All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Why Attractiveness Shouldn’t Influence Hiring Decisions
If you haven’t noticed, the impact of physical attractiveness in hiring decisions and long-term success has been a hot topic lately.
In fact, there have been a variety of studies, articles, and blog posts written recently (click here, here, and here for a glimpse) arguing that physical attractiveness is a significant influencer of success. My colleague, Katy Smigowski, has even jumped aboard that train. On her blog, Katy suggests that being a neck-breaker can boost your chances of influencing hiring decisions.
To be honest, it got me thinking. Does physical attractiveness really influence hiring decisions, and do attractive candidates have a significant advantage over their less glitzy counterparts?
In my opinion, it depends. In some industries (use your imagination), attractiveness is absolutely an advantage. However, in an office or corproate setting, I do not think the suggestion that attractive people are more attractive candidates holds the same merit. The reason is simple. Whether you are a hottie or not, what’s important in hiring is fundamental qualities such as personality, integrity, motivation, communication, and interpersonal skills. And let’s not forget about the technical skills needed to succeed in most roles.
So, the question I think hiring managers really need to ask is this: What, outside of physical attributes, really makes a candidate attractive?
It should have less to do with physical looks and more to do with the fundamental qualities I mentioned above. After all, those fundamental qualities typically shine through in an interview process, telling the candidate’s story and illustrating their personality. A study by Viren Swami, Ph.D., in fact, finds that personality has a great affect on attraction. When given information about personality before viewing photos, subjects tested by Dr. Swami were attracted to a wider range of body sizes when their personality traits were positive, and a narrower range when personality traits were negative.
To further prove that point, let’s look, for example, at a client-facing role such as an outside sales professional. Generally speaking, popular opinion seems to suggest that beauty reigns supreme in that role. I disagree with that sentiment, however. Success in that role has very little to do with a handsome face, so why should hiring managers be focusing on physical attractiveness? Instead, they should look for a candidate’s instinctive ability to create, build, and nurture relationships.
This is not to say that a candidate’s appearance has no influence on hiring decisions, of course. Presentation — which includes appearance among other aspects — is absolutely a factor in hiring. In terms of physical appearance, candidates are often judged based on whether they possess a professional/polished look and good personal hygiene. In HR, however, we are trained to look past certain characteristics — namely race, sex, religion, and disability (hello employment discrimination). Some U.S. cities (including San Francisco and Washington D.C.) are taking things one step further, expanding employment laws to forbid “attractiveness discrimination.” Based on those actions and many employment lawsuits based on appearance discrimination, biases based on attractiveness do appear to exist, even if they shouldn’t.
And while that might not change any time soon, I’d argue that it is possible — and advisable — to look beyond someone’s physical attributes.
Yes, it may be human nature to judge people by their looks (cue the Halo Effect that suggests “what is beautiful is good”) and, yes, candidates who are physically attractive are often perceived as more sociable and successful than those who are physically less attractive. But hiring managers need to go beyond those perceptions and stereotypes, and not rush to judgement when they’re interviewing for a role and making critical hiring decisions.
Hiring is a strategic process that encompasses a variety decision makers, as well as a number of steps in the process. The bottom line is that if physical attractiveness is one of the primary drivers of your hiring decisions, then you’re probably overlooking your top candidates’ fundamental, intrinsic qualities — you know, the actual skills, capabilities, and personality types that more significantly indicate long-term success. And if you’re a recruiter that is looking beyond physical attractiveness, then I’m sure you have found (as I have), that in hiring, all that glitters is not gold.
Click here to read Katy Smigowski’s counterpoint to this post.