This New York Times piece (inexplicably filed in the ‘Health’ section) concerns a study about the effect of sending photographs along with your CV when applying for jobs. I was under the impression that this was a pretty unusual thing to do, but the study’s abstract begins by stating: “Job applicants in Europe and in Israel increasingly embed a headshot of themselves in the top corner of their CVs.” Disappointingly, the authors do not cite any evidence for this claim. Other anecdotal evidence comes from this rather messy blog post (which led me to the study in the first place), where the author reports that a student of her’s was advised to attach a photo to CVs by some sort of visiting careers consultant.
If there is any such trend, then it is a worrying and potentially pernicious one, for reasons those of us familiar with the literature on implicit bias can easily guess. Indeed, the findings of the study seem to yield pretty much the conclusions you’d expect given that literature.
Here’s the NYT on how the study works:
The study, conducted by economists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, sent 5,312 résumés to more than 2,600 employers who had advertised job openings. Two applications were sent to employers, each with virtually identical résumés. The only real difference was that one of the résumés included a photograph of the applicant. Sometimes the applicant was an attractive man or woman, and sometimes the photo showed a more plain-looking man or woman. (While sending a photograph with a résumé isn’t typical in the United States, it’s not uncommon in Israel, the researchers noted.)
Given what we know about implicit bias, we’d expect most people to have very weak associations between attractive women and intelligence or competence (and a variety of strong associations that are even more sexist). Thus, unlike the blogger Jourdemayne, the results of the study didn’t strike me as particularly surprising, I quote here from her post, which summarises the conclusions about women thus:
The interesting results come when we get to ‘potential employers’ and ‘women’.
Ready for this ladies?
‘No piccie’ does best of all. Tagging slightly behind – so slightly that the results could come out differently in repeated study – is the ‘plain’. And nearly 6% behind ‘plain’ is … ‘attractive’.
So if you are stunning and female, don’t send a picture to a potential employer, no matter what the one-day consultant twerp at uni. says.
Unsurprisingly the study also shows that attractive men actually benefit from sending photos at 19.9% invited for interview (whereas ‘plain’ men – you have to love the euphemism – do worse at 13.7%). Interestingly though, the men who didn’t send photos did worst of all at 9.2% (which makes me wonder if I should start enclosing photos in future).
Seriously though… Has anyone ever been advised to enclose a photo? Has anyone ever received a CV with a photo? And assuming one is aware of the effects this can have on one’s judgement of a candidate’s merit, isn’t the only rational thing to do to have them removed before sifting through them?