Should I include a photo in my resume or not?
The short answer is “not unless they ask for it”. But there’s 1 special case where I advocate putting your photo in.
The longer and more well-thought out answer is complicated and based on qualitative variables from my own gut feel, so heads up that what I say is my own opinion and not the law of the land.
Long answer starts with, this is one of the trickiest questions I’ll ever answer, because there is no one correct, objective answer to whether or not people should include photos on a resume.
Mainly because everything is dependent on a million externalities, such as the cognitive psychology behind seeing a photo of someone before professionally judging them, the extraneous circumstances that your resume will be seen in, the people who will see your resume, the moods of those same people prior and during them seeing your resume, and of course, the content of your resume.
And that’s just the stuff I remember while I’m writing this post.
If we went through how every factor in the whole wide world affected the photo in a resume debate, it would take me years to write this blog post. Researching the thousands of studies involved, collating and understanding the findings, then writing it into a 4,000 word article you’d read once and then promptly forget because information overload.
So instead of going down that route, how I’ll go through today’s question is to give my unfiltered (and extremely biased) opinion from my personal experiences with resumes.
Namely, of both turning in my resume over 100 times in my effort to sharpen it, of editing over 200++ resumes (resulting in all of them being called for an interview at least), and of reading all those articles we see floating around our Facebook feeds.
Reminder that I’m not a subject matter expert; I don’t have a doctorate in psychology, I don’t even study psychology, I just read tons of articles coming from people who claim to be subject matter experts and contextualize them with my own experiences of interning and job hunting here in the Philippines as a 22 year old.
Ok, so my main opinion on putting a photo in your resume is
Never put your photo in your resume…
… unless you’re absolutely sure that you’re an attractive looking person with no other choice, since your resume is really weak without your photo.
Let’s backtrack a bit to my personal reasons.
I never have and never will put a photo of me on my resume because I’m aware of how I look. And of how lucky I am that my name is gender-ambiguous.
(My dad purposely gave me an ambiguous name back in 1995 because he knew it was infinitely harder to be a girl then. He wasn’t sure what life would be like today, but it never hurts to be cautious. He was absolutely right and if I ever have a daughter, she too is getting a gender-ambiguous name.)
I get the hidden advantages of people thinking I’m a boy until they actually meet or speak with me, thus preventing any picture stereotyping.
Unless the requirements explicitly state that I have to put a photo of myself in with the attachments, no one from the recruiters’ side will ever know what I look like until the interview stage.
(Except if they did online research in advance. Or clicked my LinkedIn URL.)
Back to answering the question.
The only times I ever advocate people to put their photo in their resume is when…
- We need to fill the empty white space of their 1 page resume.
- We’re banking more on their toga photo and being a graduate of a prestigious school than we are on their actual resume content.
- They’re extremely attractive and we think that’ll be a big plus point with the recruiters since it’s a bias in their favor. This only applies to boys.
These are not flattering answers.
All of them point to the person’s past accomplishments and work at not being enough for whatever it is they’re going for. We need to rely on external factors that’ll sway things in their favor to get ahead. Sad.
Putting a photo in your 1 pager is a huge waste of space and an equally huge gamble in my opinion.
If I’m good at squeezing out every bit of resume value from your life, or better yet if my consultee is already good, then we don’t want to sway the odds with a photo of their face.
Let the recruiter think what they want of how the resume owner looks like. It won’t matter after they actually meet face to face and see the difference between their idea and the reality.
I’ve had a lot of interviewers call me up on the phone and pause in surprise after being greeted by my incredibly high-pitched voice. I’ve been to interviews where they looked back and forth between me and my resume, before remarking “I didn’t expect Justine to be a girl.”
I consistently believe that if people knew I was a girl before calling me in, I would have been called back less often under the pretense of “she’s too bossy” or “this is fake” or some other stupid reason relating to my being a girl.
Other facts to look at.
A photo takes up about 4 inches of prime resume space. At a minimum. You could be writing 2 more pieces of co-curricular experience there. Or linking them to your portfolio and personal info site that’ll ultimately benefit your job search more. Anything but the photo.
And if your photo isn’t appropriate for the job at hand, that automatically knocks you out of the search too. No wacky shots seems like a fact, but also no uncomfortable smile shots because that too makes the viewer uncomfortable. Try to look as natural and happy or neutral as possible. My opinion only: happy for girls, neutral for boys.
If you place it anywhere but the normal place, aka the upper right hand corner, it might make you stand out. Good or bad, depends on your photo and placement.
The recruiter is also wasting time precious judging seconds, by focusing on your face rather than your accomplishments. What if you have a crooked nose or your face is a little too symmetrical? They might fixate on that rather than you being president of a 300 person org as a junior.
Or worse, they might pass around your resume so everyone looks at your photo and not your experience. We never know. We don’t know their screening process, plus every company is different. Some really follow the privacy policies and laws of the PH; some don’t even know those policies and laws exist.
In psych, there’s a theory that seeing a photo of someone preempts you to stereotype them. People naturally fall into patterns of discrimination, bias and favoritism, and it’s not always their fault. We all discriminate unconsciously.
Fact is humans are visual beings and we instinctively make snap judgments about people based on what they look like. We prejudice subconsciously, without intending to do so.
But in the job hunt, where individuals need to stand out from the crowds using their own accomplishments and abilities, why risk being judged based on one’s looks? Like Filipinos are biased to fair-skinned people. The whole twitter debate on Bagani’s casting reminded me of that reality. You could be better in every way, but if you’re dark-skinned, they might call the fair one first.
Again, we never know.
What we do know is, we need to tip the scales in our favor all the time.
So, I suggest instead of a photo, put in your LinkedIn URL as a hyperlink in your PDF and let them click on it and see your face. After they’ve decided they want to learn more about you because your resume is the clear standout in the pile.
But if you’re really struggling to fill a page, go on and plug your face in. Better to fill up some of that blank space with your face, than to seem like you did nothing the last few years.
To sum it up, here’s a cheat sheet I made to remind you of what I talked about:
If you want a hi-res PDF copy to keep as a reminder, download it here.
In case you have no idea where you are, welcome to The Border Collective, where any question you’ve got on internships, resumes, or careers in the PH can and will be answered. I’m Justine, founder and writer of all things here.
If there’s something you want to ask but never knew where to send them to, drop them in The Border Collective’s Google Form or ask.fm. Being a kid myself, I’ve probably gone through the same situations. And at the very least, I can tell you what NOT to do.
Resumes is a sub-category of Resource where I share things I’ve learned over the course of fixing my own and a lot of people’s resumes, so that you guys don’t have to trial and error this stuff like I did.
I know it’s incredibly hard to force your whole life to fit neatly on paper and worse, to make it attractive to your dream companies. Through my writings, I hope you learn at least 1 thing that makes your life easier.
This is my way of giving back because I wish that when I was a freshman, a resource like TBC existed to help guide me to not wasting my time on things that don’t work.
For content partnerships, plugs, or business deals, like our features on Woman Up 2017 or the APEX Challenge, you can email email@example.com with your proposal and a summary of why that’s relevant for TBC’s audience. Don’t worry, we don’t charge money if you’re student-run, just social media x-deals.
And if you want to know more about me, or about TBC, click here.
Hope you read something useful, til the next time I write something, bye!
Join TBC’s private email list to know the best resources for
- Figuring out what your dream job is
- Making the right connections without coming off as a user, an idiot, or a soulless drone
- Acing every interview, getting an interview anywhere, & then some
- Reading and applying Western business and management books here in S.E. Asia
- Knowing which podcasts are worth your time, and which are just filled with fluff
- And much more
Most of my advice is very different from other career “experts”, since I actually tried and tested it myself. And because, you know, I’m a Chinese girl in the Philippines who tried out for almost every multinational here, while building contacts up in the startup world.
So, expect it to be very contextualized for Asians, women, and // or millennials // Gen Z-ers.
PS, do not sign up if you’re lazy, a whiner, or an entitled brat. There’s nothing useful in here for you.