Wow, did we get a lot of comments on our post last week, “‘Appearance DOES MATTER’ (at least in some jobs).”   In that post, we quoted Sylvia Dahlby of Hawaii:  “In my opinion age and weight, and overall appearance are always a factor in hiring decisions – and maybe sometimes they need to be. Let’s face it, humans bring their personal prejudices into EVERY situation.”

Folks weighed in from all over, and from all professions, and a good discussion ensued.

Robert Young, an HR business owner in Albany, NY:   “Employers have to be able to hire who they wish.”

William “Bill” Wilson, a business consultant in the Chicago area:

“I am not sure how to interpret this post.  Is this person supporting the right to make ridiculous assumptions based on appearance or arguing against it?  The morbidly obese clerk may have a medical condition that resists all attempts to maintain a more customary weight, the clerk in the trendy boutique may be a single mother trying to afford health care for her children which limits her disposable income for the latest fashions, and the granny may have been playing video games since Pong and coding them in C … so what’s the point?

To some extent in reading this post I felt like I was listening to Joe Arpaio justify profiling. Our antidiscrimination laws are all an attempt in one form or another to combat stereotypes based on various factors like skin color, national origin or other factors. Our laws now say these shorthand judgments are inappropriate and having no basis in fact, cannot be used to deprive people of employment.

A 70 year old man walks into a trendy nightclub and applies for a job as a talent booking agent. With the black jeans and shirt, looks a little familiar but hell, can’t possibly work.  Wouldn’t know JayZ from Buble.  Next.  And then you see the name on the application.  “Jagger, Michael Phillip.”

Another one of my favorites is the ban on hiring the long term unemployed. Forget logic, you say:  if they have been unemployed for more than six months, they clearly are unemployable, worthless or worse. Ignore the fact that the last recession wasn’t quite equal opportunity, that older workers were disproportionally adversely affected by layoffs and reductions, that they are on average far more likely to be unemployed for more than six months, and the next thing you know, your employment lawyer is explaining the nuances of “disparate impact” to you and how it applies to ADEA and hiring.

Why is it so hard for us to take the time to look at who people are, rather than resort to meaningless shorthand unsupported, indeed often contradicted strongly, by facts?  Every CEO speaks about how important the right talent is to their organizations. And then allows HR and other managers to engage in these practices which filter out people without any factual basis which flirt with a variety of illegal practices.”

Jonathan Roth, a lawyer in the Boston area:

“There is no doubt that appearance plays a role in hiring. I had a former partner who became a judge and dealt with all kinds of discrimination. Her view was that the worst form of discrimination was against ugly people. She was right then and right now.  Appearance does make a difference, but not as much as personality or competence.

The larger the organization the less influence decision makers seem to have on the hiring process.

Showing up groomed, properly dressed and prepared are important. Knowledge, experience, and attitude are also important, but unfortunately looks have some impact for some jobs.

A good salesperson has to be able to build rapport with the buyer; that is a talent and to some extent it is influenced by looks. On the other hand in telephone sales looks are worthless. Talent, skill and preparation (product and customer knowledge) is critical.

That unfortunately does not mean an HR person is not influenced by the appearance of a person at an interview.”

Gail R. Gordon, an attorney in the NYC area:

“How does Sylvia Dahlby know Granny doesn’t play video games and lacks the coding skills to create them? That assumption reminds me of the automobile salesmen who assume a woman doesn’t want a hot car and isn’t capable of driving one if she did.  (Yes, they still exist.)

Think about it for a minute, folks. The people who invented gaming are starting to bear down on their retirement years and quite a few of them regularly play video games with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. So what if most boomers only started getting into computers in their 20’s or 30′ — by now they’ve had 20 to 30 years worth of experience working with multiple generations of technological advance and many can compete against the younger generations just fine, thank you very much!   Not to mention all those genXers who grew up plugged in and are now becoming eligible to join AARP. ”

Pete Jones, a bias psychologist in Sheffield, UK:

“I can only draw on the research evidence which shows that overweight people are implicitly seen as left competent/valuable based on the comparative CV studies I have read, such as after Rooth (2007a) found that normal-weight applicants have a twenty percent higher chance of being called for an interview compared with obese applicants.

We see a similar effect for physical attractiveness with traditionally more attractive people being seen as more socially confident and competent. Notwithstanding the debate on whether some jobs require a standard of dress, it seems we judge people anyway.

For me it is about ‘fit,’ so on Friday I was talking to academics and wore smart but casual clothes as I anticipated they would wear, On Tuesday I am talking to the board of a major company who based on my observations and looking at their web site I expect them to be in suits and wearing a tie, and so shall I.  I shall keep my tattoo sleeves for another day!”

13123628_sLarry Alvarado, a career planning and success professional in the LA area:

“Appearance always matters. Now what matters for what kinds of jobs or situations – that’s different.  Part of how we judge is using impressions, first impressions and appearance is part of that process – even if we later find out we were wrong about what the appearance means about this person. Whether I’s your shoes, accessories, hair style, face, etc. others get an impression about you thru some things in your appearance.”

Jack Bucalo, an HR expert in Washington, Illinois:

“Lance is right; it will always matter.  However, any applicant who “does not quite look the part” can easily overcome any initial negative feeling by responding to each and every interview question in a great amount of technical job-related detail while being pleasant and forthcoming. This approach will not be successful all the time, but it will work most of the time in convincing the interviewer that you are the right person for the job.”

Eva Henriksson, a management consultant in Hong Kong:

“I always make a picture of a person during the first couple of minutes during an interview and yes; appearance gives me some information. However, the appearance itself never makes my final decision. Now I’m talking more about clothing and accessories than being fit or obese since it’s what’s “inside” this person I’m interested in and not the outside.

When working in some countries appearance is very important or should I say it’s crucial to be without obvious defects. I have encountered total denial from one of my clients when I presented an extremely well “fit-for-the-job” person due to him having an old injury on his hand that everyone could see the scar of. My client told me everyone would be afraid of him if he put him in his team and what would his customers think? I was shocked…”

Lance Young, an HR professional in the Atlanta area:

“I think as long as humans judge other humans … it will always matter. As the article suggest, it is more that race, gender, and age. Things like weight, style, smell, and eye contact all matter and are part of your overall appearance.

I have taught several classes about career management, and I am very upfront about making good impressions fast. I believe the entire package matters.”

Wendy Kelly, an HR professional in West Palm Beach, Florida:

“Unfortunately, this is very true.  On the flip side, a few years ago I applied and was called in for a HR manager’s position. The hiring manager who was conducting the actual interview was dressed atrociously. His shirt was dirty, he wore ripped jeans (that also was dirty) as well as flip flops.  Needless to say, I took the job, simply because I had been unemployed for some time. Let’s just say the way he was dressed, also was a prime example of his work ethics.

I’m sure the outcome may have been different for someone else. Appearances, I am aware, does not always dictate the behavior of others.

I will say this, in my opinion, I believe that if you dress for success, you’ll be successful.”