Getting ready for an interview can be a daunting task: you must do your research, prepare the perfect questions, and memorize impressive answers to the interviewer’s surely nerve-racking questions. But the preparation process doesn’t stop there—you also have to pick out the perfect outfit and nail the perfect hairdo, a combination that will without a doubt communicate, ‘I’m the person for this job.’ Because while we like to preach the saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ the truth is that we innately judge someone we meet by their appearance. It’s the first impression we have to go off of. So, with this in mind, male interviewees put on their best ties and blazers, while women slip on their best business-professional dresses and heels. They make sure every hair is in place and practice an award-winning smile, sure to dazzle.
It makes sense that we want to look our best for an interview—especially since a plethora of research has determined that attractive candidates have a one-up on other contenders. However, this might not always be the case: a new study “Perceived Entitlement Causes Discrimination Against Attractive Candidates in the Domain of Relatively Less Desirably Jobs” says that whether or not your attractiveness helps you snag a job may just depend on what job you’re applying for. More specifically, attractive people may actually be at a disadvantage when applying for less desirable jobs.
To reach this conclusion, the researchers conducted four experiments involving over 750 participants who actually make hiring decisions in the real world. They were shown profiles of two potential employees with pictures: one candidate had attractive pictures and the other had unattractive pictures (as determined by research used to test attractiveness). The subjects were then asked questions created to gauge their views of the candidates and, in three of the experiments, determine which candidates they would hire for a less desirable job or a more desirable job. For this particular study, examples of less desirable jobs include warehouse worker, housekeeper, and customer service representative, while more desirable positions include manager, director, and IT intern.
In the three experiments where participants were asked about which candidate they’d choose for a given position, the subjects were more likely to hire the attractive candidate for a more desirable job but significantly less likely to hire them for a less desirable job. Margaret Lee, lead author and doctoral candidate at the London Business School, explains why: “We found that participants perceived attractive individuals to feel more entitled to good outcomes than unattractive individuals, and that attractive individuals were predicted to be less satisfied with an undesirable job than an unattractive person.”
The research team was unequivocally surprised by their findings, as previous research has said that attractive candidates would be selected over unattractive candidates regardless of the position sought. They were also intrigued by how participants came to their decisions: “The most interesting part of our findings is that decision makers take into consideration others’ assumed aspirations in their decisions. Because participants thought that attractive individuals would want better outcomes, and therefore participants predicted that attractive individuals would be less satisfied, they reversed their discrimination pattern and favored unattractive candidates when selecting for a less desirable job,” explains co-author Madan Pillutla, PhD, of the London Business School.
Pillutla says that these findings suggest the belief that attractive candidates are chosen over others for jobs may be limited to high-level, more desirable jobs, which were the focus of past research. So, depending on the job you are applying for, spending an extra hour in front of the mirror may help you or it may hinder you—perhaps you should first consider the position you’re after.
Source: “Perceived Entitlement Causes Discrimination Against Attractive Candidates in the Domain of Relatively Less Desirable Jobs,” by Margaret Lee, BS, and Madan M. Pillutla, PhD, London School of Business; Marko Pitesa, PhD, Singapore Management University; and Stefan Thau, PhD, INSEAD. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published online Oct. 23, 2017.