Why Looks Matter in Management Consulting Interviews

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The management consultant application process is challenging enough without worrying about how your looks might affect your chances at success. Research shows that looks do matter. You might be surprised, though. Read more…

This research finds that a good-looking man has a better shot at getting an interview and being hired while an attractive woman encounters discrimination because of her looks.In the short run, these findings might not mean anything for you in terms of getting a callback based on your CV (in most cases, you may not be submitting a photograph). In the long run, though, you need to keep in mind how you appear to others physically and hone your professional image. It may make a big difference when the hiring decisions are made.

The Psychology of Beauty

A vast body of psychology research exists to support the idea that, in a world where economic value is assigned to beauty, physical attractiveness may provide an edge (or a perceived edge) in the hiring process. As most literature argues for a “positive association between beauty and intelligence”, one would infer that looks are in fact important in even the earliest stages of the job hunt.

Perceptions of Beauty: Surprising Reality

Some research concurs with this point, but not in the way one might first imagine. In “Are Good-Looking People More Employable?”, researchers Ruffle and Shtudiner in Israel conclude that attractive male candidates are favored, while attractive female candidates, counterintuitively, do not fare nearly as well, given the positive traits people associate with physical beauty.

The researchers’ hypotheses were aligned with conventional psychological studies, which consistently show that people rate attractive men and women as being more intelligent, based only on their pictures. It would follow that, as job applicants, attractive men and women alike would receive preferential treatment against average-looking applicants and those who submitted no photographs at all. Sending out 5312 virtually identical CVs to 2656 job openings as part of their experiment, Ruffle and Shtudiner found that attractive men were twice as likely to get a callback for an interview as plain-looking men, attractive women were at a significant disadvantage. Women who submitted no photos received the highest number of callbacks, followed by plain-looking women. Attractive women were the least likely of all the female candidates to receive a callback, regardless of the job type.

Blind to Female Beauty?

With a significant beauty premium attached to males, it would seem logical to intuit that attractive women would be similarly favored. The researchers theorized that, rather than ignoring or being blind to female attractiveness, the first screeners of candidate CVs are almost always women, who, for reasons of jealousy, are threatened by the attractiveness of other females. This theory is strengthened by the concept of “negative signaling”, in which screeners perceive men’s inclusion of photos as “confident” while women including a photo is seen as an attempt to use beauty to get ahead (in cultures, where including a photo is optional).

Looks Are Important but Can Kill

Discrimination based on looks exists in the earliest phases of applicant screening. The attractive and the plain-looking are not equally treated. One might assume, though, given the extensive coverage of beauty trumping intellect and other attributes, that this discrimination would favor the beautiful. In the application phase, however, it appears as though attractive men are the only ones to benefit markedly from their good looks. Women are better off attaching no photograph at all because being attractive can kill women’s job prospects at the application stage. You can, according to other research studies that corroborate the Ruffle and Shtudiner study, be too good looking for your own good.

What Does This Mean for You?

As an applicant for highly competitive management consulting careers, you are not necessarily swimming in the same waters as the general pool of job applicants in the world. That said, there are considerably higher expectations placed on you as a potential management consultant in terms of how you present yourself professionally, and this will include aspects of your physical appearance. This will be more relevant when you reach the interview stage.

It is important, however, to note that physical appearance (not necessarily attractiveness as much as how you present yourself) matters. Not only do you feel more confident when you are professionally put together, you deliver the impression consulting firms want to convey.

To get insight into making the right impression to land your dream job in consulting, download our free PDF guide.

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