There’s been a good amount of research showing that work life is generally easier for good-looking people: They tend to earn more, they’re hired faster, and they’re more likely to get promoted than average looking folks.
But researchers just found the thing that’s harder for hot people: Getting a less desirable job. When people making hiring decisions consider attractive candidates for less desirable jobs, they are less likely to select them for those positions because they believe they’d be less satisfied in those jobs, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Less desirable positions include things like being a warehouse laborer, housekeeper or customer service representative.
“The conclusion of most existing research on attractiveness is that being attractive provides an advantage in life, including in the workplace,” says Margaret Lee, a Ph.D. candidate at London Business School and the lead author on the study. “The findings were surprising because based on prior research, the prediction would be that decision makers select the attractive candidate.”
The interesting thing for researchers in these findings is that the decision makers took into consideration others’ assumed aspirations. “Participants thought that attractive individuals would want better outcomes,” Lee says. “Therefore participants predicted that attractive individuals would be less satisfied, [and] they reversed their discrimination pattern and favored unattractive candidates.”
Lee and her co-authors conducted four separate studies. In the first, it was determined that attractive job candidates are believed to have a greater sense of entitlement to good outcomes than unattractive candidates. The second study found that because of that perceived sense of entitlement, attractive candidates were less likely to be hired for relatively less desirable jobs. The third study found that when participants in a lab had to choose partners to work with, they were less likely to choose an attractive partner when the work was less desirable. And the fourth study replicated the effects of the previous research by examining the hiring decisions of a sample of HR managers.
“People seem either uncomfortable with or dismissive of the idea that attractiveness influences how we evaluate people in the workplace, but it definitely does,” Lee says. “The best way to reduce impact is to understand why and how it affects our judgments and try to find ways to correct it.”
For job seekers, the takeaway is to be aware that recruiters are making assumptions about what you might want out of your work life, and that these assumptions can influence whether you’re chosen for a job that you potentially really want or need. Says Lee: “While we do not test this in our studies, it may be helpful to clearly signal that they would be satisfied with the job.”