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HR managers discriminate against attractive candidates when hiring for less desirable jobs, study suggests


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Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that, contrary to popular belief, it does not always pay to be physically attractive as a job seeker.


Social psychology literature has long held the proposition that beauty affords advantages in many areas of life, including the job market. Previous studies have generally shown that attractive job seekers are more likely to be hired for a job, and more likely to receive job promotions once hired.


Study authors Margaret Lee and colleagues propose that there may be a time when being attractive actually works against a job candidate. Specifically, they suggest that when a manager is hiring for a less desirable position, they will be propelled by the goal of choosing someone who will be most satisfied with the job, and this goal will override their bias for attractive candidates.


“We propose,” the authors say, “that decision makers predict that attractive candidates would be less satisfied working in jobs that are relatively less desirable, leading to discrimination against them.”


Lee and her team conducted four studies to explore this idea.


A first study showed participants headshots from two supposed job candidates: one attractive and one unattractive. Participants completed items assessing how entitled they thought each candidate was with statements like, “this individual expects things to go in his/her favor.” They then read about a job that was either more desirable (described as very interesting and exciting) or less desirable (described as tedious and uninteresting) and asked which of the candidates they felt would more likely be dissatisfied with the job.


The researchers found that not only were the attractive candidates perceived to be more entitled, but they were perceived as more likely to be dissatisfied with the less desirable job. For the more desirable job, however, neither candidate was perceived as more likely to be dissatisfied with the task.


Three additional studies were conducted, all of which replicated this effect in different scenarios.


Notably, one study was conducted among real human resource managers who were asked to describe a job they typically hired for, and to rate the desirability, attractiveness, and popularity of the position. The HR managers were shown two headshots accompanied by similar profiles and asked which candidate they felt would be most self-entitled, which one would be more dissatisfied with the job position, and which one they would select for the job.


When the job was rated as less desirable, the managers discriminated against the attractive candidates in favor of the less attractive candidates. When the job was more desirable, the attractiveness of the candidates had no effect on the managers’ decision-making. Further analysis found that this effect was partly accounted for by the HR managers attributing a higher sense of entitlement to the more attractive candidates.


As Lee and associates discuss, their studies provide evidence that attractiveness does not always work in the favor of job candidates. Although being less likely to be chosen for less desirable jobs may seem like a benefit for attractive people, the authors stress that it is not inherently a good thing. Any candidate losing out on a job that they applied for, even if it is a mundane one, is arguably a negative outcome.


Lee and her team additionally discuss how this process may lead to increased social stratification.


“It is easy to imagine how these two processes complement each other to perpetuate the structural division in society based on status-related candidate features,” the researchers point out. “Decision makers’ discriminatory behavior may perpetuate the very stereotype (association between attractive people and good outcomes) that drives discrimination against attractive candidates applying for relatively less desirable jobs in the first place.”


The findings provide insight into the rationale of hiring managers, suggesting that concern with job satisfaction is a real part of their decision-making process. This could be because the current job marketplace involves a given candidate applying to a vast number of jobs at once, without necessarily desiring each one.


The study, “Perceived Entitlement Causes Discrimination Against Attractive Job Candidates in the Domain of Relatively Less Desirable Jobs”, was authored by Margaret Lee, Marko Pitesa, Madan M. Pillutla, and Stefan Thau.



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