Cut for Success? What Your Hairstyle Says About You

You get just one chance to make a good first impression -- and your haircut needs to be an asset, not a liability. Here are the signals your hair’s sending and why.

Interview suit dry-cleaned? Check. Shoes shined? Check. Mohawk perfectly sculpted with extra pomade?

Hold on a second there, cowboy. This is a job interview, where you’re supposed to strut your experience, not your feathers!

“Research says we make our assessments of others in the first 15 seconds we meet them,” says John J. McKee, founder of the Business Success Coach Web site and author of Career Wisdom: 101 Proven Strategies to Ensure Career Success. “Within those first critical moments,” he says, “you’re being judged based on how you look, not what you say.”

And how you look doesn’t just include your clothes and your hygiene, but how you fashion your locks. McKee says it may have something to do with the fact that women make up a majority of the hiring force today, and “women are much more conscious and concerned about grooming, especially when it comes to hair.” But experts agree that you can infer a lot about people based on how they fashion their coif, including how you think they’re going to function as employees.

“The truth is, the way you present yourself -- from your body language and clothing to the style of your haircut -- absolutely determines how people treat you, especially in the workplace,” says Bernardo Carducci, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Indiana University Southeast and fellow of the American Psychological Association. “It’s a rapid judgment call termed ‘cognitive efficiency’ that stems from caveman times, and it’s based on using past experiences to predict future outcomes. Basically, if you don’t look the part, you won’t be deemed fit for the job (whether it’s true or not), and it could mean the difference between getting hired or not, or moving ahead as opposed to getting landlocked.”

So how do you know if you look the part? Here’s what your hairstyle really says about you.

Side Part

Popular in: Finance, politics, insurance.

Says: Serious and business-minded. You’re a hard worker who wants to get ahead.

Why: It’s on the conservative and simple side, but it still shows that you put some effort into your grooming routine. It’s also a classic look that will never go out of style, because it conveys a sense of class and importance. “There’s a secret among HR people: You’re more likely to get a promotion if you look like you’ve already made it,” says McKee.

“Take a cue from the hairstyles of the people one level above your current role,” concludes McKee. Chances are, you’ll see lots of side parts.

Buzz Cut

Popular in: Medicine, professional sports, the Army.

Says: Confident and masculine. You care about appearance, but you’re too busy to spend too much time on your hair.

Why: There’s a reason this look is favored by the military. It’s not just extremely low-maintenance, leaving time for more important business (or battles, as the case may be), but it’s a bold statement that shows you “want to look like you’re part of the team and move up the ranks,” says McKee.

Faux Hawk

Popular in: Fashion, photography, hipsterdom.

Says: Creative and extroverted. You’re concerned about standing out from the crowd.

It's an edgy look that conveys a lot of confidence and personal style. That said, it's also just breaking over into mainstream, so if you work in an environment where everyone else is sporting side parts, you’re going to attract a lot of attention. If, however, you work in a creative field where suits are optional (and even tattoos are acceptable), wear your faux hawk with pride. “If your appearance syncs with the rest of the workplace, it gives the impression that you’re able to handle the technical skills,” says McKee.

Textured Bedhead

Popular in: Hollywood, media, public relations.

Says: Trendy and detail-oriented. You care about the little things.

Why: It’s a look that requires a fair amount of time to create and maintain, so it shows that you put a lot of effort into keeping up your appearance. “People in positions of power, especially recruiters, like to see that a potential employee takes care of himself and keeps up with trends,” says McKee.

Caesar Cut

Popular in: Law, theater, gladiator rings.

Says: Intuitive and savvy. Concerned about looking perfectly pulled together.

Why: You have more important things on your morning agenda than spending hours styling your hair, but you still want to look like you take pride in your appearance -- and more importantly, that you mean business. This look is great for guys of all ages, but it’s an especially good style for guys just entering the workforce. “Younger people want to believe people will hire them based on competence and not appearance,” says McKee, “but unfortunately, that’s not the case. You do have to give up some of your identity if you want to be part of the team and move up the ranks.”

Be Product-ive With Your Hair

Know your mop needs taming but don’t know where to begin? Start here, with our quick guide to men’s hair products -- and how to use them.

Gel, goop, putty, pomade … it’s all scary enough to make a guy’s hair stand up straight. But it doesn’t have to be that way -- unless that’s the look you want, of course. In truth, you only need to stock your arsenal with five different kinds of lotions and potions and know two rules on using them:

First, don’t use too much -- a dime-sized glob does the job for most guys. Second, the drier your hair, the stronger the hold. “The rule of thumb with any product is you’ll get a stronger hold if you apply it to drier hair,” says Chuck Olson, a New York-based hairstylist.

Here’s what to use to get the look you’re after:

Hair Cream
Level of hold: 1

What it does: This stuff feels like lotion and works as a light conditioner.

“Cream is good for reducing dryness and taming frizzy hair,” says Olson. “It gives shape without a lot of hold.”

What to do with it: After you get out of the shower, squirt the cream into your hands, run it through your wet hair and comb to distribute evenly.

Celebrity style icon: George Clooney

Level of hold: 2

What it does: This is a cool product because it does everything: It offers hold, it defines, it adds shine and it has a slightly pasty feel. “This is the product for a really slicked-back look,” says Cori Randall, New York City-based hairstylist and instructor. “In the old days, it created a cement helmet-head appearance, but new water-based pomades create the same look without all the stiffness.”

What to do with it: For a wet and shiny look, apply it right after you get out of the shower. For a more natural look, wait until your hair is about 50 percent dry, then apply. “It’s also great for curly hair,” says Randall. “It’s a humectant (a moisture-retaining ingredient), so it keeps hair tamed and under control.”

Celebrity style icon: Andy Garcia

Level of hold: 3

What it does: “This is the magic stuff behind the I-spent-20-minutes-on-my-hair-to-look-like-I-just-rolled-out-of-bed look,” says Randall. It’s fiber-based and matte, so it’s good for creating texture and separation.

What to do with it: Put a dime-sized amount in your palms and rub your hands together vigorously for 20 to 30 seconds (you want to really warm it up). Then use your fingertips to apply it to your hair -- first at the roots, then at the tips.

Celebrity style icon: Robert Pattinson in Twilight

Goop or Putty
Level of hold: 4

What it does: Use this when you want some shine and a strong hold without all the crispiness. “It looks a little more natural than gels or pomades,” says Randall. It also has a more versatile finish -- you can go back and play with your hair and restyle it throughout the day.

What to do with it: Squirt a dime-sized glob into your hands, rub them together, then run them through your hair, starting at the roots and working outwards. If you want to create spikes or chunks, separate your hair into large sections and apply some extra goop to each section, focusing on the tips, with your fingertips.

Celebrity style icon: Brad Pitt

Level of hold: 5

What it does: “Gels are good for guys who want a strong hold,” says Olson. “On straight hair, it creates a really slicked-back look; on wavy locks and curls, it adds definition.” Bottom line: Gelled hair is going nowhere -- this stuff makes your locks feel almost crispy.

What to do with it: Use on just-showered hair for a wet look with lots of hold; or apply on dry hair, then blow-dry for a slightly more natural look.

Celebrity style icon: Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight