You’re all set to refresh your resume (or write a brand new one) as you kick off your job search. As you click around the web searching for a great new resume template, you start noticing that some of them have space for a photo of yourself right smack at the top of the page. Wait a second, you think, should I be including a picture on my resume?
The short answer, if you’re a U.S.-based job seeker, is no. And for many experts, it’s a resounding and emphatic no. “The first thing that comes to mind is a big red x and danger sign,” says Muse career coach Melody Godfred, founder of the resume service Write in Color. “That’s how seriously I would advocate against putting your photograph on your resume.”
6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Add a Photo to Your Resume
Need further explanation? As Muse career coach and leadership education professional Lauren Wethers says, “In most cases, there’s no good reason to put a photo on your resume, but there are lots of good reasons not to.”
Here are six:
1. It Could Mess Up the ATS
If you’ve applied to jobs online in the past decade, you probably know your resume is likely to go through an applicant tracking system (ATS), a program that scans resumes for keywords and other important information and organizes it in a system used by recruiters and hiring managers. And you might’ve heard that the software can get tripped up by images.
The “algorithms absolutely hate any complex formatting,” Godfred says, and anything from columns to, yes, a photo can render your resume unreadable. Not only do ATSs have trouble “reading” a photo, but the presence of images and other fancy formatting can also throw off how the system reads other, possibly crucial parts of your resume. “That’s the number one reason not to do it.”
2. It Takes Up Valuable Space
Your resume is meant to be a concise summary of your relevant experience and qualifications, ideally contained to one page (unless you’re years into your career and have a lot of very relevant experience). Adding a photo invariably means less room for everything else, including your work history and accomplishments, education, skills, awards, and other information—and the tradeoff simply isn’t worth it.
Plus, if you’re shrinking your photo down to a teeny tiny thumbnail to maximize space, Wethers says, that indecipherable image is probably doing more harm than good. Do you really want that recruiter to spend their time squinting to make out your face rather than reading about what an amazing candidate you are?
3. It Distracts From the Content of Your Resume
If you’ve heard the statistics about how long a recruiter spends doing an initial read of a resume—a 2018 eye-tracking study found it was an average of 7.4 seconds—you know that every second counts.
“A photo immediately grabs the eye and takes you away from words on the page,” Godfred says. Your goal should be to draw a recruiter’s eye (and later a hiring manager’s, too) as quickly as possible to information that demonstrates what a great candidate you are for this particular opportunity—and for the vast majority of jobs, your photo is not it.
“I know they say a picture [is worth] a thousand words but you don’t want those thousand words to get in the way of the ones you have on your resume,” Wethers says. “You don’t want anything to distract from putting your accomplishments front and center.”
4. It Makes You Look Out of Touch
When you’re applying to a job, you want to show that you’re knowledgeable and up-to-date on anything related to the role you’re vying for and on how to navigate the job search process. When it comes to including a photo on your resume, “Right off the bat it is so outside the norm of what is considered to be acceptable resume practices, it can very easily rub an employer the wrong way,” Godfred says.
So just as you should avoid using a resume objective, writing “references available upon request,” and making other outdated moves, you should skip the resume picture. Including one is “demonstrating that you don’t know what the norms are and what’s considered professional and what’s not,” Wethers says. And “it’s not impossible to think that they will take from one mistake that you might [make] other mistakes or that you don’t pay attention.” If you’re out of touch with modern job search practices, it might, fairly or not, cast doubt on your ability to keep up with industry standards and insights more closely related to the role you want to land.
5. It Can Trigger Discrimination
If the first thing someone sees on your resume is a photo of you, it could trigger biases, often unconscious, about who might be the best fit for this kind of job. “You want to avoid discrimination, intentional or otherwise,” Wethers says.
Though it’s illegal to discriminate in hiring and other employment decisions based on protected classes including race, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability, and genetic information, it still happens. In the case of ageism, for example, “While you may be able to adjust the narrative on a resume to eliminate dates or older history to show an employer what is most relevant and what makes you the best possible candidate regardless of how old you may be, when you include a picture it obliterates that and takes control of your narrative away from you,” Godfred says.
To be clear, the goal is not to hide your identity—you probably don’t want to work for an employer that would hesitate to hire you for discriminatory reasons anyway. It’s about “deciding what is the story you’re telling and being in control of that story,” Godfred says, and “not letting someone else’s judgments stand in the way of you being considered for an opportunity.”
Beyond illegal discrimination, you also don’t want people judging you—consciously or not—based your appearance and the split-second assumptions or associations they make. If they’re thinking, “Oh that person looks nice, oh that person looks dorky,” says Muse career coach Tara Goodfellow, owner of Athena Consultants, they’re not focusing squarely on the value you’d add to the team.
6. It Can Make Recruiters Fear the Appearance of Discrimination
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—the agency that enforces federal laws barring employment discrimination—recommends that employers avoid asking candidates for photos. “Requesting photos on resumes or in job applications is not wise because the photos could be used as evidence that the employer had knowledge of an applicant’s membership in a protected class, if an applicant or employee files a discrimination claim,” the EEOC said in a statement emailed to The Muse.
But even if a company didn’t ask for photos, receiving resumes with headshots could put hiring professionals in a sticky situation. The images’ existence on application materials could work against the organization in a potential discrimination claim. In some cases, concerns about the appearance of discrimination might be enough that a company pulls any resumes with pictures of candidates out of the running.
“We’ve heard firsthand from a lot of recruiters that won’t even review applicants that submit a photo,” Jon Shields, Marketing Manager at Jobscan, has told The Muse. “They just can’t make themselves more vulnerable than they already are to any possible claims of discrimination.”
When to Consider Adding a Photo Anyway
As with most rules, there are exceptions. Here are a few scenarios when you might consider including a picture:
- If you’re in a country where it’s expected: It’s not a best practice to include a photo on your resume in the U.S., but norms vary in different countries. If you’re applying for a job in a country where it’s customary to have a resume picture, Goodfellow says, such as Spain, Germany, or Italy, you can go ahead and add it in.
- If you’re in an industry or applying for a role where it’s the norm: “There are a few exceptions, like modeling and acting, where what you look like is quite pertinent to the job,” says Claudia Johnson, VP of Internal Recruiting at national staffing and recruitment firm Addison Group. (Even then, though, you might attach your headshot to your resume rather than including it within the document.) “Real estate also happens to be a profession where people tend to include their headshot in a resume.” As Goodfellow explains, if you’re in an industry where you should be including your photo in your application materials, you'd already be very well aware of that.
- If the directions require one: The EEOC recommends that employers don’t ask for photos, so ideally you won’t encounter this scenario. But it’s generally a good idea to follow specific directions given in a job description or application form, Godfred says.
- If you’re sending over your resume for another purpose: If you’re sending over your resume ahead of a speaking engagement, for example, rather than submitting it with an online application, Goodfellow says, you might consider adding your photo. However, you can always direct people to your personal website or LinkedIn profile instead.
Where You Can (and Should) Use a Professional Headshot Instead
In fact, your website and social media accounts—LinkedIn especially—are the perfect places to include a professional photo of yourself. “It’s...a way to establish your personal brand and evoke a feeling in the viewer depending on what kind of photo you post,” Godfred says. So you do want to be thoughtful about what that photo looks like. Here are a few tips:
- “Professional photo” doesn’t mean it has to be taken by a professional: It just means you have to look like a professional in it. You can have a friend or family member snap a shot with a smartphone.
- The photo should be just you: Since this is about you as a professional, you should be the only person in this photo. It shouldn’t include your family from that trip you took or your spouse on your wedding day, Goodfellow says.
- Don’t crop yourself out of a group photo: This isn’t your MySpace profile pic from 2004, so avoid cropping yourself awkwardly out of a photo from a night out with your friends or any other group picture.
- Keep your clothing solid: Godfred recommends a shirt without a pattern.
- Stand in front of a neutral background: It could be a white wall, Godfred says. Just make sure that it’s not too busy, Wethers says.
- Make sure the spot gets natural light: This is the most important tip, according to Godfred.
- Keep it to the shoulders up: This isn’t a full-body shot, just shoulders up, Wethers says. The point is just to see your face.
- Try making it black and white: This can immediately make your photo look more professional, Godfred says.