Over the past few years, men have been seriously bucking the clean-shaven-for-work rule (thanks, Harry's and Dollar Shave Club). If you're not sure whether it's time for you to follow suit, though, science might help you make a final call.
1. Age, Dominance, and Aggression
In studies, people consistently have rated men with facial hair as appearing more dominant, aggressive, and seasoned in years. Researchers suspect this result has to do with biological messages related to the natural hormone testosterone. This chemical increases in men with sexual maturity, so facial hair essentially communicates that you've been around the block enough times to handle problems as they come with some degree of smarts. Testosterone also is essential for muscle development and makes people more willing to fight. In the Stone Age, facial hair thus sent the message you were strong and eager enough to protect yourself and any other human beings you might have valued. Today, translated into the business world, it sends the message you'll fight strategically for your business, are a go-getter, and won't quit.
Scientists still aren't precisely sure why men have facial hair at all, but one theory is that a beard sends a message of confidence. Just as women today still grab each other's hair in a tussle, beards can be a handicap in that a man can grab an opponent's facial hair to gain the physical upper hand. A man who maintains a beard in the business environment thus can be interpreted as saying he's not afraid of competitors and can beat them even with whatever handicaps he has, or that he's not afraid of risks.
3. Health and Cleanliness
We've all seen or heard the stories about the guy that got shrimp or some other lunch dribble stuck in his beard (seriously, don't be that guy). From the evolutionary standpoint, however, a beard can send the message that you're in superb health because your immune system has to be in great shape to fight off all the little critters that can take up residence in the hair. If you keep your beard well groomed and full (no 5 o'clock stubble, please), you communicate this and indicate that you're on top of your life enough to take care of yourself. Employers might translate this into dependability.
The Long and Short of It
Because of the biological and evolutionary messages facial hair still sends, beards might be a good bet if you're going for a position where aggressiveness, maturity, dominance, and reliability are valued traits. They're likely less suitable for more conservative positions, or for jobs that require others to see you as sociable, the idea being that, if you can't rely on brawn, you'll have to be a solid communicator instead. When in doubt, check your company's attire and appearance policies, or do some scouting to see what's most common on the team you'd be working with.