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Mirror, Mirror on The Wall - Are Women Judged More on Appearance When They’re Job Hunting?

When you are recruiting there are a number of different ways of collecting data so that you can get the right candidate. I used to work for a delightfully eccentric man at one time. During my interview with him we ended up talking about types of organic mulch, green manures and composting; I’m sure my “muck to brass” gardening techniques got me the job in the first instance rather than my training skills. It was just fortunate for both of us that it turned out I was a competent trainer or I’d have been out on my ear.

Interviewers sometimes take into account other irrelevant data, for example, appearance. Have you ever considered that you may judge candidates on what they look like before offering them a role? This may be entirely unconscious, but in many cases basing a decision on appearance may mislead you and cause you to form entirely an erroneous view.

In November 2015 David Noakes, CEO of a pharmaceutical company was found guilty of sex discrimination after writing “Red lipstick, heels – good” on his personal assistant’s job application. Mr Noakes had also commented on another applicant’s CV, saying. “How are we supposed to hire her? Did you see what she was wearing and the size of her? We can’t have her on the frontline representing GcMaf looking like that.” It’s pretty distasteful stuff, as well as discriminatory.

A recent study undertaken by researchers from the University of the West of Scotland found that female job applicants were far more likely to be judged on their appearance than their male counterparts.

The research was undertaken on a group of employers who analyse social media profiles of job applicants. This was done by observing the eye movement of a group of men and women as they reviewed a selection of candidates’ Facebook profiles. The researchers asked the assessors to look at each person as a potential candidate for a job. The assessors were asked to look at the candidates’ profiles by reflecting on their posts, profile picture and information.

Both male and female assessors predominantly judged the female candidates on their appearance. Assessors relied heavily on the female candidate’s photographs to judge the qualities of candidates rather than looking at what they had posted. On the other hand, male candidates were not judged on their appearance but on their name, profile information, friends and recent posts.

It is very curious to think we judge candidates on their appearance without even registering that we’ve done so. But some interviewers even pride themselves on it. We’ve all met members of the “I can tell immediately what a candidate’s like within 30 seconds” brigade. They really can’t - and more to the point - really shouldn’t. Never judge a book by its cover. Of course, the research done by the University of the West of Scotland isn’t conclusive and there are always exceptions to the rule.

This isn’t about political correctness, but it is about being equitable in your approach to candidates and not allowing your judgement to be clouded by irrelevant data. If you are concerned about your recruitment process here are our top tips on how to create a fair recruitment process.

  1. Advertise your role in a number of different places. Don’t expect to gain a diverse group of candidates if you are only going to advertise the role in the men’s changing room of your local gym.
  2. Ask candidates to fill in application forms rather than handing in a CV. By doing this you get the candidate to answer the areas about which you have specifically asked for information relating to the role rather than adding in unnecessary detail that you don’t need. The application form should only collect data relevant to the role.
  3. Screen candidates remotely in a phone interview before interviewing them. This doesn’t have to be a long process. Half an hour is just enough time to ask key competency based questions. It saves time in the long run and you won’t make a judgement on appearance.
  4. Test them. It’s amazing what you find out about a candidate when you get them to do some testing. It can be something as simple as asking the candidate to write a letter.
  5. Stick to the questions. Ask candidates clear, precise and well targeted questions. Use your job description and person specification to create these competency based questions. Don’t go off on a tangent and start asking candidates how much rent they pay and if they’re planning to start a family.
  6. Avoid the lure of the social media platforms, such as Facebook. Unwise though it can be of potential candidates to post “let it all hang out” content, including photos, that’s their life. Looking at LinkedIn is more acceptable because it’s for business, including business networking and job hunting.

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