Getting soft around the middle may not just trigger a bout of self-consciousnesses — it could throw a wrench into your chances of landing a job. At least that’s according to a study recently published in the journal Plos One, which found weight gain can hamper a job applicant’s prospects, particularly if that applicant is female.
The team of Scottish and U.K. researchers, Dennis Nickson, Andrew R. Timming, Daniel Re and David I. Perrett, decided to explore whether a slight change in weight could turn employers off. What they found wasn’t pretty: “Employing a unique simulation of altering individuals’ BMIs (body mass index) and the literature on ‘aesthetic labour,’ the study suggests that, especially for women, being heavier, but still within a healthy BMI, deleteriously impacts on hireability ratings,” they concluded. Here’s how.
In 2013, a group of 60 men and 60 women were asked to imagine themselves as company recruiters reviewing snapshots of applicants. Each photo showed four men and four women, all white and lacking expression, and at various, digitally enhanced weights. Though the various weights fell within healthy BMI ranges, the changes were apparent to the untrained eye. Still, participants were assured that the candidates all had ideal resumes.
When asked to hire each, on a scale of 1 (extremely unlikely) to 7 (extremely likely), for customer-facing roles or more independent jobs, the “recruiters’ ” responses were striking. (Keep in mind, they were asked to go on their gut, unlike what most human managers would be advised, given legal precautions.)
Thinner faces were deemed more employable than fuller ones, especially for the customer-facing roles. What’s more, the ‘original’ versions received an average score of 4.84, while the corresponding heavier ones averaged 4.61.
Larger women received even more of a knock, being rated 0.66 lower on average, compared to 0.26 lower for men. “For women, it seems, even seemingly minute changes to the shape, size and weight of the body are important,” the researchers said.
So what’s a woman to do? Countering societal expectations is hard enough, and women currently earn less than men, dollar for dollar. The gender pay gap for women of color and mothers is even worse, according to The American Association of University Women, a think tank focused on promoting equality and education for all women and girls.
Fortunately, you can research employers ahead of time to find ones that will judge you based on work and not on appearance. And you should always do your best to prove yourself on the merits of your work. Because some employers check a version of your credit reports during the application process, particularly for roles that require government security clearance, it wouldn’t hurt to get your finances in order. You can take steps to clean up your credit by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.
Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund