Share: do makeup make us look more competent?

Imagine this scenario: a lady who is not in the habit of putting on makeup has been going for over 10 job interviews without success. Now, these are jobs that she is well qualified to take on but somehow she never hears from the company again after the interviews. A close friend suggested that she applies some makeup before turning up for the next interview. In desperation, she heeded the advice and voila, she got the job this round! Sound ludicrous? Okay, it probably is because I made this story up just to get your attention to a study that suggest that women who wear makeup are seen to be more likeable, competent, and trustworthy – and more likely to move up the corporate ladder.

Study of women with and without makeup
Thanks to a reader, Wai Yoke, who had posted the story “Up the career ladder, lipstick in hand” by the New York Times on my Facebook page, I learnt about the study published by that shows 25 female subjects, aged 20 to 50 and white, African-American and Hispanic, photographed barefaced and in three looks that researchers called natural, professional and glamorous. First, 149 adults (including 61 men) judged the pictures for 250 milliseconds each. Then 119 different adults (including 30 men) were given unlimited time to look at the same faces. Study participants then rated the women in terms of competence, likability, attractiveness and trustworthiness.

(No, I didn’t participate in the study but here are my pictures with and without makeup for your study. #k8SjZc9Dxk_#k8SjZc9Dxk)

First impressions count
Interestingly, when shown the images for just 250 milliseconds, all ratings went up with the amount of make-up. However, when study participants were allowed to take in the pictures at length, the results changed significantly. But all in all, the findings have a bearing that cosmetics could have an impact on how people perceive women at first sight.

Looks versus caliber
So what do you think? Do makeup make us look more competent? Personally, makeup increases my self confidence for obvious reasons and so that translate to how I carry myself as well. Taking some measures to look better than usual probably sends the message that the lady is someone who is not sloppy and hence, gives more weight to first impressions when there is nothing else to gauge. There are definitely some stereotypical thinking here because wearing makeup and looking more polish is all part of the unsaid culture at the workplace. However, we do know that makeup is just makeup and looks have nothing to do with one’s ability to do a job well. So I don’t agree that makeup gets one up the corporate ladder because makeup can melt under pressure but true caliber won’t crumple so easily.


  1. Celeste @ Becoming Beautiful says:

    Perhaps the idea is that if you have the organisational skills to make yourself look more presentable then you’d be more organized in your work as well? It’s definitely an interesting thought and since I have been rejected from two interviews already this year, for my next one I’m going to try using makeup!

    I don’t normally like wearing makeup to work… but guess there’s no harm trying now!

  2. sesame says:

    Interesting point about organisational skills and presentable looks! You don’t wear makeup? Well, like you’ve mentioned, no harm trying and see what happens. ?

  3. Fiona says:

    Ummm… I guess it’s different for what type of job you’re going for. I go for creative industry (production) jobs, and a lot of the times whenever I go for job interviews, I saw ladies without make up and wearing very casual outfit, and the boys were very casual as well. Their portfolio/showreel are their weapons. But I don’t see why women shouldn’t apply make up when going for job interview. I don’t wear make up every day, but I do wear make up when I go for job interviews, when I go out, and sometimes when I feel like it. I don’t wear make up to work, but I do wear at least a little bit of make up if I have a client meeting.

    I wear make up as close to natural as possible. Pretty much the sole purpose of me putting make up on was to hide blemishes, and to give it a tidy look.

  4. espenine says:

    I wear makeup to work so that colleagues would not focus on the flaws on my face so much that they can’t pay attention to what I am saying or doing. I guess it applies to job interviews as well. A clean & neat make up will allow the interviewer to look into your eyes and have better communication and therefore clinch the job?

  5. Vonvon says:

    I will always put on makeup, no matter how light or how little when I go to my office, even to the lab.

  6. sesame says:

    You’re right about the type of jobs too but I do wonder between two equivalents, will the one who wear makeup and dress better get the job? I guess it always depends on the interviewer.

  7. sesame says:

    Good point about allowing the interviewer to look into the eyes rather than focus on other parts of the face. I haven’t given a thought about that at all.

  8. sesame says:

    It can become more of a habit to use makeup…some pple actually tell me they feel naked without it.

  9. Soos says:

    I fully admit that makeup for me is a mask.

  10. sesame says:

    *Hands up* same here! My makeup is mostly foundation or loose powder and the reason I use it is to control the shine to some extent too.

  11. zhenling says:

    i wear makeup daily. just for my brows and concealer. makes one look more clean imo

  12. Heglaé says:

    I only use makeup when I go out or have some special occasion. On daily basis, clear face. I work at home and it has a long time I don’t do a job interview, but when I did, I never used makeup, because I think: if they hire me with make up on, I will have to use make up every single day. I prefer to show my real face than a pretty mask.

  13. EcoBeauty says:

    I agree with Fiona that the industry is a big factor. I’m from the creative industry, too, and when we hold interviews, we spend more time looking at the person’s portfolio compared to his/her face, lol. But it depends on what job he/she is applying for, whether it’s purely creative (graphic artist, animator, programmer, etc) or it requires liaising with clients, too. For example, my job is creative in nature but I do need to communicate with people a lot so my portfolio, which back then didn’t have much, fortunately didn’t count as much as my ability to express myself clearly and my overall disposition. Once in a while, we have interviewees practically coming in their pajamas, haha.

    I don’t wear makeup at work or when I do, it’s usually very light–just concealer around my eyes and a bit of blush. Since I don’t get to sleep much and am naturally pale with heavy dark circles, I try to save everyone else from the shock of seeing a zombie walk into the office by putting in a little effort to look “alive”.

  14. Vonvon says:

    Oh well, I wouldn’t go to the point Of saying that I feel naked without makeup. ?

  15. sesame says:

    Going to an interview with pajamas? Hmm…Actually, apart from the industry, it also depends on the organisation. I work at various places but in the same industry. At one, the dress code needs to be more formal while at another, we can go in tees and jeans and even Birkenstock. So sometimes the staff look like teens from afar.

    Those with good skin can afford to go without makeup. Well, I need more coverage. LOL.

  16. sesame says:

    Okay, I get your point about why you choose not to wear makeup to a job interview. It does need to be upkept in that sense.

  17. sesame says:

    Agree! More presentable for sure…

  18. stella says:

    for me, i’ve oily skin so i need to use loose powder…even then i start shining by midday! and the loose powder also keeps my sunscreen from melting sooner on my face i think…

    and a bit of blush and some mascara to look alive…

    i used to use much more base makeup coz i had scars and large pores, but laser resurfacing has solved the problem, so i’m quite happy going with just loose powder now since i don’t have any other skincare issues

    i work in a ‘creative’ sort of industry too, and definitely my portfolio and passing certain tests count more than how i look

  19. U says:

    I think it is all part of how you present yourself with that being said i think on some level makeup does play a role….. you don’t need a ton of makeup on but you do need to look polish that show you’re organize & can take care of yourself…. if you come into interview looking tired, exhausted & a mess obviously it does say something about you…. i personally don’t have a great skin so putting makeup on a little does make me look slightly better….a lot of managers or HR might say we don’t judge on look but we’re all human on some level i think we all end up making a judgement even though we don’t say it out loud….. i’m not going to lie i did wear makeup on my first day of interview & after that i put on less and less…. the work itself is frustrating any makeup i put on it is gone before lunch time =/ so i stop putting effort into it…. haha….

  20. Fiona says:

    LOL. I’ve never seen people going to interview in pajamas, but I’ve come across people wearing hoodie and ripped jeans (with paint splatters) to their interviews… it was certainly a head scratching moment for me. I get it that it is a very relaxed dress code in the industry (depending on what department), but I would put an effort to look nice. It’s the whole thing of if people don’t bother to make the effort to meet their future employer, would they bother making the effort when meeting their regular/future clients?

    And I also agree with you, I’d put on make up when sleep deprivation starts to take over and starting to take its toll on how I look >_<

  21. fwy says:

    Thanks for featuring this story I linked to you. Seriously, I had gone for numerous interviews in my life without any makeup on & I did get the job whether the interviewer is a gent or a lady. I have to agree with reader Heglaé which means I have to use makeup whenever I go to work once the interviewer had seen me with makeup on.

  22. dom says:

    I saw that article as well, and it reminded me of other articles I read about how well-dressed people or good-looking/attractive people snagged higher pay, better jobs and better benefits compared to their less attractive counterparts. I’d say that those with make-up show that they put more effort into how they look, and it may translate to how much effort they put into getting things done (amongst other things)?

  23. MereMakeupManiac says:

    up to a certain level, i think so but not always. sometimes it depends on the interviewer too. i was once interviewed by a panel of 4 ladies and i had makeup on. i think that made them intimidated that even though i know i was confident enough and answered their questions with ease, i still didn’t get the job and found out that a guy did. lol.

  24. sesame says:

    I suppose when one has a portfolio to back her up, looks take a secondary role…or maybe it’s not even important depending on the interviewer.

  25. sesame says:

    I agree…it’ll be good to look more presentable and I always find that it’s also a sign of respect for the other party you’re dealing with.

  26. sesame says:

    Haha…it does have to take some effort to maintain the look!

  27. sesame says:

    I think so…but some of the stories are quite ridiculous. I remember one where a higher qualified candidate lost out purely because of looks. It really depends on the interviewer…some are just more visual oriented.

  28. sesame says:

    They may have gender stereotypes? We’ll never know for sure…sometimes I wonder why certain people get certain jobs too despite the way they look. I remember one accountant easily found a better paying job even though she looked like she doesn’t wash her face…seriously.

  29. nora says:

    As for me, make-up an essential tool to cover my blemishes & to cover the shine on my face. With my panda eye, the concealer is a must too than the rest like mascara, lipstick & blusher just out of habit. Looking presentable & ALIVE is very important not just for interviews but for the whole working life, dont you think. Same goes to have a shower every morning which are important for hygiene purposes & also the representation of yourself towards the world!

  30. sesame says:

    Yeah, I’ve always consider wearing makeup as showing respect for other people as we should always look pleasant and presentable. If one has good skin and doesn’t need makeup, that’s fine but a bit of blush or lipstick shouldn’t be too much trouble.

  31. fwy says:

    Yeah, sometimes it may be because I am lazy and prefer more time for sleep instead of spending time on doing my makeup!

  32. sesame says:

    I know exactly what you mean…it does take time. I spend about 5 to 10 mins max and it’s still a chore.

  33. Julia says:

    I sometimes ask myself why some girls around me don’t bother to apply a minimum of make-up or at least comb their hair. I believe in some parts of the world, leaving your skin bare is considered rude to others if you have flaws.
    Personally, I try to look pulled together and awake, thus the make-up. If you look good without, great. If you don’t…

    On the other hand, I find this a bit unfair considering no one would expect a man to wear make-up. At least give us a lipstick raise!

  34. sesame says:

    Hmm…interesting what you mentioned about men. Unfortunately, it’s the whole stereotyping thing from eons ago with women’s look. I have no answer why men don’t wear makeup though…probably they need to look rugged.

  35. Lucia says:

    When I started job hunting right after college (um, 13 years ago! ), I was not into makeup yet. So I never really wore any makeup during job interviews but I always made sure i looked professional, pleasant – hair neatly groomed and dressed appropriately. If you look good without makeup, great, but if you don’t, wearing a little foundation, powder or concealer to cover up blemishes and other flaws could help. I don’t think makeup is the key to giving a good first impression during job interviews. For me, what matters is that you look presentable, appropriately dressed and more importantly, well-prepared. ?

  36. sesame says:

    Well said. If I’m an interviewer, I’ll be quite turn off is someone turns up in a face thick with makeup. The overall package counts…

  37. nami says:

    hey you are glowing..i love the glow on your face..wats youe secret..plz share..i want to achieve this glow

  38. sesame says:

    Haha…you gotta read my other posts. I think it’s a combination of skincare and diet.

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