WASHINGTON — We often strive to put on our best appearance when we’re being interviewed for a job, but a surprising new study finds that good looks may play to your disadvantage when it comes to applying for less glorious positions.

Researchers at the American Psychological Association conducted four related experiments with over 750 participants, some of whom were students seeking employment, and others of whom were hiring managers.

Man meeting with someone, shaking hands
A surprising new study finds that good looks may play to your disadvantage when it comes to applying for less glorious positions.

Participants were shown photos of two potential job candidates, one conventionally attractive and the other not, before being asked questions pertaining to the employability of a given individual depicted.

These thought experiments culminated in participants being asked whether they would hire the candidate for a more-desirable job (e.g., manager or project director), or a less-desirable one (e.g., warehouse worker, houseworker, or customer service rep).

Overall, there was a clear trend toward hiring the more attractive candidate for the better job, and the less attractive candidate for the worse job.

“We found that participants perceived attractive individuals to feel more entitled to good outcomes than unattractive individuals, and that attractive individuals were predicted to be less satisfied with an undesirable job than an unattractive person,” explains lead author Margaret Lee in an American Psychological Association release. “In the selection decision for an undesirable job, decision makers were more likely to choose the unattractive individual over the attractive individual. We found this effect to occur even with hiring managers.”

This finding runs counter to what the researchers hypothesized: that decision makers would always select the better looking applicant for any job, regardless of desirability.

“The most interesting part of our findings is that decision makers take into consideration others’ assumed aspirations in their decisions,” says Dr. Madan Pillutla, the study’s co-author. “Because participants thought that attractive individuals would want better outcomes, and therefore participants predicted that attractive individuals would be less satisfied, they reversed their discrimination pattern and favored unattractive candidates when selecting for a less desirable job.”

Ultimately, the belief that attractive candidates are favored in hiring decisions may only apply to certain prominent posts, the researchers conclude.

The full study was published online last week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

About Daniel Steingold

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