How to Interview in a Hijab
Elmira (not her real name) is a short Turkish woman given to speaking breathlessly and smiling easily. Her work in the education sector in Florida brings her into contact with a great many people living in one of the most diverse states in America. She is well-respected in education circles. She even uses her conservative Muslim attire as a talking point in some of her presentations on digital approaches to education.
Most non-Muslims do not understand the hijab — the traditional head covering some Muslim women wear — is as much an expression of culture and history as of religion. Stories abound of women walking down streets or strolling through malls in America and having someone attempt to strip the covering from her head.
Unfortunately, many individuals in Western countries feel threatened by the head-covering. Religious extremism in the headlines has had an unfortunate effect on pre-conceptions that most of the time are based in ignorance or prejudice or both.
In the very least a Muslim woman should be neither shy nor deferential when thinking about seeking work in the American job market because of her faith. When she has finally won an interview opportunity, there are several things she can do to increase her chances of capturing a job at the company while maintaining the dignity of her choice of wardrobe:
- Research online hijab styles you find attractive, stylish and that are acceptable to you and your faith. If your budget supports it, purchase and wear that interview hijab;
- Make and keep eye contact with interviewers;
- Speak clearly and steadily without being self-conscious;
- Do your research on the company and its products/services to ask penetrating and pertinent questions that will focus the interviewers attention on the job opening, not on your appearance;
- Practice answering questions about your hijab — your prepared response will enhance your professionalism;
- And practice at least one story (as Elmira did) that interweaves perceptions of your hijab with, for instance, a difficult work situation you had to solve or some other business case you may be asked about. Tell the narrative in a light-hearted way to better portray resolution of the issue.
For better or for worse, the hijab is the elephant in the room during interviews and business meetings. Sometimes non-Muslims need help to relax about their ignorance or anxiety about your garb. Giving them a helping hand when needed goes a long way to bridging cultural misunderstandings that could get in the way of just getting the job done.