How Appearance May Affect Job Interview Results
You received an offer for an interview, and now you wait, in anticipation. What do you wear? What do you say? How do you display that you are the right candidate for the job?
Ideally, you would love to be hired purely on your qualifications. Unfortunately, sometimes the moment that you step in front of the interviewer, the decision has already been made — for a reason that has nothing to do with your skills.
As much as it may be hard to admit, appearance plays a factor in the hiring process, leaving applicants with limited options to showcase their skills.
What is Appearance Discrimination?
Everyone has biases, regardless of if they are aware of it or not. It is a natural way human brains categorize items. While it is impossible to be completely free of biases in decisions, being more aware of those influences can be helpful.
Appearance discrimination is the different treatment of people based on how they look. “Appearance” is a broad term that encompasses multiple categories of the way people look. Attributes like height, weight, hair colour, hair style, clothes, and makeup combine to make a person’s image.
Even with a list of qualifications, people assume ideas about others from an initial meeting. Appearance plays a factor in those first impressions. The reality may differ from a person’s first perception, but no doubt first impressions are powerful.
Does Appearance Discrimination Exist?
In a 2017 study conducted by the Saint Louis University School of Law, results showed that workers and applicants were often evaluated based on how much their appearance matched the presumed ideal for masculine or feminine individuals. Their images had more weight to their perceived worth as an employee than the words etched on their resumes.
Additionally, according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, height and weight specifications are aspects that are evaluated in areas that are traditionally male dominated. However, these qualifications are based on the qualities of men that belong in the majority group in Ontario.
This leaves people such as women or people of colour incapable of reaching such qualifications. For example, people of Asian descent are, on average, smaller in stature than the majority group of Ontario’s population.
Appearance Discrimination and Law
Both B.C. and Ontario’s Human Rights Codes do not label it illegal for employers to make conclusions based on appearance. However, in some cases, doing so may infringe on a person’s rights.
Actions such as requiring applicants to attach a photo to their resume expose employers and applicants to potential legal trouble. For example, if a Sikh applicant was denied a job because he wore a turban, an employer can be liable. That action is not acceptable.
In contrast, it is acceptable to require the disclosure of applicants’ personal information if it is relevant to the job. However, such circumstances are very minimal. As such, specifications like one’s weight and height are not considered bona fide, or legitimate, qualities to demand.
Reducing Appearance Discrimination
Admitting that this bias exists is the most important step to reducing appearance discrimination. Without acknowledgement of the bias, steps to solve it cannot be taken.
In the hiring process, employers have the most power to reduce appearance discrimination. While applicants themselves have limited options to reduce this bias, they can start with submitting resumes without photos. Photos are scarcely a legitimate requirement for jobs, making them unapplicable to most job listings.
Employers’ hiring tools may also help reduce appearance discrimination through technology: LinkedIn has a “hide names and photos” feature, and there are many other platforms that will make resumes anonymous. Employers should evaluate every applicant with the same list of requirements to keep the process fair. In addition, employers would benefit from diversifying their hiring teams to ensure lessened levels of discrimination.
“9. The Duty to Accommodate.” Ontario Human Rights Commission, https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-preventing-discrimination-based-creed/9-duty-accommodate. Accessed 6 Mar. 2022.
Blair, Jonathan. “Equality in Hiring – When Are Interview Questions Discriminatory?” BC Human Rights Clinic, 24 Oct. 2018, https://bchrc.net/equality-in-hiring-when-are-interview-questions-discriminatory/. Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.
Hilgers, Laura. “5 Ways to Reduce Bias When Screening Candidates — and Find More Talent.” Talent Solutions Blog, LinkedIn, 19 Oct. 2021, https://www.linkedin.com/business/talent/blog/talent-acquisition/ways-to-reduce-bias-when-screening-candidates. Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.
Indeed Editorial Team. “FAQ: Should I Include a Photo on My Resume? (With Tips).” Indeed Career Guide, 31 Aug. 2021, https://ca.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/photo-on-resume. Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.
“Introduction.” Ontario Human Rights Commission, https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-height-and-weight-requirements/introduction. Accessed 6 Mar. 2022.
Jones, Jeff. “APPEARANCE DISCRIMINATION: IS IT ILLEGAL?” UCBJ – Upper Cumberland Business Journal, https://www.ucbjournal.com/appearance-discrimination-is-it-illegal/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2022.
Pavlou, Christina. “Unconscious Bias in Recruitment: How Can You Remove It?” Recruiting Resources: How to Recruit and Hire Better – Workable, https://resources.workable.com/stories-and-insights/unconscious-bias-in-recruitment. Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.