Following comments by Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellows at a charity event for the Belgravia Society, I was asked by BBC 3 Counties Radio Presenter Roberto Perrone which was more important to employers Beauty or Brains. You can hear my short interview here, but as always with my interviews, they get me thinking much deeper about a topic and therefore here, I share more of my thoughts from an employment perspective.
As the Pet Shop Boys lyrics (the title of this blog) from the song Opportunities suggests, there is a balance to be had. Having looks without the brains is useless in business. The world’s most successful models, many of whom have gone on to start their own businesses, have either been highly intelligent women (or men), or have had the nous to put some very astute people around them and perhaps more importantly, have known how to hold those people to account.
Having good looks can certainly buy you more time in an interview process; but if the interviewer knows how to interview properly, the door is very firmly shut if the candidate does not have the brains to do the job. And therein lies a problem! Many interviewers do not interview properly and then wonder why the staff they have hired can’t actually do the job they were asked to do. Regardless of how a person looks, if you are trusting them with your business, with your clients and with your profits, they MUST be able to do the job, and ideally do it better than you can do it yourself!
Another aspect of brains vs beauty debate is the labels and associated definitions themselves. Who determines beauty and how do you measure brains?
I have met some ‘beautiful’ people who dress badly, make no effort to make themselves presentable and some who are so shy that they just hide behind ‘a bad look’. On the other hand, I have met people I would not describe as being naturally beautiful, but they always look good. Clothes fit properly, they are good colour and style matches, clothes and accessories are always co-ordinated and they are always well groomed. Given equal ‘brains’, who would you hire, the more beautiful person who doesn’t care about what they look like, or the less ‘beautiful’ person who takes the time to make the best of themselves?
Equally, I have met some of the most ‘brainy’ individuals who have absolutely no common sense, no ability to put their ideas out to the general population and no interpersonal skills whatsoever. Are these people the best employees for my business? Well, that depends on what the business is and what the roles are. There are companies who need these sorts of people, but they often also employ someone to be the spokesperson, the public face or the intermediary, rather than let the ‘brains’ lose on the public.
As with many things ‘HR’, circumstances are vital. Understanding what is really needed in an organisation or role at any point in time is essential. You may need brains. You may need beauty. But I would strongly argue, that getting the right balance between the two (for your business) is the key to business success.