Your CV or résumé should fit onto two pages, max.
It should never use colour.
Your education section should always come after your work experience.
Conventional wisdom tells us these things, as do CV experts. But, as with everything else, there are exceptions to these rules.
After all, CVs can – and should – run over two pages if your skills and level of experience call for it. Using colour, meanwhile, can be a great way to complement your personal brand. And your education section should, in fact, come before your work experience if you’re just starting out in your career.
Another rule that jobseekers are often taught is to never, ever – ever – include a photo in their CV.
But is that really the case? Is it really that bad to add a snap of yourself on the document that is meant to get you hired? Should photos be confined to the likes of LinkedIn profiles and personal websites, instead?
In this article, we’ll answer those questions by exploring when it’s widely acceptable to include a CV photo and when it’s definitely not – and hopefully make CV writing slightly easier, and a little less confusing for you in the process!
Why You Should Include a CV Photo
To add or not to add – that is the question. And the answer will largely depend on who you ask. For now, though, let’s take a look at the case for adding a photo to your CV.
It’s Expected in Some Countries
While you’re traditionally advised against adding a photo to your CV or résumé if you’re applying for jobs in countries like the UK, the US or Canada, it is standard practice in other countries, particularly within Asia and Continental Europe.
For example, employers in Germany expect to see a photo in the top right-hand corner of your Lebenslauf (the German version of a CV) and will likely discard your application if they don’t. The same applies to CVs in countries like China, France, Japan and the UAE.
Employers in countries like Cyprus, Greece and Russia, on the other hand, are a little more forgiving. Though it is common and greatly appreciated to include your picture in your application, it is not necessary.
That said, nobody can legally ask you to supply a picture if you don’t want to. In most developed countries, legislation is in place to protect your right to privacy – so if a potential employer requires a photo without justifiable reason, they may be breaking the law.
It’s Also Expected for Some Professions
Looks and appearance – though perhaps often unfairly – are an important deciding factor in the hiring process for some professions, particularly actors and models.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t get the part you’re auditioning for unless you’re a Size 0, though. After all, different roles call for different traits and characteristics. For example, a movie script may have been written in a way that the lead character is blonde, six feet tall and perhaps even transgender. Likewise, a fashion brand may be looking for plus-sized, rather than skinny, models for their new campaign.
Quite simply, photos are essential for some professions as they help potential employers, agencies and production studios determine whether a candidate meets all the physical requirements. In other words, applications without professional headshots in such cases are useless and will be quickly discarded.
But it’s not just actors and models who can benefit from adding their photographs to their CVs. Indeed, projecting a trustworthy, approachable appearance can be an asset in many other professions, including bartenders, receptionists, sales representatives and teachers.
It Helps You Build Your Brand
When done right, a good photo can help you build your personal brand – which, as any good HR manager and career expert will tell you, can greatly benefit your job search efforts and your overall career success.
This is particularly true if you’re in a creative field.
Take writers and journalists, for example. Newspapers, magazines, blogs and other publications typically add the writer’s photo alongside a byline telling readers who wrote the specific piece. This, essentially, gives credit where credit is due, and it also helps the writer establish themselves as a thought leader, giving them the credibility that they deserve.
Likewise, adding a photo to your CV essentially does the same thing.
And who knows? Perhaps one day people will simply look at your photograph and instantly recognise you – like they do with Richard Branson, Beyoncé or the Queen of England!
On that note, the key to personal branding is consistency. This means using the same photo for all your materials: your CV, LinkedIn profile, Skype account, etc. So if you’re convinced, go ahead and get your professional snapshot ready!
Why You Shouldn’t Include a CV Photo
Even though LinkedIn profiles with photos will receive 21 times more views than those without, CVs with photos, on the other hand, could raise a few eyebrows. Here’s why.
You Risk Potential Discrimination
Sadly, employment discrimination is still a very real problem, even in the 21st Century, and some hiring managers are – quite simply – bigots.
Let’s say the person reviewing your application is homophobic. If you’re gay or even if you ‘look feminine’ to them in your CV photo, they’ll likely discard your application without a second thought. The same holds true if they’re Islamophobic, for example, and you happen to wear a hijab in your photo.
You won’t necessarily be discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, religion or physical characteristics like your gender, race, weight or age, though. Sometimes, you will be discriminated against just for the act of using a photo, as some hiring managers may take offence at the fact that you don’t seem to trust them to make an unbiased hiring decision.
That said, it’s important to mention that most companies prefer not to see photos of prospective candidates, as they don’t want to be accused of potential discrimination in the event those candidates aren’t successful.
It Wastes Valuable CV Real Estate
Recruiters typically only spend a whole six seconds before deciding whether a CV should go into the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ pile, and they hardly even read past the first page.
This means that there’s only room for the important stuff on your CV. Anything else merely wastes valuable space.
And adding your photo here not only takes up a lot of that valuable real estate but it also stands out like a sore thumb. In other words, hiring managers will most likely focus more on your photo than on your CV’s content – and, as a result, all your skills, experience and achievements (no matter how impressive) will largely go unnoticed. So, delete your photo and make sure your biggest selling points are on the first page of your CV – ideally, in the top half of the page.
Besides, why give hiring managers reading your CV one more thing to critique you over, especially if it could hinder your chances of job search success? Moreover, many ATS programs will automatically remove any graphs and pictures from CVs, so why bother adding them in the first place?
A more suitable (and space-saving) alternative is to replace your CV photo with a link to your LinkedIn profile or online portfolio (which will ideally contain a picture of you).
It’s Potentially Unprofessional
Although Elle Woods might have been successful in getting an internship with her pink, scented CV in Legally Blonde, it was a highly inappropriate (albeit bold) move – and one that would most likely be met with mock and rejection in real life.
Remember: your CV is a professional document that is meant to help you find employment. The keyword there is ‘professional’.
In other words, it needs to look professional. And printing your CV on pink, scented paper or listing a quirky email address like [email protected] achieves the complete opposite effect.
Likewise, some employers find that photographs are unnecessary, especially if you’re applying for more conventional jobs like that of an accountant. After all, your appearance has nothing to do with your ability to do the job and adding your photo will only make you look naïve and unprofessional.
And if a hiring manager thinks that of you, then you can kiss your chances of getting invited to an interview ‘goodbye’!
What to Consider If You Include a Photo
If you do decide to include a photo in your CV, you’ll want to follow some basic guidelines. After all, a picture really is worth a thousand words – and you don’t want yours to say the wrong thing about you.
So, how do you go about taking the perfect picture?
Dress professionally. Perhaps you want to show off your beach bod (and rightfully so!), but unless you’re a swimwear model, this isn’t the place for it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to wear a three-piece suit (though it is encouraged if you’re a lawyer or a banker, for example), but you should aim for a clean and sharp look.
Wear what you’d wear to work. If your job normally requires you to wear a uniform, wear it for your photo. For example, if you’re a chef, wear your toque blanche. Likewise, if you’re a surgeon or a nurse, wear your scrubs (though preferably go for the ‘before’ – not ‘after’ – surgery look).
Hire a professional photographer. Though there’s nothing wrong with taking a picture on your smartphone (as long as it’s from the shoulders up, it has the appropriate lighting, it’s taken against a simple background, and it’s not a cropped group photo or a selfie), your best bet would be to hire a professional photographer. Yes, professional headshots can be costly (usually between £50 and £200), but it will be money well spent!
Choose a pic that looks like you. Have you ever seen someone’s picture online and then met them in person only to find they look completely different? It can be an incredibly startling experience for anyone, and it can make potential employers question your credibility, especially if they think you’re catfishing them. So, make sure the picture you use is a recent one, and not one taken five years ago!
Smile. It makes you look more approachable, competent and trustworthy – and, as a result, it makes you more employable. But be careful: a goofy smile (complete with a stuck-out tongue) makes you look immature, while showing too much teeth (especially in an ‘I kill kittens’ kind of way) will likely freak out potential employers. Instead, go for the kind of smile you would wear when walking into an interview for your dream job.
How to Format a CV Photo
Now here comes the technical part: formatting your photo onto your CV.
Generally speaking, CV photos should be around 4x5cm and be positioned in the top right corner of the document.
If you’re creating your CV as a Word doc (which is the recommended format, as some ATS programs are designed to filter out PDFs), insert your chosen photo into the document and follow the instructions below:
Right-click the image and then left-click ‘Wrap Text’.
Select ‘More Layout Options’ to open the Layout dialog box.
In the ‘Position’ tab, select ‘Alignment’ under ‘Horizontal’ and set to ‘Right’ relative to ‘Margin’. Also, select ‘Alignment’ under ‘Vertical’ and set to ‘Top’ relative to ‘Margin’.
In the ‘Text Wrapping’ tab, select ‘Square’ in ‘Wrapping style’ and ‘Right only’ in ‘Wrap text’.
Alternatively, if you find that that’s a little too technical for you, you can add a one-row table with two columns to the top of the document. Add your name, an optional headline and all your contact information in the left column (all aligned to the left), and then insert your photo to the right column (aligned to the right).
If you do this, consider hiding the table’s borders, which you can do in the ‘Paragraph’ group in the ‘Home’ tab. You can also resize the column width so that the left column is wider than the right one, giving you more space for your name and contact information. Do this by resting the cursor on the column boundary and use the resize cursor to drag the boundary to your preferred width.
Here’s a CV header template (complete with photo) that you can easily replicate on Word by using a table (displayed here with visible borders):
Whatever you do, though, do not add photos in the page header area – or within the page margins (which should be a minimum of 1cm on all sides).
Also, remember to use your CV header (exactly as it is) for all your supplemental documents, including cover letters and reference lists!