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Q: Does my photo belong on my resume?

I’ve been asked several times recently whether it’s appropriate in 2021 to include your photo on your resume.

Short answer: No. Not in the United States, anyway. It is not our custom here. A resume is a specific type of document that, with very few exceptions, includes only career-related information, and no photos.

Here’s the long answer:

To comply with labor laws, employers must demonstrate that their hiring practices are not discriminatory. Recruiters are trained to consider candidates only on their merits and not based on appearance or any other characteristic protected by law. The best recruiters will look for a match between the candidate’s skills and experience and the requirements listed in the job posting. If your photo is on your resume, this could trigger bias and discrimination for even the savviest recruiter. And the recruiter might not even realize they’re doing it.

For example, if your photo suggests that you are, well, older, the recruiter might subconsciously think, this one will want a higher salary than the younger-looking one. If it was customary to have photos on resumes, you could see a scenario where the hiring manager says, I think that younger men do best in this role (which is discriminatory), and the recruiter feeling pressured to screen out all the resumes with pictures of workers who appear to be older than young. Sure, one can infer age based on years of work experience, but that’s not the same as a digital image providing a visual clue. People react differently to photos than to words.

A photo can reveal other protected characteristics besides age. Race and religion come immediately to mind. But your photo might show aspects of your appearance that should have no bearing on whether you get interviewed. What are you wearing? How is your hair styled? Do you have tattoos or piercings? Facial hair? Dramatic makeup? Are you carrying around some extra weight? Do you have visible, disfiguring scars?

People are naturally judgmental. We are wired to categorize each other into groups. And a recruiter’s whole job is to identify people who would fit in well with their group. It is human nature to try and infer information about each other based on visual clues. Recruiters and hiring managers may have subtle, inherent personal biases based on stereotypes and preferences that cause them to put your resume on the “no” pile based on some random facet of your appearance. Absent a photo, the recruiter has to make inferences based solely on how you represent yourself in writing.

But, you say, anyone can go to my LinkedIn page or even Google my name and see my photo there. Yep. And many employers will look you up, if only to make sure there are no obvious skeletons or show-stoppers before proceeding. (Pro tip: Google yourself before you apply for any job and make sure the photos you see are ones you wouldn’t mind showing your grandmother.) And yes, at that point, they will see a photo of you. If they’re that determined to get a visual, there’s no reason you should use your valuable resume real estate on an image of your likeness. Instead, use that space on the page to build the compelling case for why you’re qualified for the job.

But isn’t LinkedIn kind of a visual resume?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/megmccormick/

Yes, basically. But it’s more than just a resume – it’s a social networking site. For now, the resume is still the primary professional document that is the first thing an employer sees. It’s better not to distract the screener from their task of reading the words on the page.

Uh oh; I can see your wheels turning. You’re thinking, Can I use that bias thing to my advantage? After all, everyone tells me how attractive and good-looking I am. Will that increase my chances of being selected for an interview?

No matter how cute (or crafty) you are, your photo distracts the reader’s focus away from the “meat” of your resume, and you don’t want that. After all, if you get hired for your looks and not because you’re qualified for the job, you probably aren’t going to last long in that job. They’ll figure you out eventually. Plus, the recruiter and hiring manager are trained professionals. They’ll know you’re trying to rely on your looks instead of your qualifications.

Every rule has an exception, and there’s a narrow one here: If you’re applying for a job where your appearance is critical to your ability to fit the job, then include it. Modeling, acting, some performing arts. Know what’s customary in your target industry. Your appearance matters if the job is modeling swimsuits. It absolutely does not matter if you’re applying to be a staff accountant.

Last thought: In putting a photo on your resume, you rob yourself of the opportunity to make a great first impression in-person. (Or, on a video interview.)

If the recruiter or hiring manager has already seen your picture, they may have drawn uninformed conclusions about you. Don’t give them that advantage. Let the recruiter select you because your resume articulated the compelling case for why you’re a perfect fit for their job, and be delighted at how engaging and personable you are in real life. Keep your photos (all professional, of course) on the internet, but leave them off your resume. 

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