Recruiters, CVs and attractive women: do looks affect employability?


It has long been assumed that when it comes to landing your dream job it pays to be good-looking and it turns out that may be true – if you’re male.
In fact, according to research presented at the Royal Economic Society’s conference this week, for women, attractiveness can actually be a barrier to being hired.
The researchers sent more than 5000 CVs in pairs to more than 2500 advertised jobs. In each pair, one CV contained a picture of either an attractive male/female or a plain-looking male/female and the other, almost identical CV, was sent without a photo.
The findings? While attractive men boosted their response rate by attaching a photo to their CV, good-looking women were around 30% less likely to receive a response if they did so.

However, attractive women were not the only ones losing out. Applicants deemed unattractive by the researchers, regardless of gender, were less likely to receive a response if they attached a photo to their CV.
Although attaching photographs to CVs is fairly rare in the UK, this could have wider implications in our recruitment processes. Does the same bias against unattractive applicants and attractive females apply during interviews?
Unfortunately, this was not an area the research looked at but a post-experiment survey did reveal something that arguably could impact on the wider recruitment process.
Of 25 of the companies included in the original research, the person who screened candidates was female at 24 of them. 
The researchers added: “Moreover, the women were young and typically single (67%), qualities more likely to be associated with a jealous response when confronted with a young, attractive competitor in the workplace.”
With women making up 75.8% of the UK HR profession, this is a worrying finding. Could female recruiters actually be subconsciously putting in place barriers for their own gender?
Based on the issues raised in this research, I’m interested to find out XpertHR and Personnel Today readers’ views on the following questions:
  • Have you ever made a decision to hire based on looks?
  • Do you think UK recruitment is bias against unattractive applicants and good-looking females?
  • Are female recruiters really to blame?
Please feel free to add your comments below or contact me directly via Twitter.

3 Responses to Recruiters, CVs and attractive women: do looks affect employability?

  1. Damien Wright 19 April 2011 at 11:52 am #

    This is a really interesting article and I will forward the link to our own HR department at college to see what their opinion is. If I’m honest I think I’m probably blessed with a face only a mother could love so will not be including my photo in any job applications.

  2. Hung Lee 19 April 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Interesting survey, but there is an understatement in the study on the significance of cross cultural difference.

    In the UK, attaching photos to CV’s is so rarely done that when we do see it, we find it remarkable enough to pass judgement on the applicant. And those assessments are almost always negative by default – we either see it as a sign of vanity & ego (if we find the photo attractive) or of bad judgment (if we …do not).

    A better sample would be to take it to Europe, where photo’s (and photo ID’s in general) are an accepted norm on personal documentation. That way, we will be better able to measure the ‘attractiveness’ score, rather than what we may be doing in this case, that of the general antipathy towards photo’s in CV’s.

    Have I just bah-humbugged this? If so, I’m sorry, didn’t mean to.

    Best wishes


  3. Dwane Lay 19 April 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Very interesting. I wouldn’t go so far as to think that female screeners are intentionally trying to hold back attractive women, but the idea of unconscious bias is not a new one.

    Plenty of studies have been done regarding bias towards/against specific races. I’m thinking specifically about types where a picture and a word are displayed, and if the word is positive you click a button. Response times show slight (but significant) delays correlated to the race of the person in the picture.

    The mind is a wonderful, terrible place, huh?

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