Should My Executive Resume Include a Photo?
Global Practices Regarding Resume Photos
As a general rule, it is not customary in the U.S. to include photos on resumes at any level from entry to executive, except for very specific industries and position types. By far the majority of career experts and human resources professionals advise against it except in very limited circumstances. This practice is also applies to the UK, Ireland, and Canada.
However, in places such as Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Far East, and some Latin and South American countries, the practice is quite common and in some cases mandatory.
When It Is Appropriate in the U.S. to Include a Photo on a Resume
There are some industries where personal appearance is a legitimate qualification. Obvious ones that come to mind are modeling, bartending, and acting. It might even make sense for some sales, food service, or public relations roles, but justification can be tricky on these.
Other than these potential exceptions and perhaps a few others, I would advise against adding your photo to any resume that is to be used within the U.S., including executive resumes.
Certainly promoting an attractive and approachable appearance may be a real asset for service or public-facing positions such as sales executive, receptionist, financial advisor, PR/corporate spokesperson, public relations representative, or recruiter. But even In these instances, it can still be risky to include your photo on your resume.
A good workaround can be to include your LinkedIn custom URL in your resume’s contact information so that the reader can easily and quickly access an attractive head shot. (You do have a custom LinkedIn URL and a good head shot on your profile, don’t you?) You might also maintain a “photo-included” version of your resume specifically for networking purposes, or have a business card that includes a photo.
Potential Ramifications of Including a Photo on Your Executive Resume
First and foremost, the photo will most likely be ignored and discarded (deleted from your resume file). This is official HR policy in many companies, and perhaps should be so in all companies, based on U.S. anti-discrimination legislation.
At worst, your entire resume may be discarded as part of a general corporate policy that resumes including possibly discrimination-inducing information such as personal photo, age, marital status, race, religion, etc. are automatically discarded.
The two major reasons for this are government regulation and potential employer liability. It is illegal to take into account factors such as gender, religion, age, race, national origin, sexual orientation, or disability status when interviewing and hiring decisions are made. To avoid potential government scrutiny or lawsuits, your potential next employer strongly prefers NOT to know whether you are a member of one of these protected classes before deciding whether to interview. This is even more emphatically the case if you are wanting to be considered for a state, federal, or municipal government executive job.
Do note that it is entirely appropriate to include a professional head shot on your LinkedIn profile and other social media. In these venues, people expect to see an image of you, and in fact may be turned off or suspicious if your profile does not include one, while the opposite is true with your executive resume where a photo in most cases adds little value and can open the door to bias.
Cost/Benefit Analysis of a Photo on Your Executive Resume
A key question to consider is whether a photo will make you stand out in a positive or negative way. Even in those cases where the picture (or the whole executive resume) is not immediately discarded, consider the possible outcomes. Notice that only one out of the five possibilities listed is favorable.
A reviewer or hiring executive at any point as the resume is passed along may be:
Wowed by your personal appearance and eager to get you in for an interview.
Unimpressed or for one reason or another does not like your appearance, and in a borderline case, this is enough to make him or her discard the resume.
Driven to discriminate based on personal or organizational prejudices regarding gender, ethnicity, religion, physical condition, or age.
Repelled due to their personal preferences: too thin, too fat, out of shape, different fashion sense, not good-looking enough.
Threatened based on their insecurities because you are too “buff,” muscular, or attractive (a threat to their self esteem).
You can see that odds are that the photo of yourself that you like so much is going to hurt rather than help you.
Robert Half of Australia puts it this way:
“For any candidate asking themselves, ‘Should I put my photo on my resume?"‘ there are two critical factors to consider:
It can be used to discriminate.”
While it is true that more than likely at some point a recruiter or hiring executive is going to view your social media profile(s) or Google you and find photos of you, at least you have avoided potential negative reactions from the first moment someone receives your resume. And you have made the hiring authority comfortable in that the document they have in their files regarding your candidacy does not contain material that leaves them wide open for claims of discrimination.
An additional bonus is that you have not wasted valuable space better used to communicate your qualifications while avoiding the reader spending a substantial portion of that famous “6-second review” examining your photo. (A recent Ladders study upped that figure to a whopping 7.4 seconds!)
Do’s and Don’t Do’s If You Decide to Include a Photo on Your Executive Resume
If you should determine that including a photo is appropriate in your situation,
Make sure that it is a professionally taken head shot, front-facing.
Place it at the top right or top left of the first page.
Keep it relatively small - approximately passport photo size.
Match the photo to the culture of the company to which you are applying if practical (more formal versus business casual dress, for instance). This of course requires multiple versions of your resume file.
Use the same or a very similar photo on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other professional social media or websites, to support a consistent personal brand.
Use your Smartphone selfie.
Make it distracting with wild hairstyles, outlandish fashion, or heavy makeup.
In general, unless you are an actor or a model or in some other profession where appearance is a legitimate qualification, the safest thing to do is leave out the photo. Aside to my executive readers: I don’t know too many bartending or modeling roles that would be considered executive-level, anyway.
Finally, in deciding whether to include a photo on your executive resume, consider this comment made by a hiring authority on an employment law resource center’s message board, where the issue was under discussion:
“Fortunately, very few people are foolish enough to include their pictures on their resume, although when one pops up, it always makes me wonder what the candidate is ‘up to’ (same goes if they include personal data such as age, marital status, religion, etc.).
I don’t know if I’m supposed to be bowled over by their good looks, winning smile, or the fact that they happen to be Caucasian or whatever. Interestingly, I’ve never seen a photo on a resume from a female candidate – only males and almost always white males.
In truth, I don’t think I’ve ever put a resume with a photo included into the ‘let’s interview’ pile.”