ASK HR: Does beauty count for anything during the hiring process?


Q:   I applied for a position within the finance department in our organisation, but I wasn’t successful. The person who eventually got the job does not seem to have any outstanding qualities or abilities beyond mine, and I am beginning to think that she was selected only because of her good looks. Is beauty that big a factor in the recruitment process?

Ordinarily, the recruitment and selection of candidates depends on the extent to which they possess competencies and other attributes required to succeed in a given role. This notwithstanding, it is possible for bias to seep into selection decisions when the focus veers onto extraneous qualities such as the physical looks of potential candidates. Whereas success in certain roles that entail pageantry could in part depend on a candidate’s physiognomy, your ability to balance the books should not.

It is important to establish why you were unsuccessful. Have you sought feedback from your interviewers? You talk only about her appearance and nothing concerning whether she met the basic requirements for the role or not. Are you certain that if you bore different looks you would have been the successful candidate? Do you blame her or those that selected her for your misery?

Focus on the levers available to you to grow and succeed in your career – know your stuff, work to post excellent performance, understand the purpose of the organisation you work for, adhere to organisational values, nurture meaningful relationships with stakeholders in your career, and mind your personal brand. Remember that regardless of the symmetry of one’s physical features, a positive attitude, a smile and confidence can look good on anyone.

It is admittedly easier to notice individuals’ physical appearance than to perceive the deeper attributes that may have determined their suitability for a role. As the Spanish Baroque prose writer and philosopher, Baltasar Gracián said, things do not pass for what they are, but for what they seem. Most things are judged by their jackets.

Aware of this, organisations could take mitigating measures, among them ensuring clarity of selection criteria, equipping line managers with skills in talent assessment, and involving a cross section of stakeholders in selection decisions.

If you look around you carefully, you will observe that, after all, career success does not respect individuals’ physical appearance. While looks can indeed be deceiving, they, in any event cannot outlast merit.

Fred Gituku is a Human Resources Practitioner