How your face may be hurting your job prospects

How your face may be hurting your job prospects

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Way back, years ago, I wrote an article for a magazine in which I stuffed my shirt with big fake boobs — not to go into too much detail, but suffice to say that I am not well endowed — and went out job hunting. As a control, I also interviewed for some jobs without the implants, which were (obviously) removable. The jobs were waitressing jobs, as that’s what I was capable of landing at the time, and my hypothesis was that I’d be more likely to get one with an enhanced boobular region, thus proving beyond a doubt that large breasted women are more likely to get jobs (or something like that). The result? I didn’t get a job whether I wore the implants or not. I’m honestly not sure what we learned from the experiment, except that I’m not qualified to be a waitress, with or without a rack.

This might be more useful. A recent study by researchers at Rice University and the University of Houston shows that people with birthmarks, scars and other facial disfigurements are more likely to receive poor ratings in job interviews.

“Discrimination Against Facially Stigmatized Applicants in Interviews: An Eye-Tracking and Face-to-Face Investigation” was published online last month in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The findings show that interviewers recalled less information about these candidates, which negatively impacted their evaluations.

“When evaluating applicants in an interview setting, it’s important to remember what they are saying,” Rice Professor of Psychology Mikki Hebl said. “Our research shows if you recall less information about competent candidates because you are distracted by characteristics on their face, it decreases your overall evaluations of them.”

The research included two studies, the first of which involved tracking the eye movements of 171 undergrads while they watched a computer-mediated interview.

Co-author, University of Houston professor Juan Madera said, “When looking at another person during a conversation, your attention is naturally directed in a triangular pattern around the eyes and mouth. We tracked the amount of attention outside of this region and found that the more the interviewers attended to stigmatized features on the face, the less they remembered about the candidate’s interview content, and the less memory they had about the content led to decreases in ratings of the applicant.”

The second study involved face-to-face interviews of candidates with facial birthmarks conducted by full-time managers enrolled in a part-time MBA and/or a Master of Science in a hospitality management program, all of whom had experience in interviewing applicants.

The interviewers had an even stronger reaction to the marks.

“It just shows that despite maturity and experience levels, it is still a natural human reaction to react negatively to facial stigma,” Madera said.

The researchers hope the study will raise awareness about this form of “workplace discrimination.”

Hebl said, “The bottom line is that how your face looks can significantly influence the success of an interview. There have been many studies showing that specific groups of people are discriminated against in the workplace, but this study takes it a step further, showing why it happens. The allocation of attention away from memory for the interview content explains this.”


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