Picture or no picture

Should you include your photo in your CV? Here are some thoughts to guide you…

I often advise my clients regarding how best to design their CVs and cover letters for specific vacancies they wish to apply to. One of the most frequently asked questions is about the photo. Should I include a profile photo in my CV or not? 


While the answer to this question is partially dependent on the country your vacancy is based on (there are a few cultural differences in the DO’s and DONT’s across countries when it comes to CVs), my answer is almost always an 'It depends'. 


As a rule of thumb, the answer would actually be a 'No, do not include a photo’. 


Photos should not be a criteria in your selection process for a specific job profile (though there are exceptions, as I clarify further below) and, especially among expat and foreign populations, they are more likely to be a source of - conscious or unconscious - bias and discrimination. The fact is that, whether we like it or not, we are genetically designed to favour those in our group: that means those who look more like us, versus those who don't. 


Possibly even more importantly, be aware that ATS (Applicant Tracking System/Software) cannot process any type of image and will generally exclude all CVs that have a photo file in it. This means that, if you send in a CV with a photo that will be run through an ATS, most likely, no one has even looked at it yet, and you’re already out...  


So, when in doubt, don't include a photo. 


When should you include a photo then? 


1. Obviously, whenever the application process requires it. If you are asked to include a photo, do so. Not doing it might disqualify you due to ‘missing documents’. 


2. When the position you are applying for has an image (or age) component, whether this is explicitly stated in the vacancy or not. This could be a customer facing role, when your appearance might be a plus in acquiring new clients and increasing sales, for example, such as a shop attendant or even a bartender; or if you are applying to be a model or actor (in these latter cases, you will likely be asked for a portfolio and multiple photos though). 


I, for example, have also used a photo in my CV when applying to roles where I wanted to show I was a mature professional (for certain roles, this could be a negative element though).


If you do choose to include a photo, then make sure it is a good one. A poor quality or unprofessional looking photo will actually hinder rather than improve your chances of being selected. Make sure that your photo shows your head and shoulder areas clearly, with a background that is not noisy or catches more attention than your face, and where you are smiling a bit (not laughing out loud) :) 


There is no need for a professional photograph: you can ask a friend or simply use your selfie-cam for it, but no recycling from parties or holidays’ photos!!


In the end, when answering this question, use your best judgment and ask yourself: will my photo likely help me get the job or instead hurt my chances? And remember the rule of thumb…


You can always contact me for more advice: book a free Discovery Call with me.


[Originally published on 11 May 2023, in the newsletter Seeds for Growth & Joy]

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Natália Leal  |  Coach & Trainer

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