matter, the fact that people don’t find you attractive is 100% your fault.

Man in business casual wearing a bowtie
Like it or not, this makes you seem more credible than a regular T-shirt.

When I was younger and more naive, like in my initial story, I dressed how I felt best, not how I looked best. I figured people should like me for the way I am, not the way I look. And if they don’t, well, they are just mean or something.

My thoughts back then were about as realistic as a flying dinosaur shooting machine guns at Hitler and winning WW2 – it would be awesome, but it’s just not how things are.

I wanted people to think a certain way and form opinions a certain way, but the fact is that the world does not care what I want. Just because I think people should form thoughts and assumptions a certain way, it doesn’t mean that they do. And expecting everybody in the world to adjust to my personal views is pretty arrogant.

You need to adapt to the world. Not the other way around.

With the same logic, you could easily say something like: “I want everybody to be trustworthy, so I am just going to trust everyone. Be the change you want to see in the world, right? *winks to Gandhi*

Yeah, it would be awesome, but people are deceitful. You can’t trust everybody. You can assume people are going to be fair, but you will most likely end up with a burgled home just to prove a point to some guy on the Internet.

Want to look good? Take better care of yourself

The reason many are perceived as unattractive is that they don’t groom well enough. Personal grooming means taking care of yourself. But it goes beyond simply trimming your nails, cutting your hair, and taking a shower every now and then. If you want to become attractive, it means so much more.

Imagine a stereotypical movie “loser”

He’s probably overweight, wears glasses, dirty sweatpants, some nerdy T-shirt, and has zits and pus all over his face. Yuck. Who the fuck would want to hang around that dude?  I definitely wouldn’t. Despite how awesome he may be otherwise, if he smells and refuses to clean himself, even if only as a favor to me, it shows me his internal qualities as well.

He simply does not care. And that’s not the type of a person I want to be around.

It’s not that he was “born” this way, he just doesn’t take care of his physical appearance as well as he should. He is lazy at best and ignorant at worst; none of which are the qualities I admire in a person.

Now imagine he started walking, then running, joined a gym, cleaned up his face, and bought some better clothes. BOOM! He’s transformed. You’ve seen it in various movies, how the unpopular character goes from an ugly duckling to a dashing young focus of everybody’s attention. It’s not magic, mostly just better hygiene.

Handsome male model with a beard
Yowza!

I used to have this messed up idea that overweight people were naturally that way, so I always felt sorry for them. I’m not talking about people with a different body type than me, but people who have way more weight than is considered healthy.

The same way, I felt sorry for myself for being overly skinny. Whenever I saw someone with a great physique and lean muscles, I thought to myself: “I wish I could look like that”. Turns out, I can. And all I had to do was take better care of my body.

In-shape people are not “born that way”

Nobody is born with a six-pack or huge biceps. Nobody is born with a firm ass or 2% body fat. Yet, severely out-of-shape people will often look down on those who actively exercise and categorize them as overcompensators. I’m not saying they’re always wrong but, come on… that’s not a justification for you being too lazy to work out.

Looking good and dressing well is something everybody should do. However, it doesn’t mean there is only one way to do it.

Yes, some people are naturally heavier, while others are born extremely skinny. That doesn’t mean you can’t put in the effort to work out and achieve a more balanced body. This not only helps you look better, but be healthier and live longer. Are you telling me you don’t want to live longer?

The same applies to grooming and fashion sense. It’s not like you need to start wearing suits every day, be clean shaven, and have a ton of gel in your hair. In fact, rugged hair, a Captain America shirt, jeans and sneakers with glasses and stubble can make you look extremely attractive — if you do it right.

There’s a difference between having a beard and being unshaven. There’s a difference between a large, dirty comic book shirt on an overweight body and a fitted comic book shirt on a normal physique. There’s a difference between having greasy, out of place, ungroomed haircut and a clean, aromatic, but a messy hairstyle.

Rock guy with a messy hair
Still not sure which one this is.

All of it comes down to taking care of yourself and acting as a part of society which, whether you like it or not, you are and always will be a part of. If people look at you and see an underdressed, ungroomed, and sluggish person, why shouldn’t they assume you’re lazy and untalented?

Surely, someone who is smart and talented would take at least five minutes to comb their hair and change into a clean shirt.

Why do you think lawyers wear $12,000 suits to court? Because they feel great in them? Well, maybe. But wearing even the most expensive suit will never feel as comfortable as wearing $15 sweatpants. The reason they invest so much in clothing is that they know that, in court, it’s not just about the facts. Facts can be spun, twisted, and presented falsely.

That’s why sometimes criminals are exonerated and innocent people end up in jail. The best lawyer is the one who can convey their message — whether they’re defending or prosecuting — using all of the tools in their arsenal. Not just facts, testimonials, and evidence, but also things like voice, posture, and general presence. Dressing nicely will make you seem more likable, so when you dress better than your opponent in court, there is a greater chance that the jury will be on your side.

Now replace the lawyer with yourself and the jury with people around you. Don’t you want to make the best possible impression?

How to nail your best look, every single time

When talking about attractiveness, the way you dress has a great impact on the way you are perceived by others. As I’ve already mentioned, there isn’t one, specific way to achieve this.

If you’re a man, you don’t have to be lean and muscular, clean shaven, and dressed in a fitted suit to be considered handsome. It also doesn’t mean that dressing like a hipster or having a lumberjack beard will make everybody look attractive. 

Attractiveness varies not just on your own preference and physical characteristics, but also on people’s perception and cultural norms. If a woman shows up to a formal gathering in ripped jeans and a tank top, of course, she’ll be frowned upon. You can spout everything from “I am not a conformist” to “why should I dress to please others” but it is ultimately your fault. Disregarding social norms and wanting everybody else to conform to you is childlike behavior.

Babies do that. They want it their way, all the time, with no compromise.

Look, I’m the first guy who thinks a lot of cultural traditions and norms are just straight out idiotic and archaic. Worst of all, as soon as you go to another part of the world, another country, or even a different part of the same city, norms and dress-codes change. But even I realize that you need to play into these norms from time to time, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. Sure, it’s great to be a rebel, but not in everything, and definitely not all the time.

If you underdress for a funeral, nobody will think you’re standing up for something, they will just assume you’re a jerk (and rightfully so).

Respecting social norms doesn’t mean you always need to give in to others’ demands or that you always need to fit in a crowd. It’s all about moderation. Don’t like suits? Don’t wear them. Hate wearing high heels? Leave them at home. It’s your own choice but guys, realize that, at times, you simply have to put on a suit. Ladies, realize that if you go out to a club in chucks and jeans, you’re not as attractive as girls who sacrifice their comfort to wear a dress and high-heels. 

Even if I truly loved wearing suits because I look great in them, going out to a nightclub with other 20-somethings in a suit would be ridiculous. The same way, if I have an internship at Wall Street and I show up dressed for clubbing, people will think of me as unprofessional and immature. If they assume that about me based only on the way that I am dressed, that’s totally fine. I fully deserved it.

Every time you dress, you are making a choice: Do you want to be more comfortable or more attractive?

You can be perfectly fine or go horribly wrong with either choice. There’s nothing wrong with choosing comfort over beauty and purposely trying to look good doesn’t imply vanity. Every choice has its benefits and drawbacks, but one constant remains the same:

Whichever choice you make, be ready to live with it. After all, you are in charge of the way you are perceived.