Pretty people have a harder time getting certain jobs, says science

Rachel Grumman Bender
Writer
Photo: Getty Images

Being good-looking certainly has its benefits — and that includes being more likely to get hired for a job.

Several studies show that attractive people tend to land more job interviews, are more likely to be hired (a 2010 Newsweek survey of 202 corporate hiring managers found that nearly 60 percent believed that an unattractive but qualified job candidate would have a tougher time getting hired), and are often more successful.

But a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that being easy on the eyes doesn’t mean it’s easy to get any job you want.

In the study, which involved more than 750 participants and included university students and managers who made real hiring decisions, participants were shown profiles of two potential job candidates. The profiles included photos of the candidates — one attractive and one unattractive (according to EurekAlert, “The photos were vetted by previous research to test attractiveness”). The participants were then asked questions to determine their assessment of the job candidates, as well as whether they would hire the candidates for a “less desirable” job, such as a warehouse worker, housekeeper, or customer service representative, or a “more desirable” job, such as a manager, project director, or IT intern.

Turns out the study participants were much less likely to hire the good-looking job applicants for so-called less desirable jobs and more likely to hire the attractive candidate for the theoretically more coveted jobs.

“Our research suggests that attractive people may be discriminated against in selection for relatively less desirable jobs,” lead author of the study Margaret Lee, a doctoral candidate at the London Business School, told EurekAlert. “This stands in contrast to a large body of research that concluded that attractiveness, by and large, helps candidates in the selection process.”

That’s because study participants made certain assumptions about attractive individuals — namely, that the good-looking person wouldn’t want the “less desirable” job.

“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,” Lee said. “In the selection decision for an undesirable job, decision makers were more likely to choose the unattractive individual over the attractive individual. We found this effect to occur even with hiring managers.”

Lee said she was surprised by the study results, since the assumption was that an attractive person would have a leg up on any job that he or she applied for.

But this isn’t the only study to find that being attractive can backfire when it comes to your career — particularly for women. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Social Psychology found that attractive women — but not men — were discriminated against when they applied for positions that are typically considered “masculine” and where appearance is not viewed as important to the job. The jobs included manager of research and development, director of finance, and mechanical engineer.

“In these professions, being attractive was highly detrimental to women,” the lead author of the study, Stefanie K. Johnson, an associate professor of management at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, told ScienceDaily. “In every other kind of job, attractive women were preferred. This wasn’t the case with men, which shows that there is still a double standard when it comes to gender.”

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