Mentioning facial imperfection early in a job interview helps, study finds
If someone has a facial imperfection such as a scar, mole or birthmark, addressing it early in a job interview could mean their possible employer is less likely to focus on it, according to a new study from the University of Houston and Rice University.
“To Look or Not to Look: Acknowledging Facial Stigmas in the Interview to Reduce Discrimination” was conducted by Juan Madera, associate professor at Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, and Mikki Hebl of Rice University.
“Past research shows that people will stare at a facial stigma (e.g., scar or port-wine stain) when interacting with them, so we wanted to see how to decrease the urge to stare at it,” said Madera in an email.
The study had 112 undergraduate students participate with majority of which were female.
Madera said the students were instructed to listen to a computer-mediated interview where an applicant discussed their work experience while they looked at a picture of the applicant with a facial imperfection.
Half of the applicants acknowledged something about their facial imperfections, while the other half did not.
The professors positioned the participants in front of the computer and told them their visual attention would be tracked and recorded throughout the study to analyze how the “lighting and resolution of the computer screen can affect attention” to explain why the study used an eye tracker.
Visual attention to the stigma was measured for every 30 seconds during the 8-minute interview producing 1,792 data points from the 112 participants.
The results showed that facial stigmas draw visual attention during a computer-mediated interview, and that attention does decrease over time.
However, the professors found that when the interviewee mentioned their facial imperfections, their interviewers were more likely to ignore it throughout the process.
When interviewees acknowledged their facial imperfections their interviewer’s visual attention was faster, but when the applicant did not acknowledge their facial imperfection it was slower.
“People will often stare at a facial stigma in an attempt to understand them because facial anomalies and/or deformities are unexpected when meeting a person,” Madera said.
Madera and Hebl both do research on workplace discrimination, and Madera said he became particularly interested in interview interactions with stigmatized individuals.
“One way that facial stigmas can negatively impact an employment interview is that it draws visual attention, potentially distracting the interviewer from the content,” Madera said.
Madera said the results of the study surprisingly did not vary by the applicants gender or by the type of stigma, including scars, birthmarks, etc.
“Although we did not hypothesize gender effect, the literature suggests that physical looks are more important for women than men, so we expected that maybe the results would be stronger for the female applicant than the male applicant,” Madera said.
The study said in technology-mediated interviews, like Skype and other video chat formats, discrimination can be particularly inevitable because of the focus on applicants’ faces.
“We thought about how Skype-type of interviews has all the same elements of a face-to-face interview and so we thought about doing this study in this context, which would allow us to use an eye tracker too,” Madera said.
Madera aimed to see how to decrease a possible future employer’s urge to stare at their applicant’s facial imperfections. Based on the results of the study, Madera said an applicant mentioning their stigma early on can combat this possible event.
“For applicants with stigmas, acknowledgment can serve as an effective strategy to draw attention away from the stigma and decrease attention over time faster than not acknowledging the stigma,” Madera said.