Attractive People Really Do Make More Money!
While I would love to state that this is not the case, the sad truth is that people who are blessed with above-average looks enjoy the added blessing of earning larger paychecks than their plainer coworkers. In fact, in a recent study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, researchers concluded that physically attractive people in the United States commonly earn 5 percent more than their less attractive counterparts who do the same work.
Certain characteristics have been found to be more sought after by employers than others. Among women, obesity is the most limiting physical trait when it comes to employment opportunities and wages. Studies conducted in 1981 and 1988 found that women who were obese earned up to 17 percent less than their slimmer counterparts. For men, height is the most valued trait, with research showing a 1.8 percent increase in pay for every inch of height above the national average.
The Dirty Truth about First Impressions
Jobs that require a high amount of interpersonal contact have a higher-than-average concentration of good-looking employees. I talked to a friend of mine who works as a recruiter for a large public relations firm in a notoriously image-driven area of Southern California, and she (very honestly) admitted that she finds herself more apt to hire applicants who are physically attractive. She said that in her field, where employees regularly interact face-to-face with clients, the public, and the media, good looks are a tremendous asset. While she admits that seeking out the most attractive applicants often presents a personal moral dilemma for her, her employers feel that it is important that the company’s representatives to the public appear well-kept, youthful, and in touch with current trends. Clients are likely to be more responsive to company representatives whom they find to be attractive, and while a less attractive applicant may be better qualified for a job than a more beautiful competitor, physical traits often outweigh professional accomplishments in today’s job market.
Unfortunately, first impressions are crucial to success in every area of our lives. In an ideal world, employers would have the time and resources to thoroughly research each applicant’s qualifications, references, and experience. However, the reality is that even the most objective employer cannot help but be immediately impressed by the physical appearance of applicants. In truth, most decisions to hire or reject prospective employees are made in the first five minutes of an interview, before applicants’ resumes are even discussed.
A member of my family served for thirty years as a high-ranking government official, and I asked him whether physical attractiveness was a feature he considered when interviewing applicants. This gentleman, who is of a generation unencumbered by today’s rigid standards of “political correctness,” admitted without shame that he often rejected prospective employees whose physical appearance did not meet his standards. When I asked him to explain the motivation behind such decisions, he told me that, for example, he would never hire a personal assistant who was overweight or sloppily dressed. His rationale behind this is such: if a person cannot take proper care of his or her appearance, how would this person be able to manage his office affairs with the strict attention to detail he required?
I’m Not Saying It’s Fair…
While corporate America’s propensity to smile upon workers who are more physically attractive may appear to be solely rooted in shallow and materialistic motives, it is important to consider some of the reasoning behind this favoritism. Though certain physical traits are obviously predetermined, those that are not are subject to intense scrutiny by potential employers, and indeed, society as a whole. For example, the common perception of people who are overweight is that they are lazy, sloppy, and overall poor performers. On the other hand, regular exercise can allow individuals to enjoy heightened energy, and may also improve one’s ability to think under pressure and to multi-task, all of which are much sought-after assets in an employee.
In this case, an employer’s hesitance to hire an applicant based on his or her weight, though not condoned, is at least substantiated by practical rationale. This same reasoning, however, cannot be applied to the likelihood that taller, more beautiful applicants will be hired over their shorter, less attractive competitors who are equally qualified. Sadly, the reasoning behind the acquisition of good-looking employees instead of less attractive employees seems to be mainly superficial.
Beating the Beauty Premium
So you are honest enough to admit that you were overlooked when the beauty genes were handed out. What can you do to improve your odds of earning as much as your more aesthetically gifted peers? Well, one thing you can do is improve your image. While physical traits such as beauty and stature may be beyond your grasp, the way you present yourself to employers and the rest of the world is absolutely within your control. Career advice blogger Penelope Trunk advises job seekers to dress to impress—a neat, organized physical appearance that is in line with contemporary standards can go a long way towards impressing potential employers.
Also, if you are not ahead of the curve in the physical appearance department, you may need to work even harder to promote yourself than an applicant who can simply impress with his or her looks. Though a more attractive employee may initially make more money, if he or she cannot perform at the level of plainer looking but better qualified workers, the benefits of beauty may be short-lived. Make sure you let potential employers know exactly how and why you will be an asset to them. Do not be afraid to toot your own horn a little—an employee who is honest and confident in his or her own abilities is much more of an asset than one who intends to float by solely on the merit of good looks. Make your personality your most attractive feature—smile often and with sincerity, and convey an air of friendliness without compromising professionalism. In today’s competitive job market where physical beauty often overrides professional accomplishments, a confident, well-qualified, and well-presented employee is truly an asset to be sought after.
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