Careers and the beauty premium

In an age of fierce competition for the best jobs, it’s a bit disconcerting to come across research suggesting you are more likely to land a top job if you’re a Penelope Cruz or Javier Bardem lookalike. According to the researchers, good looks can take you far. But then, it’s hardly surprising because we live in a society that’s obsessed with image.

In a blog entry I did last year, I looked at reports suggesting that looks could be a factor in career advancement. Now we have more scientific evidence.

According to a new working paper, Are Good-Looking People More Employable?, it's definitely a factor. Researchers sent more than 5000 CVs in pairs to more than 2600 job openings. One CV was without a picture, the other had a picture of either an attractive man or woman, or a plain looking man or woman. The researchers noted: “Employer callbacks to attractive men are significantly higher than to men with no picture and to plain-looking men, nearly doubling the latter group. Strikingly attractive women do not enjoy the same beauty premium. In fact, women with no picture have a significantly higher rate of callbacks than attractive or plain-looking women.”

They put that down to female jealousy of attractive women in the workplace. Whether that’s right or not, the study clearly shows that attractive and plain-looking job candidates are not treated equally and that beauty discrimination occurs at the earliest stage of job search.

The researchers suggest several ways to deal with the problem starting with taking a look at the gender of the people doing the recruiting and using mixed gender hiring committees. Another interesting idea is being tried in France where big French companies and councils are piloting a scheme where people are recruited via anonymous CVs in order to prevent racism, ageism and other prejudices.

Economists have found that good looking employees, both male and female, earn 10 per cent more and Newsweek reports that the people doing the hiring will often show a preference for the better looking candidate. It reports: “Fifty-seven percent of hiring managers told NEWSWEEK that qualified but unattractive candidates are likely to have a harder time landing a job, while more than half advised spending as much time and money on “making sure they look attractive” as on perfecting a resume. When it comes to women, apparently, flaunting our assets works: 61 percent of managers (the majority of them men) said it would be an advantage for a woman to wear clothing showing off her figure at work (ouch). Asked to rank employee attributes in order of importance, meanwhile, managers placed looks above education: of nine character traits, it came in third, below experience (No. 1) and confidence (No. 2) but above “where a candidate went to school” (No. 4).”

Much of this explains the growth in cosmetic surgery, something I blogged about early this year. With the premium on looks, more would see the nip and tuck as a career tool.

Do you think there is discrimination based on looks? Have you seen it?  Have you seen better looking people get preferential treatment? Would mixed gender hiring committees or anonymous CVs make any difference, or is that going too far?