When you first interview for a job or head into a salary negotiation, there’s a lot that’s under your control.
You can easily impress the person on the other side of the table by talking about your past achievements, your ambitions for the future, and your ability to lead a team to greatness.
Unfortunately, that person may be subconsciously relying on your facial structure — something you have little to no say over — for clues as to how much money you deserve.
According to new research, those whose faces convey the impression of trustworthiness and dominance may walk away with a higher salary.
Previous research has found that dominance is associated with “masculine” features, like a squared face, strong jawline, pronounced eyebrows, and thin eyes and lips. Trustworthiness is associated with “feminine” features like a round face, big eyes, small eyebrows, and full lips.
For the current study, cited by the Association for Psychological Science, researchers led by Laura Fruhen at the University of Western Australia recruited about 1,500 people to look at 100 photos of male and female faces.
Participants were asked to indicate how much they would pay the person in the photograph for the position of either Retail Manager or Head of Retail Operations (the latter is a more senior position). For the position of Retail Manager, the pay range was about $36,000 to $43,655 per year; for the position of Head of Retail Operations, the range was about $125,000 to $134,000.
In an earlier experiment, another group of raters had evaluated the photos for attractiveness, dominance, and trustworthiness.
When the researchers analysed all the findings, they saw that attractiveness mattered more for candidates for the Retail Manager position. Specifically, attractive candidates were awarded an additional $362.
Among candidates for the Head of Retail Operations, trustworthiness and dominance mattered more. Trustworthy-looking candidates were awarded about $419 more, while dominant-looking candidates received about $355 more.
In general, studies have found that people who look highly dominant tend to look less trustworthy. But the researchers told Business Insider that these traits independently predicted pay premiums. In other words, if you look highly dominant, you could get paid more, and if you look highly trustworthy, you could get paid more, too.
The biggest premium was given to male candidates who looked trustworthy: They received about $459 more.
In fact, the researchers found that over the course of a 40-year career, having desirable facial features could lead to an income advantage of between $11,000 and $26,000.
This study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that a person’s physical appearance plays a big role in their professional success. For example, across industries, those who are pretty, thin, and tall earn higher salaries than average.
Unfortunately, just because someone’s face looks trustworthy, dominant, or attractive — or just because they’re tall and thin — doesn’t mean they will do a good job as an employee or a leader.
The researchers note that some appearance-based judgments are indeed accurate — for example, people are pretty good at determining how extroverted someone is based on looks alone. But others may be entirely off-base, so it’s generally unwise to make decisions by relying on these evaluations.
On the other hand, the researchers say that people can choose LinkedIn photos that play up certain desirable features, depending on the position they’re applying for. “Indeed,” they write, “some individuals can, and will, use knowledge of appearance-driven biases to their strategic advantage in the workplace.”
Bottom line: It’s unfair for employers to judge your worth based on what you look like. But it happens more often than not, so try to use those biases to your advantage.
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