Humans

Being pretty is a problem when you’re applying for low-level jobs


Being perceived as attractive isn’t usually considered much of an impediment in today’s world. Oh, sure, there’s the endless compliments and fawning adoration, but really, why complain?

Researchers have found one area that being pretty makes life a challenge – securing yourself a boring, low paying job. While we might scoff, discrimination is discrimination, and beautiful people can also find themselves signing up for entry level jobs at some point in their lives.

 

For the most part good looks is a blessing. We treat pretty people more favourably in general, often vote for them more in elections, and pay them more in their professions.

But before we think it’s all roses, these same assumptions do appear to have a flip side.

“Our research suggests that attractive people may be discriminated against in selection for relatively less desirable jobs,” says researcher Margaret Lee from the London Business School.

“This stands in contrast to a large body of research that concluded that attractiveness, by and large, helps candidates in the selection process.”

To put beauty to the test, Lee led a team of psychologists in running a series of experiments to evaluate several hypotheses about decision making involving an attractive candidate.

Attractiveness is a personal thing, what with beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all that.

 

In this case, beauty happened to be in the eye of Lee et al., 2015, which served as the qualifier for prettiness.

Armed with a pair of photographs depicting subjects of differing visual appeal, the researchers role-played a workplace situation with 148 volunteers.

Volunteers were individually told one of the two people in the photos was dissatisfied with their job, and asked to pick who it might be.

The second study took this a step further, asking just under 200 volunteers which of the individuals would be dissatisfied with a bland-sounding job titled “Team Member in the Business Operations Department”.

The last two studies were designed to make the process more akin to the real world, questioning volunteers about whether candidates – both fabricated and real – would be hired for a variety of desirable and less desirable positions.

Actual human resource managers were brought in for the last step, and evaluated on jobs they were hiring for.

 

Each study allowed the researchers to validate their findings, amounting to a strong case in support of the claim that if you want a crappy job, don’t be too pretty.

“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,” says Lee.

In other words, the same biases that made us see beautiful people as more worthy of respect, well paid jobs, and positions of authority also make us think they’re not as well suited for less stimulating, less rewarding tasks.

“In the selection decision for an undesirable job, decision makers were more likely to choose the unattractive individual over the attractive individual.”

The decisions weren’t affected by the hirer’s own level of attractiveness, nor did the better-looking volunteers report themselves being more entitled to more stimulating work.

The research was based on a dichotomy of attraction and job desirability, leaving little room for nuance that could make a difference in the real world.

The volunteers were also heavily influenced on what constitutes an undesirable job – after all, many of us might like the sound of being a generic Team Member in the Business Operations Department.

But before we dismiss such research as trivial, it serves as a good reminder to check our biases or find ways to eliminate them where possible.

Pretty folk don’t win all the jobs, and failing to get work on account of an irrelevant physical attribute is effectively discrimination any way you cut it, no matter how boring the job might seem to others. 

This research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

 



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