Keeping Up Appearances in Interviews

How many articles or blogs have you read about how your appearance can affect the outcome of a job interview? I can answer that…too many. We all know what to wear to an interview, and what not to wear. We know about proper grooming and hygiene habits, and how first impressions last.

But recently, I came across slides from a webinar entitled The Ballad of Ken and Barbie: Why We’re Destined to Commit False Positives when Hiring that shed light on some surprising information about job seekers’ appearances.

Looks do count in the workplace

I was not surprised to read that the better looking you are, the better you fare in the workplace. According to this webinar, studies have shown that the more attractive you are, the more likely positive skills and behavioral traits will be applied to you in an employment setting.

Surprisingly, men are actually more at risk of this bias than women. Not only do employees and hiring managers of the opposite sex often discriminate in favor of attractive coworkers or job seekers, but employees and managers of the same sex will often discriminate against the “beautiful people.”

Taller employees earn more

What I was most surprised to learn is the specific monetary losses that can be attributed to those who are, well, not physically gifted. Ever been self-conscious about your height?

On average, taller employees earn an average of $789 more per year, per inch of height than their shorter coworkers. As you may guess, however, this is definitely gender-biased, as most men do not prefer women who are taller than they are.

Overweight employees

Overweight employees stand to suffer the most financial loss due to discrimination in the workplace. And unlike general attractiveness, this bias tends to affect women more than men.

According to, 74.1% of US residents and 63.8% of UK residents are overweight. However, despite the numbers being in favor of the overweight, the average female employee suffering from obesity stands to earn 6.2% less in her lifetime than a slender coworker with the equivalent qualifications.

Similarly, an obese male employee can expect to earn 2.3% less. On average, 64 extra pounds of body weight results in a 9% drop in pay over one’s lifetime.

Concerns over health issues

Aside from the issue of appearance, employers may discriminate against overweight job seekers due to concerns regarding health issues that could lead to frequent absences and costly medical claims.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that obese employees’ medical claims costs were seven times higher and indemnity claims costs were 11 times higher than their thinner coworkers. Additionally, heavier employees filed twice as many workers’ compensation claims and missed 13 times as many workdays as normal-weight employees.

Candidates looking older than they are

And what about ageism in the workplace? Is this solely attributable to companies not wanting to pay more for experience? Not likely. With the advent of social media, smartphones and apps for every conceivable purpose, companies want to appear youthful, vibrant, and cutting-edge.

In an online survey conducted by Newsweek, 84% of hiring managers said they believe some bosses would hesitate before hiring a qualified job candidate who looked much older than his or her coworkers.

In fact, in the same survey, when hiring managers were asked to rate nine character attributes from one to 10 (with 10 being the most important), a candidate’s looks scored a 7.1, even higher than education, which scored a 6.8.


Unfortunately, there is little we can do to combat society’s fixation on looks. In today’s world, where the music charts are ruled by beautiful singers whose vocals are auto-tuned to hide their lack of musical ability, and TV networks are inundated with attractive yet talentless reality show stars, it seems that our desire to keep company with the beautiful people is not going away any time soon.

But for those who have felt their frustration grow throughout this article, there is some comfort…physical beauty doesn’t last forever. It’s a revolving door, and while the public’s fascination with looks may be here to stay, the same people will not always be able to take advantage of it. Knowledge and experience, however, last forever.

For those who have enjoyed the advantages of having the tables turned in their favor due to their appearance, they are faced with the frustration of being rewarded for something superficial rather than their ability, qualifications, and hard work. In the end, when it comes to discrimination in the workplace, even the winners lose.

By John Feldmann

John Feldmann is a Senior Communications Specialist for Insperity in Houston, TX. With over a decade of marketing and employment branding experience in the recruiting and human resources industries, John specializes in employment- and HR-related content development for a variety of media types in order to communicate Insperity's brand to both business professionals and job seekers. Follow John on X @John_Feldmann.