How Your Image Could Influence Your Income
Being better dressed could earn you more $
We've already been made privy to the benefits that being aesthetically pleasing can bring when it comes to the workplace: Harvard University found that men who are at least 6 feet tall make an average of $5,525 more than their shorter counterparts; blonde women reportedly earn 7 percent higher salaries than women with locks of a different color; and overweight women earn about $14,000 less per year than their slimmer associates, while underweight men suffer an average loss of $9,000 a year compared to their brawnier coworkers.
But while one can only do so much altering and adjusting of one's innate appearance, there's another, more manageable, variable that could influence one's income: how one dresses.
"If two candidates have almost identical job credentials but dress in two different ways, then the one who gets the job offer is probably the better-dressed one," says Christian McKenzie, a New York and Los Angeles-based marketing and business development consultant. "Interviews don't provide employers a lot of time to get to know a candidate, so if a suit conveys confidence and competence, then they'll be more willing to take a risk in hiring that interviewee at a competitive salary rate."
Motivational business speaker Jan Mendoza agrees that employers judge with their eyes first and then their ears.
"What you wear at work screams to employers how you feel about your job," Mendoza says. "If you look like a slob, it yells, 'I don't care; don't hire or promote me!' If you want to be the CEO, you need to start looking like one ASAP. It's amazing to me the amount of people who really don't 'get it' and can't figure out why they aren't moving up the ladder when they wear rubber flip-flops and pajamas to work."
As far back as the 1950s, Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer researcher of body language, determined that in a face-to-face encounter, 55 percent of the message is transmitted by the speaker's non-verbal appearance.
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More recently, Judith Waters, professor or psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University, conducted a survey in which 500 employment agencies and human resource executives were asked to determine a starting salary for eight women based on their identical resumes. The companies ultimately suggested incomes of 8 percent to 20 percent higher for the applicants who sent "after" photos of themselves wearing professionally applied makeup over those who sent "before" photos of themselves showing their own everyday looks.
"It's pretty superficial that these norms exist, but it's a reality for job seekers," McKenzie says.
In fact, after interviewing more than 1,000 male and female college graduates working at large U.S. corporations, the Center for Work-Life Policy found that 50 percent of the women and 37 percent of the men considered appearance to be intrinsically linked to "executive presence" at their firm. Additionally, 53 percent of the women felt aspiring female execs needed to avoid flashy makeup, plunging necklines, short and tight skirts, and long fingernails.
The Harvard Business Review wrote, "They understood that if you don't look the part of a leader, you're not likely to be given the role."
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Additional studies further (and perhaps frustratingly) show that inherent physical factors are also often taken into consideration when it comes to hiring and salary. The Business Insider reports that a majority of bald men—63 percent—feel that their hair loss had negatively affected their career and led to them earning less than guys with full heads of hair. And for every 3 inches taller than average a woman is, she can earn 5 percent to 7 percent more than her colleagues.
If employed by a Wall Street investment bank, "your image must project success and confidence," Cohen says. And if in the field of cosmetics or fashion, you should expect to be a "brand ambassador," but if working in a non-client-facing role, where image may mean little, "too much focus on the external may be seen as inappropriate and unsuitable."
Ultimately, Cohen says you need to know your company's culture.
And keep in mind that in many fields, skills still matter more than looks.
"The fact is that IT pros who wear flips-flops make much more than bank tellers in suits," business journalist Lydia Dishman wrote for PayScale.
What do you think? Can you really "dress for success"? Tell us in the Comments section below!