Can body type or appearance play a role in an applicant’s ability to do the job?

December 5, 2019

Topics: Hiring and Recruiting

I saw a YouTube video of a local dance school’s recital showing the older girls performing on pointe. One of the dancers was decidedly plump—actually, to be honest, she was fat.  Sure, it is a local school.  Every student is entitled to perform in the year-end recital.  And then she started to dance.  She was flawless.  Her legs were turned out beautifully.  Her hands and arms were expressive.  She hit her marks and kept her rhythmic flow.  Her arabesques were the same height as the other dancers.  Her head gracefully followed her movements.  Her pirouettes were flawless.  And she was “on her toes” (her pointe shoes were completely perpendicular to the floor with beautiful arches).  She was light, and delicate and a pleasure to watch.  In short, she had the ability to dance and she produced the desired result that would delight an audience.

It reminded me of the movie about the successful racehorse Seabiscuit, and the line “[t]he horse is too small, the jockey too big, the trainer too old. . . .”  Another situation where, based on appearances, ability and results were presumed to be impossible.  Yet Seabiscuit and his oversized-jockey went on to become a champion thoroughbred racehorse during the Great Depression.

When hiring for your company, do not let stereotypical ideas formed from first impressions of a candidate’s body type prevent you from determining whether this applicant has the ability to get the results needed from the position.  Few states prohibit height, weight, or general physical appearance discrimination (although companies in Michigan should be mindful of the prohibitions there).  But the absence of a legal prohibition should not be incentive to make potentially improper assumptions about an applicant’s ability to do the job.

Include questions in your hiring process that test your applicants’ familiarity with the types of problems they would need to solve in their respective roles.  Do skills and ability testing where applicable. Let the applicant show you what they can do and how they can contribute to your company.  You never know if you may be interviewing your next star performer.