Beauty and the Beast


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.

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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.

Raghav Singh, director of analytics at Korn Ferry Futurestep, has developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. His career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.


7 Comments on “Beauty and the Beast

  1. Hi Raghav,

    I should start off by saying I enjoy your articles and your writing. I hope you will understand my expressed comments below and I am happy to share further insight if you would care to speak further.

    Firstly, I do understand the main objective of this article was to address the advantages and or disadvantages that often accompany job search. However, I question the source of study to determine such a conclusion. I only comment because this study (produced by economists and not psychologists) perpetuates a reoccurring theme of unnecessary competition. I wonder if the true revelation was that in certain ethnographies men in general are being granted higher levels of interviewing opportunities over women? And furthermore, whether the sex of the screening interviewer is at all relevant when also measuring the interviewees industry, levels of experience, education, country represented and etc… We are fortunate to not encounter as many cases of unfair advantages in education and levels of experience in the United States, but that does not hold true in many other countries (especially of those mentioned in the study). Certainly, I am not ignorant to discrimination at large, but I would further question the qualifications used to draw such bold conclusions and even more so when looking to apply them to our local markets here.

    Regardless, as a professional who has worked in the recruiting industry my whole career- I am glad to know I have never encountered, witnessed, or partook in such acts of discrimination and or ‘jealousy’. Viva New York?

  2. Raghav,
    Interesting article, thanks for writing. In our recruiting process, the screener does not see a photo of the applicant. The first time the candidate is seen is during the interview, which includes hiring manager and several team members. This should alleviate any issues, don’t you think?

  3. I think the important thing here is to recognize that these inherent biases do exist and to be aware of them. This is the premise behind Behavioral Recruiting (NOT Behavioral Interviewing) which applies the choice- and decision-making principles of Behavioral Economics to improve the recruiting process.

    Keith Halperin

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