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Hiring for Appearance: Is it fair?

Photo by mirimcfly/flickr I

Is hiring based on appearance – how one dresses, a person’s weight, and so on – wrong? Even if employers’ goal is to secure or evoke an image for their company?

For instance, if a older woman who wears Christmas sweaters applies for a job at say Forever 21, is it ok for the company to reject her because she doesn’t represent the company’s look?

What about a corporation  looking to hire for a position involving much client interaction? Is it wrong to hire a better looking applicant to draw clients in?

I asked ten Chicagoans, “What is your opinion of employers who base their hiring practices on appearance to protect the image of their company?”

A few of the interviewees understood why a company might care about appearance.   Michael Wilhelm, a Loyola sophomore from Cleveland, believes, “As long as the employees they are trying to hire are equal, then I’m down with it,” Michael says. “Appearance is very important in potential clients choosing the company, so you might as well gain an advantage any way you can.”

Carli Chatlosh, 19, of Tinley Park, Illinois emphasizes Michael’s point with a personal example. Carli recalls, “I was hired for a company, and they actually call their employees their models because they are their form of advertisement. In order to apply, you have to get a password for the online application because they have to see what you look like first.”

An equal number of people disagree with hiring based on appearance. Christy Crandall, Coordinator of Student Life at Sacred Heart School in Chicago, holds a firm belief in nondiscrimination. “It should not be about what you look like on the outside. It’s always about what’s on the inside,” Christy says. “…your resumes and your recommendations… your outside references and your work ethic should definitely be some of the main reasons [to hire].”

Kristin, a tourist from Minnesota, says, “It’s not our choice, what we look like… I’m more on the side of being fair.”

A New York accountant, who wishes to remain anonymous because of company policy, addresses specific situations that alter opinions of discriminatory hiring practices. He feels it really depends on the type of business that’s hiring. He says, “I think it’s very specific based on the type of business. If you were some type of modeling agency, where your image is kind of in front of everyone, then that is acceptable. In terms of back office jobs, I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

Along the same lines, Aaron Greer, a Loyola University professor, feels, “I think it depends on the industry. There are some industries that are kind of image-centric, and it’s hard to fault them for being concerned about the image of their employees… It would be a little disingenuous to say that everybody should be hired by those folks.”

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.