Attractive people, believed to receive favourable treatment in the hiring process, may be at a disadvantage when applying for less desirable jobs, such as those with low pay or uninteresting work, a study suggests. Researchers from London Business School in the UK conducted a series of four experiments involving more than 750 participants, including university students and managers who make hiring decisions in the real world.
Participants were shown profiles of two potential job candidates that included photos, one attractive and one unattractive (the photos were vetted by previous research to test attractiveness). The participants were then asked a series of questions designed to measure their perceptions of the job candidates and, in three of the experiments, whether they would hire these candidates for a less-than-desirable job or a more desirable job.
In all three experiments where they were asked, participants were significantly less likely to hire the attractive candidate for the less desirable job and more likely to hire the attractive candidate for the more 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,” said Margaret Lee, a doctoral candidate at the London Business School.
“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,” said Lee, lead author of the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The findings were surprising because, based on prior research, the prediction would be that decision makers select the attractive candidate no matter the position, she added.
“The most interesting part of our findings is that decision makers take into consideration others’ assumed aspirations in their decisions,” said Madan Pillutla, from London Business School.
“Because participants thought that attractive individuals would want better outcomes, and therefore participants predicted that attractive individuals would be less satisfied, they reversed their discrimination pattern and favoured unattractive candidates when selecting for a less desirable job,” said Pillutla.
This research suggests that the taken-for-granted view that attractive candidates are favoured when applying for jobs might be limited to high-level jobs that were the predominant focus of past research, according to Pillutla.
Therefore, organisations and policymakers may need to implement different measures from those assumed by past work if they are to curb discrimination in the hiring process, he said.