Written for Scars1 by Michelle Alford
With unemployment currently at 9 percent, candidates are looking for anything they can do to beef up their resumes, improve their cover letters, and ace their interviews, but a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that many candidates may be denied a job not because of their qualifications or character—but because of their scars.
Researchers at Rice University and the University of Houston found that interviewers are often distracted by noticeable facial features—such as birthmarks, scars, or other facial disfigurements—resulting in interviewees receiving poorer ratings in job interviews.
"When evaluating applicants in an interview setting, it's important to remember what they are saying," Rice Professor of Psychology Mikki Hebl said. "Our research shows if you recall less information about competent candidates because you are distracted by characteristics on their face, it decreases your overall evaluations of them."
The paper includes two studies, one consisting of undergraduate students and the other consisting of full-time managers with experience conducting interviews.
The undergraduate students watched a computer-mediated interview while their eye activity was monitored. Afterwards, they were asked to recount information about the candidate. “We found that the more the interviewers attended to stigmatized features on the face, the less they remembered about the candidate's interview content, and the less memory they had about the content led to decreases in ratings of the applicant,” reported University of Houston professor and Rice alum Juan Madera.
The full-time managers interviewed candidates in person. Despite their increased age, experience, and education, the managers were affected more by candidates with noticeable facial features than the undergraduate students. Madera attributed this to the face-to-face interview setting.
"It just shows that despite maturity and experience levels, it is still a natural human reaction to react negatively to facial stigma," Madera said.
"The bottom line,” added Hebl, “is that how your face looks can significantly influence the success of an interview.”
Both Hebl and Madera hope the research will raise awareness of discrimination against job candidates with facial scars.
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Photo: B. P. Susf