Why a photo on your CV may not be the best idea

By Ruby A. Celine

A picture speaks a thousand words. Yet, taking the perfect photo that captures it all within a frame isn’t always as quick and simple as a snap, especially if it’s intended for a CV or job application. How can we adequately portray an image or identity through a static portrait? Should we go with smart-casual, or suit-up professional?

Frankly, it shouldn’t matter. If there’s one career advice we should all question, it would be to include a photo on our CV. It may seem like a norm, and surely it’s with good intentions, but perhaps we could be revealing more about ourselves than necessary. Besides, isn’t it the hard facts of our achievements and professional credentials that truly matter?

Personal preference aside, there are a few reasons a photo on a CV isn’t always the best idea.

Subjective interpretation

Being visual creatures, we’re naturally drawn to pictures and graphics over plain text. What better way to beckon for attention than to include a striking element. A pop of colour. A photo.

In a way, having a photo on our CV gives us a sense of ownership – but every photo tells a story, and it is important that we recognise that this is often subjective. The interpretation of what we put on our CV is from the point of view of the beholder who, in this case, is our prospective employer. What’s more, with the WWW providing free access to our online profiles, we really have no control over their perception of us right from the get-go.

We can never assume that the person on the other end is going to see what we see. What we may consider a harmless visual attraction may come across as totally inappropriate, maybe even tacky and distracting. Why take that chance?

Unneeded distraction

Speaking of distractions, most recruiters or hiring professionals are oftentimes snowed under with stacks of job applications that only a few seconds is spent scanning through each CV. Include a photo and we inevitably risk diverting their attention away from all the pertinent stuff during this small window. Pictures first, text later. It’s like a force of nature – we all do it! Sadly on a CV, visuals (or anything irrelevant for that matter) will only dilute the key messages.

Personality, pluck and prowess – let’s face it, there’s so much to our delightful self that we couldn’t possibly convey through a mere mugshot anyway. Best let our track record do the initial narrating and be justly evaluated based on all the remarkable things that we can bring into a job.

Think about areas worth highlighting; feats that merit a shortlist or at the very least, a phone call. These should be the driving factors that determine our faith – not our hairstyle, facial features or overall visual impression given from a photo.

The idea is to engage the beholder with our skills and get them tingling with excitement about us before they get to see us.

Misrepresentation

As we know, photos aren’t always the most accurate representation of reality. Quite effortlessly, they can be edited, enhanced and made alluring with the tinkering of modern day tools and applications.

Seeing how job hunting can be a wearying process, we are constantly finding new ways to stand out. Most of us who have been through it would have come to realise that we live in an increasingly tough world.

Frantically tracking down the right opportunity for a move is one thing. The ultimate challenge is navigating and trying to penetrate an overcrowded market of competition – with everyone vying for the same opportunities – coupled with the terrifying prospect of unemployment. It’s no wonder we’re in a tizzy when job-seeking.

We often try hard to jazz up our profile. We want to get it right so bad to get noticed. We seek fresh angles to string our story, and make every effort to craft a personal brand that most accurately captures our identity and professional trajectory – not to mention the near limitless options of fancy fonts and free template styles we have at our disposal.

Understandably so, it’s important that we make a good impression, and our CV is our first shot at that. But could we be trying a little too hard?

Too much information?

This is a crucial one.

Photos reveal a lot about us; details we may not typically be comfortable sharing like our age, gender, nationality and physical characteristics. Unless you’re a model, presenter or performer of some sort, these factors shouldn’t affect your chance at scoring an interview. Sounds like common sense, right? Yet, we come across corporate job ads that specify a headshot as a requirement. If anything, this should come after the qualification round or pre-screen.

While some employers may flat out disregard applications without a photo, there are countries where labour and anti-discrimination laws restrict the request for personal information, photos included. In some cases, employers would ignore CVs with photos to avoid the any possible accusation of discrimination later in the process.

There isn’t a clear-cut no-photo rule around this in every country but truth be told, we are instinctively judgemental beings, and we’re governed by prejudices and penchants. Conscious or subconscious, we can’t help but form biases, and these may play out during the early stages of screening and shortlisting. A photo essentially paves the way for judgement.

Closing thoughts

Indeed, some companies may have a photo policy as part of their application process, perhaps it’s a service or customer-facing role – by all means, but keep it professional (selfies are a BIG no no! Obvious but not uncommon). Otherwise, the risks of including a photo on a CV far outweigh the advantages.

If we want to be taken seriously and invited through the door, a CV can be an effective reference piece to make it happen – so long as every element we include is in its place for the right purpose. We get to set the stage for what’s to come (how exciting is that!), and this will determine whether we stand out or pale against others in the pile.

So, if a photo isn’t relevant to the job we are applying for, it shouldn’t show up on our CV – irrespective of how incredibly photogenic or irresistible we may think we are. There are other creative techniques we could explore to make better use of the space.

A general rule is to strip it down to what’s truly important. No frills. No fluff. And let’s save superfluity for our diary. Simple, factual and relevant is the way to go.

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