Is Lookism the New Prejudice?

Many smaller employers are selecting candidates based on looks rather than skills, knowledge or experience

Image by Claudio_Scott from Pixabay

Lookism is more common in smaller employers

If you are looking to work in a small or medium size employer (SME), be warned, it is not your answers that you need to brush up.


You’ll be better off putting that brush through your hair.

That’s because according to research conducted for social networking site Gumtree, almost half (46%) of managers of smaller employers admit to selecting the most attractive candidate rather than the best qualified. It’s a form of discrimination referred to as ‘lookism’

Another survey put the figure of managers who discounted qualifications in favour of physical characteristics as high as 90%.

Affects both men and women

Lookism is not just a case of women wanting to work with a Brad Pitt look-a-like or women with Angelina Jolie.

Often it is not the favouring of someone who is considered more attractive, but the disadvantaging someone who is perceived to have an unattractive physical feature.

The commonest from of lookism targets people who are overweight and is justified by managers concerns that obese people will not be able to meet to the same physical demands as their slimmer colleagues.

But, it can also apply to candidates because of their height, hair colour, teeth, facial hair or unusual facial features.

Most pernicious form of discrimination

It has been described as the most pernicious form of discrimination but there is evidence that people have been denied jobs, pay rises or promotions because they do not conform to the view a recruiter or senior manager has of what the person in that role should look like.

Nothing wrong with that perhaps, it is undoubtedly more pleasant working with an attractive person on the other side of the room rather than an ugly one, but the rest of the Gumtree survey provided quite a wake-up call.

High cost of recruitment

While 46% of small and medium sized employers say that they made recruitment decisions based on the appearance of the candidate, the same survey found that the average SME spends £4,000 on recruiting each new employee.

Nine out of ten of the SME questioned in the survey said that they had problems finding good candidates.

Quarter of workers changed each year

The same survey also found that the average SME replaces a quarter of their workforce each year.

Lack of selection criteria

Perhaps one of the reasons why SME managers made recruitment decisions based on physical appearance is because they have not defined any other criteria on which to make a decision.

No job description

More than half (52%) cannot describe the job they are trying to fill accurately in an advertisement and have to advertise a second time.

Big up jobs

This is partly because they decide that it is better to big the job up rather than adopting a ‘it is what it says on the tin’ approach.

Make the job sound more grand than it is will attract candidates who will be disappointed by the reality of the job and leave soon after they start, while the ideal candidate will have been put off by the big words that over 40% of SME recruiters believe that it is better to use.

Fundamental recruitment tool

One of the basic tools of recruitment is the job description; the recruiter is after all trying to find someone who can complete the tasks described in the job description to the required standard.

This is difficult, when a big words writing style leads to a quarter of managers admitting that they don’t recognise the job described in the job description.

First impressions count

What should worry candidates is that they will have to learn to not only present themselves well, but also to do it quickly.

While a recruiter in a large employer will spend an hour with a candidate the SME recruiter will spend an average of just 30 minutes with each candidate when the interviews are over 41% of SME recruiters admitted that they could not identify the candidates from their notes.

Sparking personality

While being physically attractive in any situation is an advantage, in a recruitment interview an intelligent conversation with poignant questions asked in an enthusiastic manner is much more memorable, and ultimately impressive.

In short it is better to have a sparkling personality than physical good looks.

But candidates should be warned not to concentrate too much on their appearance, to impress a prospective employer with your appearance you have to be invited to an interview, and that means having a CV that is equally impressive.

Learn how to recruit properly

What motivates a SME to undertake their own recruitment is the need to keep costs low, but they really do need to learn how to do it properly.

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