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Could Your Appearance Cost You A Job?

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When it comes to interviews you are judged not only on your skills and experience, but also your personality and your appearance. But at what point does the way you look outweigh your talents? Will potential employers turn you down if they don’t like your appearance? Should employees be forced to adapt to corporate standards? Let’s take a look.

Tattoos & Piercings

You may love that heart on your arm, the rose on your wrist or the dragon winding its way around your neck, but will it hurt your chances of getting a job? 40% of 26-40 year olds and 36% of 18-25 year olds have a tattoo, with 22% and 30% respectively having at least one body piercing (1). That’s a huge number of people so it can’t have that much of an impact on employment can it?

A study by CareerBuilder found that 37% of hiring managers consider piercings to be something which would cause them to dismiss a candidate from the interview process and 31% cited visible tattoos. The other top answer was bad breath with 34% (2) so there may be a societal stigma attached to body modifications such as these if they’re on par with halitosis.

Those of you that are inked need not despair though as acceptance is on the rise. Corporate cultures are progressively encouraging diversity and individualism among their employees, and many realise that having a tattoo says nothing about the quality of a person’s work. In an increasingly candidate driven market with lots of talented workers, employers need to consider that judging people on tattoos might lead them to pass up fantastic employees and so they should look past the exterior and choose candidates based on their qualifications and experience.

It should be noted, however, that in many cases the decision might not be about what the hiring manager thinks; they also need to think of their customers and how they will perceive someone with visible tattoos or piercings. After all, employees represent a company and the company needs to uphold its image.

The best advice for jobseekers with tattoos or piercings and who are unsure of whether an employer will be accepting is to try to cover or remove them where possible for their interview and let the interviewer judge you based on your personality and skills. Then you can ask about their company policy on them, explain your situation and gauge their reaction.

Physical Features

Research by Newsweek found that 57% of hiring managers believe that unattractive candidates are likely to have a harder time getting a job than their more attractive counterparts, even if they are qualified (3). The University of Rice and the University of Houston conducted research into the impact of facial “stigmas” in interviews and found that when candidates had facial scars or birthmarks their interviewers paid less attention to what they were saying as their attention was focused on the facial stigma. This had an effect on how the candidate was judged after the interview took place, despite them having the necessary experience and education. (4)

A big reason for attractive people being favoured for jobs is not necessarily that their interviewer is being biased but that they are often more confident and self-assured than their less attractive competition and therefore perform better in interviews. The halo effect, where we assign other positive traits to someone based on one particularly attractive feature, also comes into play in interviews.

So do beautiful people always have an advantage? Not always; in fact their looks can work against them, especially for women. A study by Ruffle and Shtudiner found that based on pictures included with CVs, attractive women are less likely to receive an interview than “plain” women, while appearance had little impact on the likelihood of males getting an interview (5). This could be attributed to pigeon-holing people based on their appearance and assuming that because they are attractive they will get by on their looks or not be capable of doing the job (the so-called “bimbo effect”), or even to jealously among the people reviewing applications.


‘Dress for the job you want, not the job you have’ they say. But that doesn’t mean you should turn up to your interview dressed as Batman; the clothing you choose can make a big difference in the eyes of your interviewers.

In most cases you should dress smart and conservative. A shirt, dress trousers or a skirt, dress shoes and ideally a suit are advised for most interviews. Even if your prospective workplace is fairly informal, your interviewer wants to see that you can appear neat and well groomed because you’ll be representing the business. Not only does the way you dress affect how others see you, it also changes the way you see yourself. Studies have shown that the clothes you wear can affect your confidence (6) so if you look the part then you’re more likely to feel the part and therefore you’ll be perceived in a better light in your interview.

While the style of your interview attire is important for conveying your professionalism and image, the colour of your clothes can have a psychological impact on your interviewer. Neutral colours like brown or grey are good choices because they can look sophisticated without standing out too much, and while black is sleek, conservative and attractive it is also a powerful colour so it is best suited to interviews for the more senior roles. Studies have shown, however, that navy blue is the best colour to wear to an interview with orange being the worst (understandably), so you'd best hang up your tangerine tie and copper suit.

So What Can We Draw From This?

Is it fair to judge candidates based on their appearance? No, but the way you present yourself can say a lot about you and it's human nature to judge others superficially. The prevalence of social media and “outside the box” applications (like video CVs) mean that employers can start judging you on your appearance before you’ve even been contacted for an interview. Even if your online profiles are private, visitors can in many cases still see your picture and that can be enough to influence their impression of you.

While you should be proud of who you are and you shouldn’t have to change who you are just to get a job, you should be willing to make some concessions to fit an organisation’s culture so perhaps do a bit of research on a company before applying to find out how you’ll fit in. 

If you have any thoughts about this topic you can, as always, discuss it with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.







Image from Can Stock Photo

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