A CV with, or without a photo? Does the first look decide our career?

published: 07.07.2022

A first impression is made once. It does not necessarily determine our success or failure, but it can significantly influence it. On the job market, this first impression is our CV, and its appearance in the post-pandemic reality, is even more important than before. Why? In recruitment processes, face-to-face meetings are becoming rare, the image on Teams or Zoom does not always reflect our professional image, either. The photo, especially for recruiters from external companies, is sometimes, the only image of the candidate in the process.

Does this mean that a photo in a CV is a must? No – because companies are increasingly moving away from this, not wanting to ‘judge a book by its cover’, but rather, by its content – i.e. competences. In this way, they avoid the usually unconscious, psychological, cognitive distortions: the halo effect, favouritism, or discrediting, due to appearance. Sometimes, they go even further: they make candidates anonymous  in the process, by concealing their gender or race. This applies mainly to large multinational companies, who   incorporate this approach into their standards.

Can a photo then, help or hurt a candidate? Of course! People are human – no matter how hard they try to be objective. Clothing, a smile, the quality of the photo – can all affect whether a CV gets attention… and what kind of attention. Two strong trends are taking shape in the job market. Corporate and H2H (human to human, individualised).

Standards and procedures

In the first trend, especially in large international corporations, great importance is attached to objectivity, measurability, and recruitment, according to standardised criteria. There are clearly defined procedures, check boxes, etc. The attention of recruiters and hiring managers is focused on observable and definable hard and soft competencies, and on the rules applicable in the company.  If in a given department or division, higher education is required, candidates without it will not pass further, even if they are extremely talented and experienced. For example, if a position requires 3 years of experience, and the candidate has 2.5 – well, he/she’s out.

How does this relate to the photo? If it appears on a CV, then it needs to fit with the role in terms of image, be standard, and professional. If it deviates from the norm, , it will undermine the consistent image of the candidate. A holiday or wedding photo can, especially in the case of two candidates with a similar level of experience, be a deciding factor in the final decision.

The individual approach

In the second trend, H2H, the candidate’s values – their alignment with the company’s values – are just as important as competencies. The fact that someone rides a bicycle in the mountains or cares for animals – and this is what is shown in the photo on their CV – is perfectly fine.  What about a tie and a smart suit? They won’t disqualify him/her, but if such a style is very different from the company’s style, or is contrary to the attitudes the candidate declares during the interview, it won’t do him/her any good either. In practice – in the spirit of H2H and the individual approach – it doesn’t really matter whether the CV contains a photo, or what kind of photo it is. In these  companies, by definition, the appearance of the candidate is not important, and the final decision on employment is made based on the holistic fit of the candidate to the position, and the nature of the tasks in the company.

It is worth thinking carefully about the impression your CV will make – including the photo or lack of it. As always, the ‘devil is in the detail’ – which is why it’s a good idea to seek expert support.