HR Issues: Can You Hire for Appearance and Impression?

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We are influenced consciously or unconsciously by people’s appearance, action or voice.  When hiring, concern for appearance can originate from maintaining a company image or from potential client reactions.

In a hiring project, the employer selected a candidate because of his appearance and communication abilities over a similarly qualified and experienced person. This begs the question: “Can we hire for appearance and voice?”

It’s obvious that verbal and communication skills are important qualifications for positions within a financial planning firm, but appearances can be a more treacherous area in hiring decisions.

Be Aware of Discrimination
Some common reasons for not hiring someone could be very poor (or non-existent) grooming, very inappropriate attitudes and dress, but what if:

  • we think a person is too old to do the work?
  • we think culturally or religiously a person won’t fit with our team or clients?

Some potential for discrimination exists (intentional or not), such as the unconscious hiring of people who look the same or biases in promotions (when not founded on ability or merit).

Not all employers are covered by federal laws on discrimination, and this can vary according to the nature of the discrimination (see, so be aware of state and local laws involving discrimination; you may be covered by local laws regardless of your status under federal laws.

Establish Criteria and Guidelines
Be able to say exactly why you are hiring, promoting or terminating an employee. Your reasons could be subjective, but they need to be specific and applicable to the situation. If you are not applying your criteria uniformly and consistently among all candidates or employees, you are putting yourself in danger.

Create a comparison chart of prospective candidates listing the factors you are considering. Create a dress code policy and explain it to all employees—new and existing. The policy should cover what happens when a person comes to work inappropriately dressed. Do you send the person home to correct?

To accommodate religious or cultural beliefs, your dress code policy could state that you handle requests for dress accommodations based on religious or cultural beliefs on a case-by-case basis.

Set Expectations
Sometimes, we automatically think clients, team members and others will react negatively to someone who looks or behaves different from us. We can communicate and emphasize the abilities, qualities and expertise of the person and address initial reactions. Sometimes, we just need time for people to adjust.

This is for informative purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Consult experts, such as human resource consultant or attorney, to be aware of federal, local and state regulations and exceptions.

Mary DunlapMary Dunlap, CFP®
Mary Dunlap Consulting
Pottstown, Pa.

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