WORKING LIFE

Why good looks may not always land men a job

To all handsome men out there, here's good news - and bad.

The good news is that handsome men are seen as more competent in the workplace. But the bad news is that this may be precisely why they will not be considered for specific types of jobs, or may lose out on a promotion.

New research by London's UCL School of Management has found that handsome men may be rejected for competitive jobs because their good looks make them appear more threatening to colleagues.

Those in charge of the hiring process may see good-looking men as competition, which could result in discrimination against the hunks.

But all is not lost for these men: They are preferred for roles that require cooperation and teamwork.

ON THE FACE OF IT

Managers are affected by stereotypes and make hiring decisions to serve their own self-interests, so companies may not get the most competent candidates.

DR LEE SUN YOUNG, UCL assistant professor and co-author of a study on how looks affect the hiring process

"We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people," Abercrombie and Fitch's then chief executive Mike Jeffries said in an interview some years ago.

"We don't market to anyone other than that," he further said, which led to much criticism according to humanresourcesonline.com.

"Managers in collaborative workplaces like research and development departments tend to hire good-looking male candidates," said UCL's assistant professor Lee Sun Young, the study's co-author.

Workplaces that reward team performance also prefer colleagues with great looks as managers perceive that these good-looking men will likely help further the managers' own success, she said.

However, the same does not apply to pretty women, Dr Lee and her co-authors from the University of Maryland, London Business School and Insead found.

Attractiveness in women was not associated with competence, they found.

There was similar discrimination when it came to selecting leaders.

A study conducted a few years ago by Warwick Business School researchers found that although most hirers acknowledge that a person's physical attributes have no relation to their potential, physical appearance provided significant bias in the selection of leaders.

Dr Lee said: "Managers are affected by stereotypes and make hiring decisions to serve their own self-interests." So companies may not get the most competent candidates.

She suggested putting a few policies in place to avoid such discrimination, saying that it would help if organisations are aware that future work relationships and stereotyping tendencies could affect the hiring process.

Engaging external representatives in the selection process may improve the outcome, as outsiders are likely to provide fairer inputs.

"Also, if organisations make managers more accountable for their decisions, they'll be less motivated to pursue self-interests at the expense of the company," the study found.

It suggested methods to prevent unintentional stereotypes from affecting the hiring process, by saying that companies should have a strategy for the hiring process, and start by identifying the skills and competencies the role needs.

Eligible candidates should be assessed using various tools and talent metrics, in order to have a clearer picture of their suitability for the job.

External-party involvement will eliminate discrimination, while holding hiring managers accountable for reasons why a particular candidate is hired over the others will help the organisation, she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2015, with the headline 'Why good looks may not always land men a job'. Print Edition | Subscribe