AMERICAN fashion label Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) may be on the hunt for eye candy to man its stores, but for most firms here, it seems that looks are not everything.

Recruitment experts said job-seekers are seldom hired based solely on their physical appearance.

Even when companies do factor in beauty, they will avoid saying so explicitly in their advertisements, preferring to use terms like 'pleasant' and 'energetic'.

The firm has a history of hiring good-looking front-liners to fit its preppy all-American image and to drive sales. In March, its spokesman reportedly promised the same for its store here.

This policy has attracted controversy abroad, with some accusing A&F of discrimination.

In 2009, an employee with a prosthetic arm won an £8,000 payout for unlawful harassment after she was forced to work in the stockroom at a London branch.

Human resources experts told The Straits Times that while it is rare for firms to hire based on looks, they may implicitly be required for front-line sales jobs - especially in industries such as retail.

The purpose is usually to project a certain brand image, said Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services for recruitment firm The GMP Group.

When asked if such requirements hint at discrimination, he said it would depend on the position of the company:

'They must ensure such hiring requirements are clearly explained and justified. However, if they have a diverse group of staff in various positions, including back-end positions, they may not be considered discriminatory.'

Mr Edmund Seng, managing partner of human resources consultancy HRM3 Asia, feels it boils down to the job scope.

'If the job requires it, say, for models or air stewardesses, where looks matter, then I wouldn't call it discriminatory. But if it's for a job where the employee does not have any public exposure, then it would be considered discrimination.'

Employers told The Straits Times that they do not deliberately seek out staff blessed with good looks but rather those who are able to represent their brands and connect with their clientele.

'Our products are generally very bright and sporty, so this group of people will naturally be attracted to our products and brand,' said Mr Chua Shenzi, director of local fashion chain NewUrbanMale, which has a reputation for hiring young, attractive sales staff.

Mr James Ong, director of local frozen yogurt chain Frolick, said it is a 'coincidence' that his front-line staff - made up of women aged between 17 and 22 - are generally young and pretty.

'We do not state any requirements that our applicants have to be young or pretty. It just happens that the pool of interested applicants falls into a certain category of young people,' he said. But he added that the company does try to hire younger people to fit its brand.

Kate Spade retail manager Joanne Tay said the high-end fashion label values experience above good looks. It has about 20 staff manning its two outlets here.

'In retail, it does help if you are pleasant-looking, but work experience and the way you carry yourself are more important,' she said.

Human resources experts said companies that hire based on physical attributes may have trouble recruiting staff, especially in an already tight labour market.

The policy is also not realistic, said The GMP Group's Mr Goh.

'You might not get the people you need who have the relevant experience and skill set, or may experience high turnover for not being able to keep such talent,' he said.

Mr Stanley Kwok, owner of Island Creamery, feels that firms should not hire based on looks even though his staff are also known to be easy on the eye.

He said attractiveness can carry one only so far: 'The image of a company cannot be sustained by looks alone. The most important thing is to give good service. You can't be good-looking and have an attitude - customers won't appreciate that.'