Do looks matter in recruitment?

Beautiful girl at the "4tuning" car ...

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I posted last year about a Kent University study revealing the ideal looks apparently associated with good management.  Research has often shown that there is a halo effect associated with looks, with good looking people often regarded as being good at things that have little to do with their looks, such as job performance.

So it was interesting to read a new study into how your looks work in recruitment situations.  It was conducted by German psychologist Maria Agthe.  She investigated how people reacted to an application based upon the attractiveness of the photo attached to the application.

Interestingly it differs based upon the sex of the person making the decision.  It seems that if the recruiter is of the opposite sex then the prettier applicants get rated higher than the plain ones.

If the recruiter was rating an applicant of the same sex however, the prettier they were the less likely they were to be considered for the job.

Here is where the experiment got really interesting though.  Agthe also found that the attractiveness of the recruiter played a part in things.  If the recruiter was attractive themselves then they were generally unmoved by the physical appearance of the applicant.  Plain looking recruiters however were more likely to mark down attractive applicants - with this trait applying to both sexes.

Agthe suggested this was down to the fact that people implicitely believe that good looking people get the breaks in life and so plain looking people try to minimise the advantage of the beautiful.

All interesting stuff.  You can read the full study here.


That's a bit depressing isn't it?

Not just looks that matter either, it seems recruiters check your credit score before hiring you.

Not to mention checking up on your health, even though it is illegal to do so.

Hi guys, new around here but looking forward to getting involved!

I find this whole issue of workplace psychology very interesting. To me it is not surprising that the basic psychology of the human condition is reapplied in workplaces. Whether we like it or not, someone’s physical appearance has a big affect on how we perceive them.

There are numerous studies into height and success, and I’ve found an interesting study that reiterates the link between ‘good looks’ and a successful career – it is available here:
Encouragingly, it does state that while physical appearance is an important factor, the biggest influence on a successful career is intelligence.

And I can’t seem to locate it at the moment, but I have also seen research on the relative success of good looking women. It suggested that while they are more likely to get jobs in junior to middle management positions, they were less likely to get top jobs. It went on to link this to the tendency for masculine traits to be more common in these positions.

Right may have gone a bit off topic but that’s the fun of bloggin’!


Interesting stuff Paul.  On the nature/nurture thing, do smart people tend to have better genes, that therefore also make them more attractive?  Or do smart people generally have more money and confidence and therefore have the means to make the best of their physical attributes?

That's a tricky question, Mike. I'm not sure I can answer the nature vs. nurture debate  - it's been going on for longer than we've been alive!
I definitely agree with your second point, that successful people are arguably often blessed with the resources and confidence to make the best of their physical appearance.I suppose that regardless of the nature vs. nurture debate, people generally aspire to make the best of their physical appearance. And while there are the obvious benefits in terms of life outside work, I also believe that it is testament to the original point – that good looks can contribute to success in all realms of life, including work.

Now it is another question about whether this is a good thing or not - it most probably isn’t - but then I believe it is pretty fundamental to how people consider the world so it's unlikely to stop being the case.

However, could it also be argued that more physically attractive individuals end up being presented with more opportunities to develop their intelligence and experience, therefore making them more successful? This could definitely be argued to be the case if looks are, in fact, a factor in recruitment decisions, and presumably also so in education senses, e.g. university admissions interviews.

What do you think?

Oh it certainly goes on.  I think as people we nearly always make assumptions about a persons ability based upon things that really have very little to do with that ability.  Inductive reasoning does seem to be by far the most prevalent when we meet people for the first time.  It doesn't strike me as being particularly ideal but I'm sure there must be some evolutionary reason for it.

Surely the real issue here is that bosses resist recruiting someone who they perceive as a threat.

Thus, attractive bosses are happy to appoint attractive bosses, but plain ones donlt want to.

This would be consistent with intelligent/experienced bosses being happy to appoint intelligent/experienced employees, but less intelligent/experienced bosses wouldn't want to.

This is really bad news if true - and surely it is? - because organisations will only prosper when bosses have the confidence to employee people who can do something better than they could? 

Perhaps, as in so much of life, self-confidence appears to be the defining characteristic here?

Excellent debate. Two aspects from myself, both a little light hearted...

Re Mikes comment "do smart people tend to have better genes, that therefore also make them more attractive". I would answer this with a question:

How many good looking people have you observed that would never in a million years come under the banner "smart" ?

Second point. A long time ago I ran a project to implement a servcie centre for a new bank. As part of their service offering they had booths located in supermarkets to take applications for loans, credit cards etc. This made use of pretty leading edge video technology thereby linking the applicant with the bank employee. There took place a very interesting disucssion around recruitment of the latter. Bottom line was, despite reticence to officially adopt or be very open about it, looks were very high in the recruitment criteria as nobody wanted to put a "plain" person, or worse, on the other end of a video link.

Now we may all react in a PC way to this but it is, as implied already, simply human psychology at play in the workplace.

I now have to go deal with the reality of being a balding 45 yr old and face up to the fact I am not going to get my next job based on looks :-)

It may take a while to get over the trauma.....


You'll be ok Tony, so long as you're interviewed by another man ;-)

Mike Davies wrote:

Not to mention checking up on your health, even though it is illegal to do so.

It's illegal to check up on your health?  So how sports people have to go through a 'medical' before being signed? :)


Looks are one thing, but perhaps being personable is something else?

It makes an enormous difference if someone smiles.  This often shows a different sort of beauty from within.

How does this play out in the context of this discussion?

Funny you mention that Graham.  I read a study yesterday that was investigating the typical poker face and whether that makes people more likely to trust you or not.

This is such a rich seam for conjecture - not least in the context of headresses or features which make it difficult (or even impossible) to read people's faces. 

Is it a scowl that makes people untrustworthy, or is it the absence of a smile that makes people untrustworthy?

And what about beards . . . . . .

How far can/should an employer go in encouraging people to be 'personable'?  I make a point of complimenting people on their smiley countenance and what a big difference it makes to the atmosphere in a workplace - and they always seem so surprised.

I read American research last year that catagorically stated that ugly, overweight people were far less likely to obtain jobs so perhaps there is a cultural aspect to this debate.  What is attractive after all?

From personal experience as a recruiter I've always argued for managers to be selected for their emotional maturity, inteligence and personal courage.  Now is that because this is what I value in myself as a middle aged, tubby, plain person?   Needless to say that the management board weren't keen on my suggested selection criteria!  Ah well.

Perhaps Gail you should have added 'in depth awareness of irony' to your list of attributes?  Then I'm sure you'd have been ok . . .

Another study here along similar lines.

Attractive men (who included their photos with their CVs) got almost twice as high a "call-back" rate as plain-looking men. Attractive women enjoyed no such premium.

Adi Gaskell wrote:

Another study here along similar lines.

Attractive men (who included their photos with their CVs) got almost twice as high a "call-back" rate as plain-looking men. Attractive women enjoyed no such premium.

Must be why I'm so successful then.  Ahem.

Check this out

Basically says that the first impression we have of someone in an interview overwhelmingly influences our perception of that candidates ability.

"We examine the antecedents impacting interviewers’ initial impressions of candidates formed during the rapport-building stage of the interview and subsequent evaluations of answers to highly structured interview questions. Ratings for 130 mock interview candidates reveal a strong relationship between interviewers’ initial impression of the candidate and their evaluations of candidate responses to structured questions. These initial impressions correspond with candidate extraversion and verbal skill, controlling for job qualifications. Interviewers’ initial impressions mediate the effect of candidate characteristics, relevant for some jobs more so than others, on later evaluations. Thus, initial impressions formed during rapport building appear to influence subsequent evaluations whether they are clearly job-relevant or not. These findings have important implications for the validity of structured interviews."

It's well known that we make our judgements of people within the first few seconds of seeing them isn't it?  I read the other day that we're even inclined to sit next to people on a train or at the movies if they look like us.

Doesn't say much for diversity in the workplace does it?

On a related note, I read this earlier.  I can't see a reference so don't know how accurate it is, but interesting if it does have any grounding.

The average cost of being ugly is $230,000 out of your paycheck, over your working lifetime.

Deduct another significant chunk from your salary if you are obese, but only if you are female. Fat women earn about $14,000 less per year than their average-weight sisters, or about 12% if you are Caucasian and 7% if you are African-American. On the other hand, remarkably thin women earn $2,000 more each year than the average woman on the job.

Scars hinder your chances in a job interview as well.

The study, “Discrimination Against Facially Stigmatized Applicants in Interviews: An Eye-Tracking and Face-to-Face Investigation,” published last month in the Journal of Applied Psychology, shows that interviewers were so distracted by the facial marks, they failed to recall information about the applicants, and wound up giving them more negative evaluations. The research was conducted by Mikki Hebl, a Rice professor of psychology, and Juan Madera, a former Rice graduate student who is now a professor at University of Houston.

Tony I’m with Mike you’ll be OK Unless the bloke interviewing you is an ugly old fossil.  On a more serious note some of the research findings must be depressing for us all at some point in our lives.

Does this mean we’ll all be having nips & tucks on our way to an interview?  Now there’s another opportunity for Tesco.