Employers Rate the Importance of Physical Appearance for Job Candidates in Study

You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but a job candidate’s “cover”—overall grooming and interview attire, for example—is likely to be judged by prospective employers, according to a report published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Employers participating in NACE’s Job Outlook 2006 survey were given a list of appearance-related attributes and asked to rate the degree of influence each would have on their opinion of a job candidate. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said a candidate’s grooming would have a strong influence on their opinion of the candidate, and nearly half cited nontraditional interview attire as exerting a strong influence. (See Figure 1.)

“These results are consistent with what we’ve seen in the past,” says Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director. “Job candidates need to remember that their overall grooming and choice of interview attire project an image; they are marketing themselves to the employer as a potential employee, and part of marketing is the packaging.”

Interestingly, employers indicated that a candidate’s handshake is likely to have a greater influence on their opinion of a candidate than many other more obvious attributes, such as unusual hairstyles and colors, tattoos, and body piercings. However, that doesn’t give job candidates license to dye, tattoo, or pierce with abandon, cautions Mackes.

“It’s important for job seekers to recognize that attributes that exert even a slight influence over an employer can be just as important as those that exert a strong influence,” says Mackes. “When an employer has to make a choice among job candidates, these are the items that could make or break a candidacy.”

Figure 1: Candidate physical attributes and their influence on employers, by percent of respondents
Attribute No Influence Slight Influence Strong Influence
Grooming 6% 21% 73%
Nontraditional interview attire 13% 38% 49%
Handshake 22% 45% 33%
Body piercing 26% 43% 31%
Obvious tattoos 25% 46% 29%
Nontraditional hair color 26% 46% 28%
Unusual hairstyle 30% 49% 21%
Earring (male) 54% 34% 12%
Beard 73% 22% 5%
Mustache 83% 16% 1%
Source: Job Outlook 2006. National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Source: National Association of Colleges and Educators (NACE)