I would estimate that one in every 20 CVs I review features a photo of the subject. These CVs are often from new or recent graduates, and picture them wearing a full mortar board and gown. I can see the logic – after all nothing says ‘graduate’ like the iconic mortar board. Also, it may be one of the few photos possessed that’s not a selfie, a group shot, or snapped after happy hour at the student union.
Even professionals can fall prey to the temptation of including a photo on their CV. If their company has splashed out on some corporate headshots, or they’ve been snapped looking smart at a wedding, it can seem like a logical and genius idea to use the flattering image in a professional context, but here’s why they shouldn’t.
In the UK, photos are not a standard CV feature, so I wouldn’t recommend including a photo unless it has been specifically requested, or you work in an industry where photos are the norm, such as modelling or television. If you’re seeking a role in front of the camera, then include a photo, otherwise leave it off.
Featuring a photo as part of your presentation can make recruiters uneasy, opening up concerns about age, race, disability, or gender discrimination, to name but a few. It could be seen to compromise the fair and non-discriminatory nature of the recruitment process.
It could also distract the recruiter from the skills and achievements showcased on your CV, which present your case for employment. In this professional context, it’s better to be judged on your experience than your face.
It may even cause a negative first impression, if the reader makes a snap judgement that you must be vain or self-absorbed.
It’s a slightly contrary topic, because a photo is a key requirement for your LinkedIn profile, which is arguably one of the first places recruiters will go to research you. However, I’d say it’s best to follow best practice in this case, and leave a photo off your CV, whilst making sure an engaging and professional photo is a key feature of your LinkedIn presence and other social media profiles.
Here’s a cautionary photo-related tale, warning of the perils of being remembered for the wrong reasons.
Over the course of my career, I have seen thousands of CVs; long ones, short ones, intentionally funny ones, unintentionally funny ones, ones that have made me sit up and take notice, and ones that have made me slump in my seat and sigh. Yet one CV sticks in my mind as the weirdest one I ever saw.
The candidate in question was a young and ambitious graduate (as I was saying!) seeking an entry-level role to get her career off the ground. Nothing new there. But what really stood out was the photo she included on her CV. The photo portrayed the individual in full riding regalia including hat, jodhpurs, boots, and crop (though my memory and vivid imagination might have embellished that last bit). She had posed for the camera in a very formal dining room, positioned against a cabinet of glassware.
The choice of photo was just so bizarre. The job she was applying for did not require this dress code; it was based in an office rather than an equestrian venue. I found it incomprehensible, and it raised so many more questions than it answered.
Why would this individual send such a photo?
What message was she trying to portray?
Was I missing something?
In hindsight, I imagine she was trying to portray herself as someone dedicated to her sport, with all the values that keen sportsmen and women hold dear, and which translate well into a working environment. She looked keen, clean and presentable, she was smartly dressed (even if it was a peculiar choice given the scenario), and had obviously spent some time trying to get her photo just right. But it just didn’t work. It was confusing.
Years later, it’s the photo that sticks in my mind, not the individual’s name or skillsets. I have often wondered what happened to this applicant, but I am sure she has gone on to have a very successful career, perhaps in show jumping.
To recap, do splash out on some professional headshots. You’ll be needing those for LinkedIn and your other online profiles. Don’t, however, be tempted to include your avatar on your CV.