Do attractive people get the best jobs?

It’s uncomfortable but true that attractive people have better job prospects and get paid more

by Nick Band

Study after study shows you are more likely to get hired and promoted if you are a “looker”.

Nowhere is this truer than in Adland where image is everything from the receptionist greeting clients to the models used in the commercials. There is something in the human psyche than associates attractiveness with good and ugliness as bad. When was the last time you saw a depiction of an ugly angel?

In one of the biggest studies of its kind, the University of Buffalo concluded: “Workers of above average beauty earn about 10 to 15% more than workers of below-average beauty. The size of this beauty premium is economically significant and comparable to the race and gender gaps in the U.S. labor market”.

Researchers showed more than 300 videos to a sample of hiring managers. The results were unequivocal: the better the looks, the better the chances of getting hired.

Apparently good-looking people are more confident which is displayed through non-verbal signal such as posture

Sophia Amoruso, the CEO of Nasty Girl, was voted sexist CEO on the planet by Business Insider magazine. She is worth $280m. No 2 was Elon Musk, the richest man in the world. Jack Dorsey of Twitter fame is worth 12 billion. See the pattern?

Sophia Amoruso                         Jack Dorsey                                       Elon Musk

So what if you have been short-changed in the looks department or are just average? How do you compete with the supermodels?

Given that many interviews are now conducted via video, there is no hiding place. But there are things you can do.

  1. Be yourself: ignore everything and just be you, a matter of principle.
  2. Smile: The act of smiling has been scientifically studied, and it relays happiness, authenticity, and trust across cultures and generations.
  3. Posture: remember what your parents told you all those years ago- sit up straight and look the interviewer in the eye. Keep still and calm.
  4. Engagement: nod your head every now and again to show you understand. Listen careful. Modulate your voice to avoid droning on.
  5. Dress well: appearance is about more than just your face.

A couple of crumbs of comfort:

  1. According to the London Business School, less attractive people are more likely to fill the less attractive jobs. Not really an encouragement, but if you are after that back-room role, then it’s good to know.
  2. Being super-attractive can put bosses off if they feel in anyway threatened by a potential rival.

So how should we re-act to another insidious ism? Frankly, there is little we can do to stop the world judging a book by its cover. It’s instinctive. There is no doubt that beauty- to some extent- is in the eye of the beholder, but across individuals and across cultures there is nevertheless considerable agreement about what makes a pretty or handsome face.

As anthropologist Eric Wargo puts it: “Beauty is unfair. Not everyone can be born with great genes.”

But we can all pause in our recruitment decisions and ponder whether all that glitters is, in fact, gold. Make sure candidates progress on their ability, not their looks. See our other blogs on accentism and ageism.