Coveting That Corner Office? Take a Look at … Your Looks

Gabrielle Karol

You can work hard, put in 200% every single day and log more hours than anyone else at the company.

But it turns out that may not be enough to get you the corner office–you also need to look the part.

As major corporations like Intel and Morgan Stanley start to recognize the importance of the “it factor” when it comes to employees at the management and executive levels, the practice of coaching executives (and wannabe execs) on appearance and presence is a growing business.

Stefanie Smith, head of Stratex Consulting, a New York City-based coaching firm, told The Wall Street Journal that 75% of her business consists of improving clients’ image–from how to dress better to how to appear more decisive in meetings.

But beyond these “coachable” attributes, physical qualities–from weight to hair to facial structure–also play a big part in how executives are perceived. We take a look at seven shallow characteristics that may affect how competent you appear to co-workers. Prepare to be shocked!

What People Look for in a Male Executive …

1. Slim, Trim and Fit

A study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership found that execs with larger waistlines and higher body mass index numbers were perceived as being less effective. In fact, image consultant Amanda Sanders told The Wall Street Journal that carrying extra pounds can imply weakness or a “lack of control.”

The CCL study also showed that executives with BMIs of 25 and under (indicating a person of normal weight) got higher ratings for interpersonal skills and task performance than peers who had BMIs over 25. Additionally, only 5% of CEOs at top U.S. companies are technically obese, although 36% of men in the general population are obese.

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2. A More Mature Look

A 2010 study from Duke University, ”A Corporate Beauty Contest,” found that more mature men (as opposed to men with so-called baby faces) were perceived to be more competent, even though no evidence actually showed that they performed better at their jobs. And, interestingly enough, the authors pointed to other research showing that baby-faced men actually tend to be more intelligent than their more mature-looking counterparts.

3. A Bald Head

A Wharton researcher found that men with clean-shaven, bald heads were perceived as more dominant and stronger than men with fuller heads of hair. Several prominent CEOs seem to be benefitting from the look: Venture capitalist Marc Andreesen, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos all sport clean-shaven pates.

Note: Sorry, guys, but balding hair doesn’t have the same effect–men with patchy, thinning locks were perceived as the least powerful in the same study.

  • cgm

    This is interesting, but is all about how men can look the part. It would be interesting to see a similar analysis of what women can do to look the part, as I doubt shaving my head would help!

  • Lanikalclark

    Wow still in 2013 and Men are getting the advice and tips on how to look and dress the part for “Executive” ? How Biased 

  • Robin

    I thought this was a women’s based site.  Why was 95% of the advice for men?

    • AldenWicker

      Hi Robin,

      LearnVest wants to provide financial advice for anyone seeking it–male or female. But to answer your question, we found a majority of studies on male qualities to feature most likely because there’s a larger pool of people to study. Only 19 of the Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, which is a tiny sample size. Also, this lack of studies that focus on female traits (longer versus shorter hair, for example, instead of baldness versus hair) might be due to a lingering bias toward male CEOs. Hopefully, we will see more research on the substantive traits that make female CEOs successful in the coming years!

  • Caroline Turner

    In my workshops, I take people through an exercise to show that all of us have internalized (unconscious) pictures of how an executive looks. For most it is tall, white, lean and male. I hope that awareness of these unconscious mind-sets can open the playing field for women and others who don’t fit this picture. At least there are now enough women executives (21 CEO’s in the F500) that we can find out what the image of a female CEO is!