Helpful hint: including a CV unleashes jealousy

CVs in the UK rarely include photos, although they are commonplace in China and parts of Europe. They are also catching on in Turkey, Israel and elsewhere.

However, some recent research showed some unexpected bias against women who include photos with their CVs.

In a study of responses to CV photos, Ze’ev Shtudiner of Ariel University Center and Bradley Ruffle of Ben-Gurion University in Israel found a strong bias amongst these (mainly female) HR ‘screeners’ against attractive women. (The study was conducted in Israel, where CV pictures are optional.)

In companies that advertised job openings, good-looking females (as judged by a panel assembled by the researchers) received 6% fewer callbacks than plain-looking females and 23% fewer than women without pictures. The beauty “penalty” was much smaller and less significant when it came to employment agencies, perhaps because the women screening CVs wouldn’t have had to work side-by-side with the candidates.

In both the hiring companies and the agencies, screeners reacted favourably to pictures of attractive-looking men, giving these candidates significantly more callbacks than plain-looking men and males who didn’t attach photos. This male beauty premium did not come as a surprise in light of the large body of psychological research showing that attractive people are generally viewed positively along numerous dimensions. They’re believed to be happier, healthier, more intelligent, luckier in marriage, and so on. Thus the responses to the CV photos of attractive women really stand out and tell us a lot about the screeners’ biases.

Apparently, according to the research feedback, women who include their pictures are seen as trying too hard to market themselves, or are considered to be less serious than other candidates.

In countries where CV photos are common, screeners routinely eliminate qualified applicants without giving them a chance to make their case in person. In countries where pictures are rare, a photo can skew the selection process even more seriously. – including a photo in a country where it is not typical marks you out as a ‘nonconformist’.

One implication of the research is that companies may be doing themselves a disservice by allowing their HR departments and hiring committees to remain predominantly female. Creating a more balanced gender mix might reduce the level of bias against female candidates whose only failing is that they’re physically attractive.

If this were a perfect world, attaching a photo to your CV would do nothing more than allow a prospective employer to put a face to your name. But in the real world, this can unleash beauty discrimination at the earliest stages of the hiring process.