Beauty and the Beast

Dec 9, 2010
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Are you a good-looking man or woman? Depending on how many X chromosomes you have, this could be a good thing if you’re looking for a job. A new study shows that good-looking people are more employable. Well, men at any rate. Women are out of luck.

The study done in Europe and Israel shows that employers contact good-looking men in significantly higher numbers than they do women. More importantly, good-looking women appear to be at a disadvantage even compared to less-attractive women. Employers in the study contacted almost 20 percent of male candidates considered attractive (based on a picture attached to their resumes) compared to about 13 percent of the men with “plain” looks. For attractive women applying to a company, the call-back rate was about half that of their less attractive compatriots.

Of course in America nobody includes a picture with their resume, but that’s increasingly irrelevant since most recruiters’ inclination is to immediately surf over to a candidate’s Facebook page or Linkedin profile, which does include a picture.

Revenge of the Nerds

So why are attractive women being punished for their looks? Digging deeper, the researchers found that the vast majority of screeners were single women under 34. The researchers conclude that much of the discrimination is the result of jealousy. That suggests that if more screeners were male, the level of discrimination may be less. More than likely, the results would be skewed the other way.

This is a challenge for both candidates and employers. Attractive men and less-than-attractive women need to apply for half as many jobs as their opposites to get an interview. Just wait until someone at the EEOC gets hold of this and we’ll have a whole new set of laws and legislation to deal with. Of course, the definition of “attractive” is subjective and difficult to define, but that kind of thing has never stopped lawmakers from attempting to craft a solution if they think they can.

A more relevant problem for employers is that if a trait like physical appearance, unrelated to talent or capabilities, has such a big impact on who gets through the initial screen, then they are losing a lot of qualified candidates. It could be claimed that those who are eliminated early on based on their looks may be eliminated later anyway, but there’s no reason to believe that would be the case. Interviewers at later stages of the hiring process are usually not the same ones who are the initial screeners. Even if they are, then their biases may be counteracted by the information collected in the interview.

There’s no reason to believe that the results would be meaningfully different if the study was replicated in the U.S. So any recruiting team that employs largely women as screeners would be well advised to increase gender diversity. Otherwise don’t be surprised if the workplace seems to be getting stuffed with handsome men and plain-looking women.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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