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In Korea, beauty is in the eye of the recruiter

Apr 12,2018
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Last month, 25-year-old college graduate Sohn Min-young shelled out 200,000 won ($188) on clothes, makeup and a trip to the hairdresser. Sohn wasn’t getting ready for a special occasion - she was going to a job interview.

“Some companies advise people not to spend too much money preparing for the interview, but I know everybody else will and I don’t want to be left behind,“ she said.

Survey results released Wednesday showed that her concerns are valid. According to the job search website Saramin, six out of 10 HR managers think that a candidate’s physical appearance matters.

Around 57 percent of HR managers gave this response from a pool of 1,000 survey participants. When asked why looks matter, 41.8 percent said that a candidate’s good looks give the impression that they are more self-disciplined.

Thirty-four percent of respondents said they think good looks are a competitive edge, while 26.1 percent said a candidate’s appearance gives the impression of good interpersonal skills. Twenty-four percent said attractive people look more confident. Multiple answers were allowed.

The survey even asked HR managers what aspect of a candidate’s physical appearance mattered. While 87.3 percent of respondents played it safe, choosing first impression, a number of HR managers were happy to get into specifics. Cleanliness came in second, at 40.1 percent, followed by a candidate’s outfit at 36.8 percent.

More specific physical attributes like the shape of a candidate’s body, 19 percent, their facial features, 18.6 percent, and hair, 8.5 percent, were also cited. Multiple answers were allowed.

Survey respondents were surprisingly candid about the gender bias in evaluating candidates’ looks, with 31 percent saying that a female candidate’s appearance matters. Only 6.4 percent were concerned with the looks of a male candidate.

Nearly 50 percent of participants admitted that they have personally marked a candidate down because of their appearance, while nearly 40 percent revealed that they have given good-looking candidates extra points regardless of their suitability for the role.

The survey results don’t come as much of a surprise in a culture where good looks are considered a virtue and advertisements constantly hammer home the need to stay physically fit and attractive. Considering a candidate’s physical features as part of the hiring process could cause legal issues in other countries, but the local custom of requiring a photo on a candidate’s resume remained unquestioned for a long time.

“The process now is not as frank as in the past when HR managers looked for handsome faces and height, but companies still have a ‘model employee’ in their heads associated to one’s looks and personality - some may look for outgoing people, like in the services sector, while some may prefer calm candidates,” said Lee Hyeong-kuk, a professor at Sangmyung University’s College of General Education and a frequent HR adviser for local businesses.

Nonetheless, President Moon Jae-in recently criticized the practice of including photos with resumes, saying that it creates prejudice even before interviews. Moon requested companies remove photos from applications and implement a blind hiring initiative aimed at putting more weight on candidate’s achievements, not appearance.

It remains to be seen if removing photos will actually be effective, as putting more weight on the interview may mean a candidate’s first impression is more important. Lee says another solution would be the government imposing penalties on companies found to have hired an employee based on physical features and actively publicizing that the practice is forbidden.


BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]