Beauty and the Bottom Line: Do Your Looks Affect Success?

(By Nadia Pflaum)

 The highest positions are usually going to the true producers, those finance wizards and high-end, experienced people who have spent their lives submersed in what they do and not worrying whether they’re attractive or not.

Life is good when you’re good-looking—most of us don’t need a study to prove that theory. Nonetheless, studies have shown that, on average, beautiful people get better jobs, are better compensated and receive more praise than their less-photogenic counterparts. And now a recent study out of the University of Wisconsin reports that hiring a beautiful person, say, as a S&P 500 company’s CEO, may boost its bottom line.

The results of the study, which used an algorithm on facial beauty analysis site Anaface.com to rate the attractiveness of 677 CEOs, confirmed that better-looking CEOs make more money (sometimes called a “beauty premium”). It also found that stock market returns were higher on M&A announcement dates for companies whose CEO ranked high on the Facial Attractiveness Index.

These findings don’t ring entirely true to Crystal K. Wiebe of Kansas City, Missouri. Wiebe, 32, is a social media and corporate communications specialist for an international promotional products company. She is also creator of Beer Paws, a lifestyle brand that supports animal rescue through the sale of unique merchandise and organic, homemade dog treats.

“In my professional life, I have heard of people being moved around based on the way they dress, but I have never heard of someone moving up or down based on their raw physical attractiveness,” Wiebe says. “That’s silly.”

As the social media manager for what Wiebe calls “a pretty big organization,” she says, “within a few clicks, their customers can find out who I am. For that reason, I am deliberate about what I share online: It’s professional, positive and not too political. And if I’m representing the brand anywhere, I make sure I’m dressed at least business casual.”

Her 9-to-5 job makes Wiebe keenly aware of the importance of branding. “Anyone customer-facing, including CEOs and sales reps, is a walking embodiment of the brand. That’s where how you put yourself together comes into play. It all comes down to how you are reflecting on the brand.”Success can’t all be superficial, Wiebe says. “I know looks matter in business, but it’s more about being on-brand than beautiful,” she says. “Being attractive might get you a second look, but you have to be able to back that up with performance. In my experience, compensation in corporations comes down to the numbers. Did you move the needle? Did you contribute to the bottom line? These things involve actions, behaviors, decisions—measurable results.”

Outside of the corporate world, however, the rules change—especially when a startup has a quirky take that has to seem immediately familiar. Wiebe’s Beer Paws brand is “a completely different culture,” she says. “In either case, I want the people I interact with to be able to relate to me—and, by extension, relate to the brand I represent.”

Small-business owner Kevin Brackens, 38, agrees with Wiebe—he doesn’t think attractiveness carries as much weight as the University of Wisconsin study suggests.
“I’d say there are more levels of attractiveness besides initial beauty,” he says.
Brackens owns his own home improvement and construction company that does the majority of its business in West Virginia. In his current work, just as it is for CEOs, salesmanship is a big component.
“Someone’s sales pitch, their ability to communicate clearly and not stumble over themselves, those are things that dictate success in the trenches.” He adds, “My cousin, he’s not as good-looking as I am, in my opinion, but he’s extremely successful. He could charm you over the phone. You can’t measure charm by symmetry.”
Brackens faced a somewhat personal branding decision when interviewing for a job, back before he became his own boss. It was a facial hair dilemma—to keep his beard, which he wears proudly—or shave it for the sake of looking more professional.
He prepared for the upcoming job interview by asking a friend, an HR director, for advice. His friend said: Shave the beard.

“But I summon power with my beard,” Brackens protested. “I think my beard hides some of my face fat, which I might be sensitive about though I’m told I shouldn’t be. By wearing this I feel more comfortable, which engages my confidence when I’m trying to get a job.”

A Google image search for “attractive CEO” pulls up Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer as the first—and frequent—result. Brackens tries it himself, reporting, “I’m not coming up with any young, attractive males in any pictures here. It’s all older guys. Yikes—some of them are not attractive at all.”

On the other hand, as he knows firsthand, some industries are more superficial than others. Brackens worked as a personal trainer in the past and remembers an experience he had when interviewing for an entry level position at a gym in New York. “I was able to research who my competition was,” he says, “and my two competitors both got hired and I did not. They were both female fitness models and spokespeople for vitamin supplement companies. They were attractive female models whose pictures were in magazines and on ads. Did I just not have the right certifications and skills? Maybe. But the fact that I got beat by models made me feel like I didn’t have to hold myself too accountable for not getting that job.”

Good looks might help drive some initial success, but Brackens thinks there is a limit. “I’m thinking after a certain point of promotion, most very attractive people aren’t getting the highest positions based on looks,” Brackens says. “The highest positions are usually going to the true producers, those finance wizards and high-end, experienced people who have spent their lives submersed in what they do and not worrying whether they’re attractive or not.”

As for the beard dilemma and the job interview? “I didn’t shave,” Brackens says, laughing. “And I got the job. Although the compensation didn’t match my attractiveness level, as far as I’m concerned.”

(Source: Openforum)

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