A few words on the use of photos in general
My basic opinion in this regard is that the influence of your headshot on the success of a job application plays a relatively small role in most cases. Other factors (in particular the presentation of your previous achievements) are much more decisive, so you should not worry too much about this issue. However, this only stays true as long as you do not use an inappropriate image. I’ll explain how to avoid this in more detail further below.
Of course, I’m aware that using a portrait photo in your CV / résumé is not common practice in all countries. As a globally active coach, I am therefore occasionally asked whether such a photo should be included, even if it is not typical in my client’s own country. Here is my answer:
Good reasons to include a headshot
If you can’t think of a good reason why including a photo in your CV / résumé would actually have a detrimental effect on your chances in your particular situation, then it’s best to include one. The possible fact that many others may not do so, is not a sufficient counterargument. After all, you can also be a bit innovative, right?
There are two very good reasons for including a headshot. First of all, the modern presentation of professional profiles is shaped by the global social network LinkedIn in many ways. Here, the use of a profile photo is common all over the world and profiles without a photo tend to make a bad impression. In addition, the well-known psychological principle applies: A picture is worth 1,000 words. A good headshot can therefore help you make a professional and nice impression on the reader right from the beginning.
Possible reasons against it
Cultural reasons, for example, may suggest that you prefer not to include a photo. In this context, however, the culture of the country where the hiring company or its specific branch is located is relevant and not necessarily the one of the region you are from. When in doubt, simply inquire with the company beforehand what their take on the use of headshots is.
Your age can also be one of the cons. If you know that the hiring managers are likely to consider you to be a bit too young or too old, leave it out. Read my article “Silence is golden: Improve your CV / résumé by removing damaging information” to learn more about it.
Another possible counterargument is the quality of the image. If you don’t have a good photo on hand (because you are in a hurry, for example), it may be best left out altogether. Otherwise, you run the risk of destroying the positive appearance of your other information simply by using an unprofessional image. In this case, your picture may convey more than 1,000 negative words.
Tips for the perfect headshot
In general, I think your convincing CV / résumé should also feature an appropriate photo. This livens up your otherwise very text-heavy document and gives it a friendly feel. You don’t need to look like a model for it. It’s simply a matter of conveying a professional impression.
To reach this goal, you should have your headshot taken by a professional photographer. Such a specialist knows what the result should look like and does not only possess the appropriate equipment but also the necessary skills. Good photographers also manage to portray camera-shy people in an attractive way. Dress as you would for a job interview in your industry.
This small investment makes sense, especially since you need a nice photo of yourself in other situations as well. This applies to the already mentioned social network LinkedIn, for example, which can be a great aid in your job search and applications.
What to avoid
Since the introduction of biometric passport photos with their grim facial expressions, it is no longer a good idea to use a simple passport photo as a headshot for your CV / résumé. In my opinion, this has actually increased the average quality of photos used there and in similar situations.
Most private “snapshots”, in turn, do not convey the necessary professionalism, however “authentic”, “human”, “nice”, or “funny” they may appear from a personal point of view.
And don’t use scanned pictures as they don’t have the necessary technical quality in most cases.
A piece of advice for the ladies …
Dear ladies, once you are at the photographer’s, you are welcome to have as many other pictures of yourself taken as you want. But please make sure that your photo shoot also produces a few pictures suitable for job applications. For them, you should be dressed discreetly and professionally and avoid any “creativity”, in particular when it comes to posture. And when placing your picture in your CV / résumé, make sure it’s not too big (see the last section).
… and one for the men
Gentlemen, even if you dislike visiting a photographer and would rather invest the money into something real: Yes, it is actually necessary for the creation of an all-around professional application portfolio. And no, the funny picture that your buddy took of you with his cell phone on Father’s Day is really not appropriate. 😉
Place and size
I recommend placing your headshot in the upper right corner of the first page of your CV / résumé in approximately the size of a passport photo (a bit larger is still acceptable). This way, you still have enough space at the top to include your contact details, your current “overall” job title (as a header for the entire document), and the very important summary of the most convincing facts about your experience.