Does Beauty Help You Get Hired?

I think I need to start a new series titled “The Stupid Study of the Week.” There are so many pseudo-scientists engaged in fake research whose only goal is to get into the media that I will never run out of blogging topics. Consider the following study, for example:

A team at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg in northern Germany questioned more than 3,000 people about their career, and compared this with rankings of how attractive they were. The results suggest that being one point more attractive was worth a three percent wage hike, while being five points more attractive boosted a career by the same amount as having a university degree.

Professor Christian Pfeifer said his study, published this week in the Applied Economics Letters journal, also showed that the importance of looks in the workplace was even more important for men than it was for women. . . “Five points more – that is about the difference between an ordinary face and downright beauty – helps in getting a job as much as a university degree,” he said.

Let’s leave aside the question of who composed the rankings of attractiveness and why we are supposed to take that person’s idea of beauty as a universal yard-stick. Who’s to say that the creator of this ranking system doesn’t have a really horrible taste?

Never mind that, however. Let’s look at the last statement of the passage I quoted. Is this weird researcher at all familiar with how the hiring process is organized nowadays? Does he think that people just show up at the place where they hope to be employed to demonstrate their beauty? Did anybody find their job, a job that required a university degree, in this strange manner?

When I was on the job market, I never got a chance to impress anybody with my “downright beauty” before proving I had the necessary college degrees. Nobody would have discovered how I looked at all if I hadn’t had the required diplomas. My CV would have ended up in the trash can in a matter of seconds. I cannot imagine a situation where a search committee would have looked at my CV and said, “Well, she never went to college at all but let’s meet her anyways. Maybe she’s pretty. Then, we might still consider hiring her for a professorial position.” I also don’t recall any discussion of the candidates’ beauty or lack thereof at the (often very heated) meetings of the search committees where I participated.

I actually got my very first academic position as a Visiting Professor at an Ivy League university without ever meeting anybody from that school face to face. They hired me sight unseen on the basis of my CV and portfolio. Probably if they had gotten an opportunity to see me before hiring me, I’d be the university’s president instead of just a junior faculty member.

My sister is a professional recruiter, so we discuss the job market and successful recruitment strategies all the time. From what she tells me, a recruiter first reads a cover letter, then a CV, and then decides whether it makes sense to meet the candidate in person. She tells me that a college degree is crucial in the job mandates she handles. The question of a candidate’s beauty came up a single time in her career. That was when she was looking for a receptionist for a plastic surgeon’s practice.

I do believe, however, that Professor Christian Pfeifer had to be hired for his beauty. Based on the kind of study that occupies his time, I find it hard to believe he was hired because of his intellect.

24 thoughts on “Does Beauty Help You Get Hired?”

  1. It probably depends on the job one seeks. Being quite attractive does seem to be an asset for folks on television, although possibly to a lesser degree than for models and others featured in advertisements. On the other hand, it seems to be undesirable quality for females in politics. For males, it appears to be an asset.

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  2. Maybe his study focuses on jobs like working at Wal-Mart where qualifications aren’t really an issue (I think?). But even there, you have to fill out a computer application before they can meet you. I think the point of these studies is that if you have 2 equally qualified candidates, the prettier one will be picked, but then, if it helps as much as having a college degree, that doesn’t make sense either, does it?

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    1. The importance of the looks was directly compared to the importance of a university degree. So I guess this means we are not talking about the kind of jobs that require no qualifications.

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    1. But if the university degree is the very first thing that is looked at and considered as a gateway to any kind of consideration for the candidate, then it’s still not legitimate to say that looks matter as much as a degree.

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  3. What you might not know is that in Gemany one usually is expected to attach a photograph to a job application. So job hunters already have an idea of what you look like before the interview. People take these pictures very seriously. Hence, they get new hair cuts, buy clothes and use the service profesional photographers. A friend of mine paid more than EUR100 for her pictures. I dislike that practice very much since looks should not be important for a job (unless you want to be a model or so).

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  4. Yeah, I think for all kinds of jobs. I applied for a teaching position last year and had already decided to opt against the photo. Normally, it is on the same page as your CV. However, there was a form to be filled out and it had a box on which you had to glue the photo. And, since they explicitely asked for a photo, I gave in and got it done.

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      1. When I was on an academic search committee recently, CVs from Spain included a photo, so I presume this is a European-wide phenomenon, not just German. I can’t believe nobody’s stopped this!

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      2. Actually, there are anti-discrimination laws and those clearly state that they are supposed to remove discrimination based on age, sex, religion, disability, sexual identity or ethnicity.

        The problem is that those laws don’t state any concrete samples of what counts as discrimination or not. It just states that doing it is unlawful (and grants you a couple of rights and so on).

        Another reason why the inclusion of a photo, marriage status and so on is so widespread is of the way you learn how to write CVs. Unlike what bolanja said, corporations rarely ask for what they want to see in a CV exactly, but are just asking for a “detailed CV” without stating what goes in there, simply because every detail you specifically ask for can get a company sued. If you put your photo in there, you are basically surrendering it.

        Now, what comprises a detailed CV? Well, I learned that in school. I learned the old format, the one that included a photo, your age, marriage status, living conditions and even your parents’ occupations. Why do teacher teach this? Well, most of the teacher during my school time had to worry about getting hired just once and that was 30 years ago. No wonder they weren’t on top of the situation.

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  5. I agree on the stupid study of the day. Of course there are jobs in specific fields where looks are an important factor, but if we are talking about jobs that require degrees or certain skills not related to looks, I feel it’s doubtful.

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  6. It’s not just in Germany, try going to Los Angeles sometime, everybody, and I do mean everybody, in that stinking city has head shots of themselves, even if they’re not in the movie business. My stepbrother had a job as a massage therapist and my stepsister was a waitress there, and they both had to submit head shots with their job applications.
    In more extreme cases, there are situations like that awful beast from American Apparel (I think it was AA) looking at photos of employees from his stores and ordering the managers to fire the “fat and ugly” ones, and the woman who sued her place of employment (a casino) because they said she would be fired if she didn’t start wearing make-up. People are weird.

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      1. The worst one of the lot in LA for hiring based on superficiality is Disneyland. I’ve read stories about the experiences of people who worked at Disneyland (Not just the characters in costumes, the ride operators and toy sellers) which would make any freedom lover’s hair curl. The amount of micromanaging around the employees’ off-time and appearance is scary.

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      2. But LA does have a crazy teach-the-world-to-sing fight-the-power hippie radio station that makes a perfect soundtrack when pulling into Downtown Disney for unlimited mimosas at Gay Day. And no one ever bats an eye at a pair of obvious lesbians stumbling around lost in the Bradbury Building, which is more than I can say for my POS town.

        The Watts Towers are damn cool too and LACMA is full of awesome shit. But you’ll spend two hours on the road for every half-hour you spend doing anything else. Also, fucking expensive. And yes, shallower than a kiddie pool. Vacation, don’t stay.

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        1. “And no one ever bats an eye at a pair of obvious lesbians stumbling around lost in the Bradbury Building, which is more than I can say for my POS town.”

          – Come to Montreal! (In summer). It’s tons of fun, you don’t need to drive anywhere, it’s not that expensive, people are very intelligent, the environment is as European as you get on this continent, and we have a huge Gay Village.

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  7. From what I understand, people in the study rated their own looks. So, even if we accept the final result, it means that the more confident people are more likely to get hired. There is probably some truth in that.

    As far as adding photos to applications, that seems to be the norm for all of Europe. Applicants are also required to include their age, marital status and the number of kids. By the way, less than twenty years ago recruitment firms in Canada (and I would imagine in the rest of north America as well) kept photos of all job applicants. It was only ruled as discriminative not so long ago!

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  8. I would venture a guess that looks could very well be a determining factor in all jobs. Though you obviously need certain skills or degree’s to get your foot in the door, certain looks probably will get more attention if competing against someone else with similar skills. That’s life, nobody promised it would be fair nor will it ever be fair.

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  9. Clarissa is right that the stated minimum qualifications are used by employers to screen out applicants prior to inviting them to interview, however, when the applicant comes for interview, the interviewer’s conscious or unconscious bias will operate.Good looks are a significant advantage for applicants in some job categories, and “gender conventional” dress and behavior are also significant advantages in most job categories. What’s so surprising about that? On average, tall men make more money than short men. Women who don’t wear makeup and jewelry (in non-entertainment jobs) are often penalized by employers, although the employers, if overt about their reasons, can be held liable for discrimination (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_Waterhouse_v._Hopkins). Outstanding beauty may be a disadvantage in some situations (intimidating or distracting). In general, interviewers tend to prefer hiring people who look like “idealized” versions of people sharing the interviewer’s own family and social origin. One can add class, race, national origin, gender, and so forth to the “good looks” bias. There are many studies measuring name preference in selecting applicants for interview, in which identical or functionally similar resumes have been assigned ethnicity-specific or female-specific names as opposed to the usual “white Anglo-Saxon” or male names: Tawanda versus Wendy, Wendy versus William, Smith versus Gutierrez, and so on. There is a real effect, more pronounced with higher-ranked job categories.

    In Clarissa’s case, she was hired “SIGHT UNSEEN” for a TEMPORARY position. The univ. needed to fill a spot but had no long-term commitment, and the tenure-track considerations (do we want to work with this person long-term?) weren’t there. Highly skilled, full-time, potentially long-term positions aren’t filled “sight unseen” in the university or elsewhere.

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    1. “Highly skilled, full-time, potentially long-term positions aren’t filled “sight unseen” in the university or elsewhere.”

      – And having a university degree is as important as appearance? Seriously? This makes no sense whatsoever.

      “Women who don’t wear makeup and jewelry (in non-entertainment jobs) are often penalized by employers”

      – And often, the opposite is “penalized by employers.”

      What you are trying to say is that people like to hire employees who will be a good fit for the company. That is self-evident and highly reasonable. However, a fit will mean completely different things for different places. For some, I;m a perfect fit. For others. I’m a horrible fit. Let’s not create a whole theory of victimization on the basis of this simple and accessible fact.

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  10. I interview internship and residency M.D./D.O applicants, pre-screened by the residency director (we interview most applicants). The national standardized form requires a photo, and I find that the photo helps me recall more specifics about the applicant when the hiring committee meets to rank applicants at the end of the interview season. Residency programs submit their rank-ordered hiring list and applicants submit their rank-ordered program (job) preferences to a national clearing house that feeds it all into a computer program that sorts such that programs and applicants most preferring each other get assigned to each other (The “Match” Program). The process takes about 6 months from start of interview season to Match Day, the 3rd Wednesday in March.

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  11. Unlike what bolanja said, corporations rarely ask for what they want to see in a CV exactly, but are just asking for a “detailed CV” without stating what goes in there, simply because every detail you specifically ask for can get a company sued. If you put your photo in there, you are basically surrendering it.
    Now, what comprises a detailed CV? Well, I learned that in school. I learned the old format, the one that included a photo, your age, marriage status, living conditions and even your parents’ occupations. Why do teacher teach this? Well, most of the teacher during my school time had to worry about getting hired just once and that was 30 years ago. No wonder they weren’t on top of the situation.

    Yes, my comment might have misleading. I also do not have the impression that companies tend to ask for a photo openly (the one I applied for last year probably being an exception). However, to me it seems that companies nevertheless expect a photo because that is just what one does (like flushing the toilet after each use even though not all public bathrooms have a sign that informs users about this practice). Only in that sense “one usually is expected to attach a photograph to a job application”. Btw., that a photo is part of a CV was taught to me in school as well. It would be interesting to know what teachers tell their students nowadays.

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