HR Discriminates Against Hot Female Job Candidates. Can You Guess Why?

When an economics professor discovered last year that attractive people earn significantly more on the job, it wasn’t shocking. After all, the sexy among us can charm interviewers and clients, and have likely lived with a measure of confidence their whole lives. But there’s one stage of the job-acquisition process where it might not pay to be hot if you’re a woman. As econ professor Bradley J. Ruffle writes online for the Harvard Business Review, HR departments may be biased against attractive women. Why? Because HR departments are largely staffed by other young women. Even if it’s unconscious, jealousy rears its ugly head.

Ruffle and his colleague Ze’ev Shtudiner found that attractive female candidates for jobs advertised in Israel received 6% fewer call-backs than “plain-looking” female candidates, when both included their photos with their resumes. Women who didn’t include photos at all were 23% likelier to be called in for an interview than an attractive woman with a photo.

Intriguingly, women applying at employment agencies, as opposed to companies themselves, experienced much less of a “beauty penalty.” Ruffle speculates that this is because the HR screeners wouldn’t anticipate working side-by-side with the hires in this case, so there would be little incentive to screen out supposedly threatening hotties.

Here’s the kicker: Attractive men who included their photos fared better than other guys. Ruffle writes, “This male beauty premium did not come as a surprise in light of the large body of psychological research showing that attractive people are generally viewed positively along numerous dimensions. They’re believed to be happier, healthier, more intelligent, luckier in marriage, and so on. Thus the responses to the CV photos of attractive women really stand out and tell us a lot about the screeners’ biases.”

Resume photos are required in China, common in Europe, and on the rise in Israel, Turkey, and elsewhere, according to Ruffle, who teaches in Israel. As he points out in his piece, most American job applicants wouldn’t even think of attaching a photo to their resumes. But in a world in which 76% of employers use Facebook to screen job applicants, it’s getting harder and harder to keep your appearance a secret before your interview.

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