The Influence of Physical Appearance on Personnel Selection

Article excerpt

Previous research suggests that physical appearance variables may play a role in employment hiring decisions. This study examined the influence of two physical appearance variables, beardedness and attractiveness, on personnel selection. Fifty undergraduate participants were given the task of evaluating and selecting between nine equally qualified male job applicants applying for a fictitious management trainee position. A photograph was attached to each of the nine applications. Photographs differed systematically on level of beardedness and attractiveness. Results indicated that the level of attractiveness of the photographs significantly affected the evaluation of the application to which it was attached, but did not significantly affect the subjects' final selection decision. Level of beardedness of the photographs was not found to have a significant effect on evaluation of the applications. However, there was a trend in the data that suggested that bearded applicants, although evaluated equally with non-bearded applicants, were selected for management positions at lower rates. Implications and limitations of these results are also examined.

Key words: beardedness, physical appearance bias, personnel selection, attractiveness, employment interview.

The end result of a job search often involves participation in a job interview. Typically, the employer has evaluated the qualifications of several applicants prior to granting each interview. Thus, the main focus of the interview, from the employer's perspective, is to use information gained during personal interaction with each applicant to assist in determining which applicant is most suited to the available position. Ideally, the only characteristics that the employer should attend to are those that directly affect the applicant's ability to perform the duties required by the available position. The decision to offer a job should rest on the degree to which the individual meets those requirements (e.g. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA)).

In practice however, the conditions of the interview process introduce several nonwork related factors into the evaluation process. Inevitably, interviewers are presented not only with information regarding the applicant's qualifications, but also with potentially irrelevant nonverbal information such as demeanor, personal appearance and grooming habits. Any one of these characteristics could potentially contribute to the evaluation of the applicant. If the interviewer has any previously acquired dispositions to evaluate certain characteristics with a positive or negative bias, these acquired dispositions, or attitudes, could influence the interviewer's overall evaluation of the applicant.

Although most employers would agree that, within certain limits, physical appearance should not play a role in the decision to hire a particular applicant, evidence suggests that physical appearance and grooming habits are factors in the hiring process. Mack and Rainey (1990) found that although undergraduate subjects posing as employers in a mock interview scenario reported that the appearance of potential job candidates was not a factor in their decision to hire a particular applicant, it was found that well-groomed applicants were significantly more likely to be hired than were equally qualified poorly groomed applicants. These authors suggested that the attendance to appearance cues demonstrated in their study may have been due to their having used subjects unfamiliar with the standards of equal employment opportunity laws as applied to the hiring process. As such, their subjects may have allowed attitudes concerning physical attractiveness to bias their evaluation of each applicant. However, in a similar study, Dipboye, Fromkin and Wiback (1975) found that professional interviewers recruited from the personnel departments of several large firms, who reported that the physical appearance of job applicants was not a factor typically used in their evaluative process, demonstrated a significant bias towards hiring attractive applicants over equally qualified unattractive applicants. …