As a job seeker in 2023, you've probably come across resume designs with lots of graphics, blocks of color, and headshots. You want to stand out as a professional applicant, so you might find yourself thinking: Should I include a picture on my resume?
No, no, and no!
Most of the time, you should not include a picture on a resume used to apply for jobs in the US or Canada. In fact, there are several reasons why putting a picture on your resume is possibly one of the worst mistakes you can make. In the following guide, we will break down some of the things you need to know about this common mistake candidates make.
4 reasons you shouldn't put a picture on your resume
If you’re thinking about including a picture on your resume, you might want to think again. While some candidates believe that this adds character to their application, the move can actually work against you. Let’s take a look at four of the reasons you should avoid it.
1. An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) can't process a photo
Did you know that most employers use an automated software called an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to scan your resume? These systems extract information from your resume and determine whether you would be a good candidate for the position. The software uses keyword ranking to see how well you fit the core criteria of the role.
But here’s something that you may not realize. These systems are unable to read or process images. That means that you gain the grand total sum of zero when you put a picture on your resume. Worse still, if you choose to include a picture on your resume, it may result in your application being automatically discarded because the ATS decides that the resume is improperly formatted. Getting past the ATS is crucial for any job search. For that reason, you need to tailor your resume to suit it.
2. A photo is unprofessional
Having your image – even a professional headshot – on a resume is unprofessional and sends a bad message to employers. To illustrate this, you should remember that the purpose of a resume is to demonstrate to the employer why you’re a good fit for the job.
Unless you happen to be an actor or model, your appearance is irrelevant, and it can come off as a major turn-off for recruiters. By including a picture on your resume, you are telling the hiring manager that you think it matters. It sends the message that you don’t believe your achievements are enough and instead think that your looks should be considered.
Here is what Facebook recruiter Ambra Benjamin thinks:
“We just want to know about things that pertain to your work history. So please take your photo off your resume. If we want to see what you look like, recruiters can just stalk you on LinkedIn.”
There you have it from someone who recruits for Facebook. A picture on your resume serves no purpose. Many recruiters will see a photo or headshot and wonder why you have included it at all. Leave it off and stick to a clean, concise, and professional resume.
3. A photo can invite discrimination
Having a picture on your resume opens the doors for discrimination. You should never provide an unnecessary opportunity for an employer to discriminate against you for any reason. By including your image, you’re revealing information about your age, gender, and ethnicity that you may not otherwise share with them.
None of these factors are relevant to your job search. For legal reasons, some hiring managers toss out any resumes that include a photo simply to avoid being accused of discriminatory hiring. So, when you’re deciding whether to include a picture on your resume, it’s safer to avoid it altogether – saving you and the hiring manager a headache.
4. It’s a waste of space, literally
Resume real estate is highly valuable. When you’re writing an application, you have an array of things to include: your summary, work experience, education, and skills. If you’ve had a successful career so far, that may be a lot to squeeze onto one or two pages. Chances are, you will have to edit the content of your resume to make sure it fits.
With that in mind, including a picture on your resume is a waste of that space. Even if the headshot is small and sits neatly at the side of your document, you will find that it changes the template of the resume, pushing sections closer together. That means you will have less space to play with and will have to further cut back on the content of your document. If you want to make the most of your space, leave the picture out entirely.
Is it ever okay to include a picture on my resume?
We’ve covered the main reasons you should not include a picture on your resume. However, there is always an exception to every rule. Let’s dive deeper into that.
The only exception for including a photo on your resume in the USA is if you're applying for a job in which your appearance is central to the role. Broadcast journalists, actors, and models may all be asked to provide a photo as part of their application. These are jobs in which a person’s physical appearance is central to the role.
Tips for including your picture on resume
Should you decide that your resume needs a picture – if, for example, you are a model – there are still rules to which you should stick. Yes, there is a right and an oh-so-wrong way to include a picture on your resume. Let’s take a look at a few expert tips below:
Use a plain background
Cropping a picture from a night out is a huge mistake. When you include a photo on your resume, it needs to be professional. If the hiring manager can see a club in the background of the image, it’s going to set off alarm bells in their mind. Don’t make that mistake. Instead, make sure that you have a plain, block-colored backdrop for the image.
Make it a headshot
When you include a picture on your resume, you need to make sure that it is a headshot. Full-length photos are simply not appropriate for an application. As a general rule, your photo should include your face and a small portion of your shoulders. Any more than that is too much. Think of this like you would a passport photograph, for example.
Keep it professional
Your photo needs to be professional if you want to land an interview. When it comes to your expression, a smile is preferable. However, you need to give off the right attitude. Hiring managers can tell a lot from a person’s facial expression. Keep yours open and approachable when you take a photo that you plan to use on your resume.
A picture on your resume isn’t the ticket to landing a job
While a resume headshot may be the norm in other parts of the world, there is usually no need for a picture on your resume in the United States. In fact, adding a photo to your resume can cost you the job in many instances. However, as we have covered, there are a few instances in which you might find that a picture is needed for your application.
Understanding the changes you can make to upgrade your resume is the first step toward your success. Make sure your application is hitting the mark, by using our free resume review tool.
Charlotte Grainger, Editor & Content Writer, Charlotte Grainger, Editor & Content Writer
Charlotte Grainger is a freelance writer living and working in Sheffield, UK. She has a passion for career development and loves sharing tips and advice. Follow her on Twitter