We all know that we have to look well-groomed when we go for job interviews. This means wearing well-pressed clothes, keeping our hair neat, and taking a shower before heading to the venue. First impression lasts, we were told.

But to what extent do attractive looks play a part in helping us score a job? A large extent, apparently.

Good looks = More callbacks and second interviews

Its effect begin from the time you send out your resume with an attached photo. According to researchers who studied Argentinian hirers, more attractive people received 36% higher callback rate than unattractive ones. This study digitally modified photos to make them look less attractive, according to scientific benchmarks, and attached them to different resumes.

Similarly, according to researchers from University of Messina in Italy, good-looking women have a 54% success rate in proceeding to the second round of job interviews, compared to 7% for unattractive women.

Looks play a part, albeit small, in recruitment process

Hiring manager, Bernadette*, says that looks is not the most important trait she looks for in an applicant but it contributes to a positive overall impression.

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“Assuming I saw two candidates who are equally competent and similarly enthusiastic about the job, I might factor in appearance when I have to decide between them two. Better-looking people tend to have a more positive effect on people, and have an unspoken advantage,” she says.

However, the manager in tech industry added: “We have to bear in mind that it is very unlikely to have two candidates who are equal in all aspects, such that I have to make a decision solely based on looks. Relevant experience, eagerness and the way the candidate conducts herself/himself at the interview are more important traits that I look at.”

Facial disfigurements may distract employers

A study by researchers from Rice University and University of Houston found that candidates with birthmarks, scars and other facial disfigurements are more likely to get poor ratings at job interviews.

The research shows that interviewers are less able to recall information about candidates with “facially-stigmatised” applicants. This gives them a disadvantage at the evaluation.

Professor Mikki Hebl who co-authored this research paper explains: “Our research shows if you recall less information about competent candidates because you are distracted by characteristics on their face, it decreases your overall evaluations of them.”

Attractiveness important in certain industries or job functions

Another hiring manager we spoke to seems to agree with this research study. Christabelle*, who is from the beauty industry, says that physical appearance is a very important factor for her, when it comes to recruitment.

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“It is not superficial, but because I’m in an industry that sells beauty products and services, customer-fronting staff needs to uphold a certain level of positive physical appearance. It helps to subconsciously build trust with customers,” she says.

“Honestly, it will be difficult for me to accept a candidate who has a very prominent facial disfigurement, or very bad skin,” she shares.

However, she added that if it were for a desk-bound job that is not customer-facing, she will pay less attention to physical looks.

Studies: Attractive people earn more money

And the preference for more attractive people doesn’t stop at job interviews, according to scientists, it seem to also extend to how much one earns. Studies show that attractive people make 12% more money than less attractive ones.

The study done by information scientists from University of Michigan identifies three reasons for the difference in pay: Physically attractive workers are rated as more capable, more confident and more sociable, thus justifying the difference in earnings.

Do looks really determine pay or promotion?

Bernadette disagrees with this study: “If I’ve hired a person, it must be that I think he/she has the means to excel in the job. The eventual pay raise or promotion should be based solely on the employee’s performance on the job.”

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Christabelle shares the same opinion as Bernadette, but she says she understands why some employers may favour attractive workers: “We need to admit that an attractive appearance may have a positive effect or impression on others. Employers may sub-consciously favour a more attractive employee, perceiving him/her as a more competent worker, in a biased way. The employer may not even realise this discrimination!”

Make grooming a part of career management

She adds: “Of course, we know it’s wrong to discriminate employees based on physical appearance. But as employees, it certainly helps to remind ourselves to groom ourselves appropriately at work.”

Bernadette agrees with making grooming an important part of career management: “It doesn’t hurt to, for instance, wear some eyeliner if that helps you to look more awake, or some blusher to make you look perkier. If tomorrow your boss has to decide between you and another colleague for a promotion, you’d definitely want to give yourself an edge over him/her. If looking better can tip the scale, however subtly, why not do it?”

*Names have been changed.