It was a bit strange when I first started growing my beard out. As it grew thicker I felt like people were starting to treat me differently, and it made me think; does facial hair affect the way people see you?
Does having a beard make people in your social sphere take you more, or less seriously? Do most women find beards make men sexier or uglier?
In this article I’ll be looking at some research — (yes, there actually some research on this!) — I'll be looking at how facial hair affects your chance in the job market.
If I took a wild guess, I would have thought that having a beard — especially a full beard — would make your chance of getting a job worse. I thought that having facial hair is seen as kinda unkempt and scruffy looking. Actually, I used to know some guys with beards who went clean-shaven when going in for a job interview!
However, the research on the question is actually pretty mixed. Some of the earliest studies on facial hair asked people to identify photographs of bearded men with particular traits.
Those studies (here) found that men with beards are generally associated with positive traits such as masculinity, strength and intelligence. But beardedness has also been associated with a host of other, more negative, traits such as recklessness, being dirty, stupidity and immaturity.
So how does this translate into the work environment when it comes to hiring personnel and promotion decisions?
One study that was done in 2008 found that beards made men look more aggressive and masculine, which is only going to be appreciated in certain types of jobs.
In another study researchers showed college students a set of resumes, each with a computer-generated photo attached — some with beards, some clean-shaven and some with just a moustache. Participants were then asked a series of questions about how suitable they thought each job applicant would be for a position.
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The study found that, on balance, having a beard didn’t make much of a difference in how an applicant was evaluated — though it did find applicants with facial hair were less often chosen for management positions. Interestingly, the biggest hiring bias was not against applicants with a full beard, but those with just a moustache.
The lesson, perhaps: If you’re going to grow facial hair, better to go all in!
One of the weaknesses of the 2008 study — which the authors acknowledged — is that it involved college students as opposed to those who actually hire people for a living.
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That’s where this study from 1990 is different because it actually involves surveying managers at 177 different companies. Participants were asked to look at ink sketches of men — some with beards, some without — and answer questions about which person they thought would be most suitable for a management position with their company.
Interestingly, this study found a clear bias in favour of applicants with beards.
The study asked managers to rate each applicant based on four areas: Attractiveness, Personality, Composure and Competency. Bearded applicants did better on all four than clean-shaven ones — in particular on Competency, which one would think might be one of the biggest factors in a hiring decision.
I found the results of both studies somewhat surprising, as it ran counter to my own personal experience with people’s view of beards in the workplace.
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Then I came across a 1994 Swedish study that seemed to clear things up.
The study showed participants actual photographs — not sketches or computer-generated faces — and then asked them what types of jobs they thought each person was most ideally suited for. (Interestingly, this study looked not just at beards but also on the impact of baldness and glasses on people’s perceptions.)
What the study found — which makes perfect sense to me — is that whether a beard is a plus or minus really comes down to which field you’re trying to get a job in
According to the study, people expect men with beards (and glasses) to be in jobs like doctor, professor, psychologist or pastor whereas clean-shaven men are seen as a better fit for positions like salesman, politician, lawyer or managing director.
The bottom line? Much as you might decide how to dress at work based on what your colleagues are wearing, the best way to get a sense of what impact your beard might have on your career prospects may be to take a look around your office.
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If a lot of your colleagues have facial hair too, you’re probably OK. But if you’re the only bearded one in the office, you might want to get shaving.
What about you? What impact do you think facial hair has on the workplace? Post a comment and let me know.