Sun, Nov 19, 2006 - Page 9 News List

An ugly truth: One's looks definitely matter in the job market

Many of today's companies will readily admit that good looks make a difference in the workplace, although it's mostly in the short term, academics say

By Eve Ahmed  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

"We're a PR company that positively breeds beautiful people. We work face to face with clients and find our good looks really make a difference in doing business."

"I work for a broadcast PR agency and although I guarantee that our clients work with us because of the service we provide, I suspect that having a good-looking account manager must be an added bonus!"

"We are a dynamic and hip agency that specializes in health, beauty, fashion, events and celebrities. It is important to have a strong team [consisting of people] who are not only experts in the field they work in, but also attractive-looking, to represent their glamorous accounts."

Putting the call out for businesses to talk about the importance of their staff's appearance, I was overwhelmed by comments like these from public relations people boasting that looks do indeed matter.

"There are jobs, including in public relations, sales, media and fashion, where appearance counts for a lot, particularly in client-facing roles" says Nicola Rumsey, who heads up the Center for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England.

"In these roles, your appearance is selling the image of the company you work for," she says.

Which is all very well if you're blessed with beauty, but what if your face doesn't fit?

"During my internship with a film PR agency, they had a woman working there, covering for maternity leave, who was overweight and not regarded as pretty. She was shoved in a tiny office opposite the loo and never allowed anywhere near clients," claims Jaine Adams [not her real name].

"And when my boss was looking to hire a trainee, she chose a young man who was extremely good-looking but with no experience over some really promising candidates, who were only average-looking," she added.

Public relations people aren't alone in liking a pretty face. As a society, we're obsessed with looks and reward attractive people accordingly. Rumsey warns of a "lookist" epidemic, with up to 80 percent of secondary school pupils and young adults reporting an appearance concern. Research shows attractive children get higher evaluations of their work from teachers, and are more popular.

It doesn't end with school, either. Attractive people are found guilty less often in court and receive less severe sentences. Attractive applicants also have a better chance of getting better-paid jobs.

And it's hardly surprising that one survey claimed workers spend a fifth of their salary trying to look good in the office, believing that image is increasingly important to their career.

Hand in hand with the awareness that we need to look good to get on, comes the concept of personal branding for employees. Lesley Everett runs Walking Tall, a personal-branding consultancy.

"It's taken for granted that a company will have a superb We site and logo delivering the corporate image," she says. "What really matters in getting the message across are the employees -- do they also represent the brand values? And I'm not talking good-looking. Everybody can look their best and I help them get there by focusing on their posture, smile, clothes, and personal hygiene. Very few staff are resistant to the idea because I'm not cloning them, and they appreciate feeling invested in."

Everett has worked on the image of receptionists right up to CEOs, and points to clients Zurich Insurance and Holroyd Howe catering as successfully incorporating their staff into their brand.

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