Banishing the Hiring Bias

Managers with more experience are less likely to be swayed by a pretty face.

By PT Staff, published July 1, 1996 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Few job candidates would ever think of mentioning their looks on a resume. But it's no secret that being attractive gives you an edge in hiring and promotion decisions.

While it's frustrating to think that getting a job may sometimes boil down to good cheekbones, psychologists at the University of South Florida have some encouraging news. The attractiveness bias, they report, declines as managers gain experience.

The researchers attached small photos of highly attractive or marginally appealing individuals to a series of equally impressive resumes. Then they asked managers at a major financial firm to judge the candidates for hirability and likelihood of promotion.

The attractiveness bias, alas, did thrive among novice and moderately experienced managers. But veterans--those who had conducted 25 or more performance reviews over their career--were far less likely to be swayed by looks. And highly experienced female managers, it appears, may be immune to the attractiveness bias altogether.

"The more experience you have, the more aware you are of what's relevant," says Sandra Schneider, Ph.D., who reported the findings, along with Cynthia Marlowe, Ph.D., and USF colleague Carnot Nelson, Ph.D., in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 81, No. 1). Seasoned managers are also more likely to have stereotype-busting experience supervising talented folks with less-than-stellar looks, or attractive but inept workers.

Widespread though it may be, the attractiveness bias comes into play only when candidates are closely matched. And the fact that the bias fades with managerial experience suggests that it may eventually become entirely irrelevant.