Hipster Bias > Another HR Hurdle?

So, I was talking to pal in the tech industry describing an interview they had.  In this interview they met a fabulously talented person. Top notch.

Them:  “They are truly fabulous and I’m almost sure they are the top candidate”. 

Me:  “Almost sure? Why not go for it and make the hire?” 

Them:  “Well, this candidate doesn’t really look like they would work in an upstart tech environment.” 

Me:  “Huh?” (long pause).  “What does a person in an upstart tech environment “look” like, I ask? 

 Strange silence. 

 Them:  “You know….hip.”   

And there it was.  Hipster-bias staring me in the face.  For real, this person wasn’t talking about age, color or any of the nasty discriminatory stuff.  They were talking about fashion. Or more subconsciously image.

People of the world, hipster bias is alive and well.  If in an interview you are asked any of the following questions you may be a victim of hipster bias:

  • During work hours, how often do you get on Etsy?
  • Please solve this math problem: You just received a 30% coupon off of a beard trimmer that cost $50.  How much do your clippers cost?  (*this is a trick question.  The answer they are looking for is antique clippers found at an estate sale).
  • When ordering corporate swag for our charitable workday would you order:  corporate “trucker”caps, v-neck t’s, or pork pie hats?
  • Which of the Avett-Brothers are you most like?  Describe.
  • How many charitable organizations, bands, art showings, microbrews… have you started, debunked, protested….?
  • How many “come-ups” did you come across in your past job? How did you use them?
  • If you were a food-truck, what would you call yourself?
  • Our workday starts at 8am.  Do you have a reliable bike, hiking stick, or Volkswagen to get you here by at least 9:15am?
  • Do you prefer a MacBook Pro or Air?  (If the interviewer chokes at your request for a Windows op-system, you too are being profiled).

OK. I kid. All kidding aside, this list is as ridiculous (sort of) as the idea that fashion should influence hiring decisions, especially in a casual “upstart-tech” work environment.  I mean, it’s one thing if you show up to your interview at Deloitte in flip-flops.  Obvious bad call.  It’s another if you fail to have enough tattoos in a room full of local-band T’s.

But this is still a reminder that image is important and is influencing.  Truth is, you just have to work harder at proving competence at times if the image you present is against “type” (as they say in the biz).  Don’t get me wrong, you absolutely can prove competence by going against “type”, you just have to work harder to do it.

So until image isn’t as important or influencing to human beings, HR folks,  just remember to hold a mirror up to generally great managers who need to sort through many criteria of selection processes.

How does the story end?

 Me (almost verbatim):  “Was the candidate professional? Have great rapport with the team? Answer all questions positively and in-line with your corporate values and beliefs?”

 Them: “Big Yea”

Me:  (verbatim) “Then who gives a s**t if they look hip”.

Later my pal told me they offered the candidate the job.  Sound thinking prevailed! And the fabulous candidate turned it down.  So, lesson:  Image is a big influencer, but Karma apparently is an even bigger one.

FOT Background Check

Dawn Burke
Dawn Burke (PHR) is VP of People at DAXKO. That's right - the very DAXKO that our very own KD is an alum of because there are only so many people (okay, just one) in the big B'ham who are worthy of that VP of People title. Dawn would be it. Former actor/singer/retail guru, her HR career has spanned the last decade. A true Generalist she’s done a little bit of everything, but recruiting and training is where she gets her mojo. She's based in the good 'ole blogging capitol of the south, Birmingham, Alabama, where you can frequently find her listening to the Beatles and REM, watching tons of Sex in the City reruns, drinking copious amounts of coffee and wine, and wondering how in the world this theatre grad ever got into football or HR…. Talk to Dawn via emailLinkedIn, or Twitter...


  1. Deb McClanahan says:

    Dawn, you are speaking to me here… I run into this all of the time. And hipster bias does amount to discrimination, doesn’t it?

  2. Josh says:

    I totally get most of this..though a lot of times its chalked up to cultural..as in, do they fit in our culture…I get it when there are only 20 people..but when its over 50, its like, well, they will likely make friends here, and contribute mightily, and culture here in the bay? Its multi-cultural, and one of the most diverse places you could ever have a company, so just let it roll, and let the mix create the culture…fun article!

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