AD Main Menu

Lynne Curry: Am I too short to get hired?

Lynne Curry

Q. I moved into this state five months ago and I've been looking for a job ever since. Before I moved here, several employers expressed strong interest in hiring me. I had four interviews in my first two days.

I didn't get hired. The problem as I see it? I'm 5 feet tall. In Texas, where I worked for the last 20 years, people knew me and saw past my height. Here, despite great references and a proven track record, employers take one look at me and "overlook" my qualifications. I stopped in the restroom after my last 10-minute interview and while in a stall I heard one of the individuals who had passed me in the waiting room laughing about the "runt."

Are there any laws on my side, any strategies you can suggest? Or, as my wife says, is this all in my mind?

A. Height discrimination exists, particularly for men.

Enough studies show taller individuals earn higher wages than their shorter colleagues that researchers describe it as a "height premium." According to surveys, every inch of height generally amounts to $789 more in annual salary dollars. Thus a 6-foot-tall individual may earn $5,525 more annually than a comparable individual 5 feet 6 inches in height. More than 90 percent of CEOs are of above average height and less than 3 percent of CEOs stand shorter than 5 feet 7 inches.

Few jobs require height. U.S. military pilots have to be 64 to 77 inches tall with a sitting height of 34 to 40 inches. Fashion modeling and professional sports favor tall individuals. Federal discrimination laws don't, however, protect short people unless their height relates to national origin, ethnicity or disability, legally protected categories.

One state, Michigan, and two cities, San Francisco and Santa Cruz, ban discrimination based on height. The District of Columbia bans discrimination based on personal appearance.

Those short of stature have brought multiple lawsuits against employers. Part-time sheriff's deputy Destinee Bryce, 4-foot-7, brought a height-based civil suit when she wasn't hired for a full-time road patrol position, despite passing all required certifications. She won $215,000.

Employees sued Volvo for a height requirement they considered unfair. Applicants sued a bank that routinely turned down highly qualified applicants whom the bank considered "too short." Applicants legally challenged manufacturing company Kohler for its informal practice of only considering applicants taller than 5-foot-4.

Last year, an Arizona district court refused to dismiss a disability discrimination claim by a 4-foot-10 employee against Arizona's Department of Agriculture. According to the court, "It is plausible that short stature could, in some contexts, substantially limit one or more of the major life activities of an individual."

You don't, however, need to resort to legal methods. You have a proven track record with prior employers. Like others with challenges getting hired, win the job you want by perfecting your advance "sell." Convince prospective employers you're the best candidate before you walk in the door so they see past any height preconceptions.

I looked at your cover letter and application package. Your cover letter is short and to the point -- a mistake many applicants make. Where does it talk about your specific accomplishments and how much your prior employers valued you? Dozens of other applicants could have written almost the same words you did. Prospective employers read cover letters and scan resumes, which means your cover letter offers you an important venue for selling yourself as the best possible candidate.

Next, you provided a list of references. That's not powerful. Include with your application both strongly worded reference letters and past performance reviews. Employers view performance reviews as more accurate than letters of reference.

Next, research your prospective employers and come to the interview with specifics concerning what you can do for them, given what you've done for past employers. Again, you'll stand out versus competing candidates.

Finally, challenge your interviewers' potential assumptions about individuals with short stature. Many consider short men to be pushy or to have a "Napoleon" complex when a taller individual might stand out as a confident leader. Address these preconceptions in your interview by highlighting your diplomacy and team skills. Good luck!

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at lynne@thegrowthcompany.com. You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com


Lynne Curry
THE WORKPLACEBy LYNNE CURRY