Should You Put Your Picture On Your Resume?

Technology has made building your resume much easier — but it has also made it more complicated. As a result, resumes are more decorative than ever. As life has become more digital over the past 20 years, digital assets like resumes and cover letters have become more colorful, with pictures, graphics, fonts and more available at a basic level. Modern design features can work against you, though.

But just because these features are there, doesn’t mean you should use all of them. Take adding a picture, for example. Unfortunately, pictures can cause more harm than good.

Should You Put an Image on Your Resume?

The short answer is no. The risk is not worth the reward. Even if it goes with your resume design. Even if it helps hiring managers identify you in the interview. It’s best to leave your picture off your resume. 

Adding images to resumes is a relatively new trend, ushered in by the technological tools mentioned above. Your resume, though, is about your skills, experience and what you can bring to a role — not how you look. You want a hiring manager’s attention to go straight to your strongest qualities and not judge you based on your appearance. 

There are other, more nuanced reasons to leave your picture off your resume. 

Applicant Tracking Systems Don’t Support Pictures

Do you know what an applicant tracking system (ATS) is? This software streamlines the application process for recruiters and hiring managers. However, it is often a challenge for potential candidates because it uses technical rules to choose which resumes go through and which don't. If an ATS notices something it doesn’t like on your resume, it will kick you out of the running. 

Putting an image in your resume is a guaranteed way to trip up an ATS. Applicant tracking systems are programmed to automatically move forward and reject resumes based on the contents in them. Pictures, special graphics, colors, obscure fonts — all of these things make it more likely for your resume to be rejected before a real person has a chance to read it.

Sometimes a candidate is more than qualified for a role, but never reaches the interview portion because of an ATS automatic rejection. 

There are ways to get past an ATS, though. Below are tips to incorporate into your resume:

  • Keep formatting simple. No special graphics, colors or fonts. (Including pictures.) Your resume should be black and white, or you can use accent colors. The font should be an easy-to-read font like Helvetica, Times New Roman or Arial.
  • Only apply to jobs you’re qualified for. An ATS rejects any resume that doesn’t align with the job description. 
  • Incorporate job keywords. Refer to the job posting and identify any keywords you can honestly incorporate in your resume. 
  • Submit the right file. A PDF file is your best bet unless the application specificies otherwise. 

Pictures Take Up Useful Resume Space

You only have one page to communicate years of experience, don’t waste it with a picture. 

When building your resume, you need to look at every open spot as hot real estate. You are marketing your skills and experience, so that is what your resume should reflect. A picture does not communicate your accomplishments or tell hiring managers how you will perform in the potential role. 

Instead of adding a picture, think of how you can better use that space. Have you won any awards? Are you certified in a specific area of expertise? Make use of your resume space by only including examples of why you are the best person for that particular job. 

Pictures Encourage Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is the systemic bias we unconsciously hold. Stereotypes, prejudice and judgements about certain groups or individuals are examples of unconscious bias we all have to work to unlearn.

Everyone has unconscious bias, regardless of their intention. Scientists trace these impulses back to our ancestors. Fighting for limited resources, our ancestors developed primal instincts to identify if certain groups or individuals posed a threat. As a developed society, these instincts are no longer necessary; however, we still carry them with us and have to work to break the cycle of unconscious bias. 

Unfortunately, race, gender, religion and ethnicity can trigger unconscious bias in the recruiting and hiring process. Adding a picture can exacerbate this bias, and a hiring manager could pass over your resume as a result. 

A 2000 Princeton study found this bias through its blind audition experiment. Researchers found that blind auditions — where you can only hear the performance —“increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent.”

Reduce the chance of unconscious bias by keeping your picture off your resume.

Is There an Occasion Where It’s OK To Add a Picture?

There are rare situations where it is OK to add a picture to your resume. An example is if you are applying to a small business that only takes email submissions. You don’t have to get past software, as your resume is going straight to a human. Another example is if you're using a nontraditional resume format for a creative position and want to showcase your graphic design skills.

If you choose to incorporate a picture in your resume, keep the following in mind: 

  • Is this company using applicant tracking system software?
  • Does the picture add value by showing personality not included in my resume? 

And when in doubt, remember that the risk might not be worth the reward. 

Give Your Resume a Boost With Teal

When crafting your resume, getting an outside opinion is often useful. What if you had an always-ready, expert opinion at your fingertips at all times? That’s the purpose of Teal’s Resume Builder. It helps you improve your resume and seamlessly create multiple versions customized for each job. The tool also stores all your job history, making it easy to drop only the  most relevant information into a template. Additionally, the tool’s Achievement Assistant helps you create effective resume bullets.

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Lindsay Patton

Lindsay Patton

Lindsay Patton is a journalist, adjunct professor, podcast host and digital communicator who specializes in business and career growth.

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