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February 5th, 2020

You sometimes will find it useful to consider an applicant’s appearance or looks when you make hiring decisions. Perhaps you do not like this. But it can help you when a applicant’s looks impact employee productivity.
Of course, you must hire applicants who possess job-related skills needed on the job. And sometimes applicant appearance or looks happens to be one job-related quality that increases odds the applicant could become a productive, profitable employee for your company.


Example 1:

Shortly after I completed my Ph.D. in industrial psychology, I worked for a consulting firm in a big office building. To exercise, I spent my breaks walking the hallways. One floor had many offices for radio stations’ sales reps. While looking through the offices’ glass doors, I saw all the sales reps were attractive females.  One day I asked a radio station’s sales director why all of her sales reps were attractive females. She explained her radio station sold ads mainly to male business owners. She discovered those business owners would rather buy ads from attractive females. So, she hired attractive females as sales reps. You cannot argue with financial results.

Example 2:

I visited the office of a physician friend of mine. A pharmaceutical sales rep came into his office who, to be blunt, did not look totally healthy. I talked with that rep. He explained his company finds its best sales reps look like they need some medical help, and often use the pharmaceuticals they sell! Again, you cannot argue with bottom line results.

Example 3:

A shoe store chain that I consult to sells to affluent women. Its most successful sales reps almost always are attractive males. I talked with a company executive. She explained the company’s all-female clientele like buying shoes from males more than from females. Note: You cannot argue with such bottom line results.

Example 4:

I met a woman whose job is to deliver auto supplies to car repair shops. That’s unusual, because usually we think of auto supplies and car repair shops as very ‘male’ businesses. So, I asked this delivery driver about that. She explained car repair shops invariably are operated by males. Those car repair shop owners can buy the same auto parts from many auto parts suppliers. But, she said she (and auto parts supplier she works for) get a lot of business, because the male car repair shop owners like her delivering more than they like the male delivery drivers employed by other auto parts suppliers.

She even said she got job offers from three other auto supply companies, because they were losing business to car repair shops she delivered to! Side note: She also attends community college, majoring in auto mechanics. So, she really is interested in that sort of occupation.

Example 5:

A company hired an employee who stunk of cigarettes, weighed 350 pounds and, looked awfully unhealthy. A few months later, that new employee got very sick, and used a huge quantity of the company’s health insurance benefits. When I asked why they hired someone whose appearance obviously conveyed horrible health, I was told the person had needed job skills, so they overlooked the unhealthy appearance. Perhaps they used good criteria. But it cost a lot in the outcome. Perhaps they should have taken some obvious detrimental appearance factors into account in their hiring decision – to avoid losing an employee and paying for horribly expensive problems.


First, use pre-employment tests and assessments to see if applicants have needed job-related qualities. For example, my research often finds a sales rep applicant’s pre-employment personality test results include high test scores on (a) running after sales, (b) follow-up, (c) helping customers, and more. Also, the pre-hire intelligence tests must show test scores indicating the applicant has enough intelligence to (a) learn the job and (b) correctly think through situations encountered on the job.
Second, if the applicant gets good scores on pre-employment tests, then you might take appearance into account, but only if you know looks impact productivity and results. You saw examples, above.  Important: If applicant’s looks or appearance do not correlate with work productivity, then you should NOT consider applicant appearance or looks.
For example, one company uses my pre-employment tests to assess job applicants, including sales rep applicants. On the pre-hire personality test, my research shows that company’s most productive sales reps get very high test scores on running after sales, plus certain other test scores.
But, that company hired a sales rep who got a low pre-employment test score on running after sales. That sales rep miserably failed. When I asked why the company (stupidly) hired someone whose pre-hire test scores showed they would fail, I was told the applicant was very attractive, and the VP-Sales foolishly took looks into account.  Well, that foolish hiring decision cost a lot in training and salary. And the company did not get sales a productive sales rep would have achieved.

So, use common sense: Use pre-employment personality and intelligence tests. Interview applicants who get pre-hire test scores similar to your best employees.  And take applicant’s looks into account ONLY IF appearance really proved to result in high productivity on-the-job.


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