Are Good-Looking People More Employable?

“Good looks” are only sometimes a positive factor in consideration for a job, according to new research from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). In the new working paper, “Are Good-Looking People More Employable?” two BGU economics researchers prove that a double standard exists between good looks as a positive factor in men vs. women.

The research involved sending 5,312 CVs (resumes) in pairs to 2,656 advertised job openings in Israel. In each pair, one CV was without a picture while the second, otherwise almost identical CV contained a picture of either an attractive male/female or a plain-looking male/female. The dependent measure was whether the employer emails or calls back the candidate for an interview. Overall, the response rate was 14.5 percent.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper to explore beauty discrimination in the hiring process of an actual labor market (rather than a laboratory market or hypothetical decision scenario),” according to Dr. Bradley Ruffle, researcher and professor in the University’s Department of Economics.

“The resumes of attractive males received a 19.9 percent response rate, nearly 50 percent higher than “plain” males’; 13.7 percent response rate and more than twice the 9.2 percent response rate of no-picture males. “It follows that an attractive male needs to send on average five CVs in order to obtain one response, whereas a plain- looking male needs to send 11 for a single response,” explains Ze’ev Shtudiner, co-researcher and Ph.D candidate at BGU.

However, among women, the study indicates that, contrary to popular belief, “attractive” women are called back for a position LESS often than “plain women” (unattractive) as well as women who had no picture on their resume. “Among female candidates, no-picture females have the highest response rate, 22 percent higher than plain females and 30 percent higher than “attractive” females.”

“Our findings on penalization of attractive women contradict current psychology and organizational behavior literature on beauty that associate attractiveness, male and female alike, with almost every conceivable positive trait and disposition,” explain the authors.

As a result, attractive and plain women alike are better off omitting their photograph from a resume since it decreases their chances of a callback by 20 to 30 percent.

The number of attractive women that were subjected to discrimination varied on who was hiring them, the research shows. When employment agencies received resumes for positions, attractive female candidates were no worse off than plain candidates and penalized only modestly compared to no-picture females.

However, when the corporation at which the candidate might work recruited directly, attractive females received a response rate of about half that of plain and no-picture women. This is likely due to the high number of women in human resources staffing positions, the researchers conclude.

To verify this stereotype, the researchers conducted a post-experiment survey in which they spoke with the person at the company who screens candidates. That person was female in 24 of the 25 (96%) of the companies they interviewed. Moreover, these woman were young (ranging in age from 23 to 34 with an average age of 29) and typically single (67 percent) – qualities more likely to be associated with a jealous response when confronted with a young, attractive competitor in the workplace. “Indeed, the evidence points to female jealousy of attractive women in the workplace as a primary reason for their penalization in recruitment,” Ruffle states.

The companies themselves treat all looks categories equally, within gender, except for the glaring exception of attractive females who are punished relative to both plain and no-picture women.

“Unlike Anglo-Saxon countries such as the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K, it isn’t taboo in Israel to embed a headshot of oneself in the top corner of one’s job resume,” Ruffle explains. “Rather, the choice to include a photograph on one’s job resume is left to the candidate with the result that some do, while others don’t. This fact makes Israel an opportune location to explore the effect of a picture and its attractiveness (or lack thereof) on the likelihood of being invited for a job interview.”