EHS OutLoud Blog

Are Attractive People More Employable?

As job seekers face a discouraging economy and job market, the last thing they need to worry about is how their physical appearance might influence their prospects. But according to a recent study, this might be a real concern – only not in the ways you might expect.

According to economic researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel, attractive men might have a better chance of garnering interest from potential employers while attractive women might have less of a chance of getting a foot in the door.

Researchers sent 5,312 resumes in pairs to 2,656 advertised job openings in Israel. In each pair, one resume was sent without a picture while the second, otherwise almost identical resume contained a picture of either an attractive male/female or a plain-looking male/female. Overall, the response rate to resumes was 14.5 percent.

“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,” explained BGU economics researcher and lecturer Dr. Bradley Ruffle. “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.”

The resumes of “attractive” males received a 19.9 percent response rate, nearly 50 percent higher than the13.7 percent response rate for “plain” males and more than twice the 9.2 percent response rate of no-picture males. Ze’ev Shtudiner, co-researcher and Ph.D. candidate, said that an attractive male therefore would need to send an average of five resumes in order to obtain a response, while a plain-looking male needs to send 11 for a response.

Women: Omit that Photo

Among women, however, the BGU study indicates that, contrary to popular belief, “attractive” women are called back for a position less often than “plain women,” 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,” the authors explained.

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 suggest.

In fact, they go so far as to say that the women who screen the candidates (in this study, the screening person was female in 96 percent of the cases and typically was young and single) nix the attractive female candidates because of a “jealous response.” In short, the young women workers don’t want competition in the workplace from other attractive women.

I’m not sure I’m convinced on this last point. Certainly, more research is necessary to flesh out this “jealousy” hypothesis. In the meantime, perhaps we should all be grateful that it’s not standard practice to include a photo with a resume here in the United States. At the least, this research might make you rethink your Facebook photo or other images available online. You know what they say: A picture is worth a thousand job callbacks. Or something.

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