Average/Below-Average Looking People Can Earn as Much as the Attractive Ones

Research has shown that attractive people can not only charm interviewers (and thus get hired easier), they are also more likely to earn more as compared to those with average or below-average looks. Accordingly to a Wall Street Journal report, attractive people can earn 3% - 4% more than a person with below-average look. If such difference adds up over a person’s lifetime, an attractive person can earn up to $230,000 more than an ugly worker; even an average-looking person can make $140,000 more. Another relevant Wall Street Journal report also suggests that workers who exercise regularly can earn 9% more than those who do not.

If that is the fact (I believe it is), is it legal? Can employers do that?

Linchi Kwok and Otto
@SyracuseU Career Fair
To my knowledge, no law or regulation under EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) considers a person’s look as a protective class. It is true that people in general have an idea of what kind of person they feel attracted to, but there is really not a universal standard or criterion to “measure” how good a person looks. In addition, it is possible that attractive people make more money because of other factors. For example, attractive people might feel more confident about themselves and have a higher self-esteem, and thus, they can do a better job in selling products, service, and ideas to clients or their boss. It is also very likely that people going to the gym regularly would have a better looking body than those who do not. At the same time, they could also be healthier and better in self-discipline. Healthier and disciplined workers could also be more productive and thus earn more. Therefore, it is really difficult to draw a clear line that people get hired or promoted solely because of their attractive looks. On top of the alternative reasoning I mentioned above, there could be another possibility that people who earn more will pay more attention to their looks. They spend more money on beauty products and gym memberships. Therefore, they tend to look better than those who make less.   

Just last week, I was having lunch with several hospitality recruiters in Syracuse University’s Career Fair. I asked them to name one thing that is crucial in interviews as well as a student’s career but many hospitality programs fail to teach in classes. Guess what I heard? --- How well a student takes care of his/her look during the interviewing process and at work. Many hospitality companies set high expectations in employees’ grooming standards. It is reasonable that recruiters are looking for candidates who can dress according to the company’s guidelines, which is also supported by a qualitative study of mine

Regardless of the reason(s) why attractive people are easier to get hired or a raise, the important question here is whether people with average or below-average looks, as compared to the attractive workers, can grasp the same opportunity of getting hired or promoted. With some effort, I believe everyone can! Here are some examples:

  • Have a well-groomed appearance during interviews and at work.
  • Wear suits and professional dresses that fit a person well. According to some recruiters, it doesn’t matter if they are expensive designer’s clothes. If they do not fit, they will not look good on anyone.
  • Pay close attention to our body languages. For example, when we are having a conversation with others, it is important for us to put down what we are doing and look at the other person’s nose/face to show our attention.
  • Keep fingernails clean and in appropriate length. If fingernail polish is used, choose the conservative colors other than black, blue, or green. 
  • Do not wear tattoos or piercings, or cover them up
  • Do not wear perfume because others may feel uncomfortable with the smell.
  • Do not wear excess amount of jewelry (applied to both men and women). People do not need to wear engagement rings or wedding bands for job interviews. At work, one ring in one hand is good enough.
  • Do not wear more than one set of earrings at one time or huge earrings with exaggerating designs.

In the end, I have to admit that different industries or companies will have different expectations. It is also likely that more companies will allow employees to wear jeans, fit-flogs, or tattoos at work, but I argue that those who look professional at work can still earn more than those who do not. 

What are your suggestions? Based on your experience, have you ever seen anyone getting hired or promoted solely because of his/her attractive look?

The Art of Curiosity (about last year's Career Fair at SU)

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