HR Strange But True!
November 17, 2011

Job applicants with facial birthmarks, scars, or other unusual facial marks are more likely to receive poor ratings in interviews, according to a new study.

Researchers at Rice University and the University of Houston conducted two tests to examine whether facial blemishes have an effect on the interview process and subsequent evaluations. The findings show that interviewers recalled less information about these candidates, which in turn negatively impacted their evaluations.

In the first test, undergraduate students watched a computer-mediated interview while their eye activity was tracked. After the interview, they were asked to recall information about the candidate.

“When looking at another person during a conversation, your attention is naturally directed in a triangular pattern around the eyes and mouth,” Rice alum Juan Madera said. “We tracked the amount of attention outside of this region and 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.”

The second test involved face-to-face interviews between candidates who had a facial birthmark and full-time managers enrolled in a part-time MBA and/or a Master of Science in a hospitality management program, all of whom had experience interviewing applicants.

Despite being HR pros, the interviewers had difficulty managing their reactions to facial marks, Madera said. In fact, the effects of the facial marks were actually stronger in this test, which he attributed 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.

“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.”

Hebl co-authored the research paper with University of Houston professor and Rice alum Juan Madera. The researchers hope the study will raise awareness about this form of workplace discrimination.

The study “Discrimination Against Facially Stigmatized Applicants in Interviews: An Eye-Tracking and Face-to-Face Investigation” was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Do you have any unusual stories about interviews? Share your story with us.

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