Tips for your resume with picture


If you’ve mainly worked in the “English speaking” world, you might not be used to a resume with a picture. At least that’s what we’re told over here in the German speaking world. I totally get the point of not having a picture on the resume: If there’s no picture, you reduce the unconscious bias of the employer.


In some European countries however, it’s common practice to send a resume with picture. But also over here, even if it’s the standard to add a picture to your resume, my experience is that many women struggle with selecting a good picture.


I’m not talking about the obvious part of using a professional picture instead of the one from your last holiday or party, although, considering the amount of such pictures that I’ve seen throughout my career as a team manager, I think I should comment that briefly.  


You won’t believe the number of unprofessional pictures I’ve seen in the course of my life as a hiring manager. Holiday pictures with palms and beaches, party pictures with beer bottles, cocktail nights on a penthouse terrasse, pictures with untidy bedrooms in the background, … The list goes on and on. It should be clear to everyone that these kind of pictures are not appropriate for a resume. Yes, you want to present the real you, but remember that we’re still in a professional environment.


We’re more than a pretty face!


The main point I want to address is that we women tend to pick the picture in which we think we look prettiest or nicest, not the ones where we look confident, open minded, motivated, ...  I need to point this out because I’m seeing this over and over again - both with my clients and with candidates when I was the hiring manager. I’ve seen so many pictures of nice looking young ladies… not of confident young women on a successful career path.


You don’t want to look nice, you don’t want to look pretty on your application. You want them to see that you can do the job. You want to show you’re confident and competent. You want to shine.


So please get a professional to take your resume picture. If you’re usually uncomfortable with people taking pictures of you, it’s one more reason to get a professional. Professional photographers are used to all kind of clients and know how to make you feel less shy or embarrassed in front of the camera. I remember my first professional shooting for a resume picture. I felt really weird and really uncomfortable in front of the camera, with the bright spotlights around me. The photographer managed to get me to relax after a few shots and we got a really nice confident picture.


We’re professionals!


The opposite tendency I’ve noticed is the super professional mask. One of my clients recently sent me an almost austere looking picture on her resume. Knowing the client very well, I know that she’s not like that at all. She just wanted to look really professional. Being professional doesn’t mean however that you need to hide your personality or appear cold and distant. You can smile a little, you can look confident and open. Unless you’re applying for a really high management position where the expectation might be to appear like that, I’d really go with a more personal picture. You don’t need to look like the next CEO.


Mirror, mirror, on the wall…


Let’s talk about what to wear to the shooting. Make sure you pick something which fits you well and isn’t too sexy. Make sure to choose something which makes you feel good in your skin. You don’t need to wear a suit if that’s not your style. I’m not a great fan of suits and most of them don’t look great on me. So I chose an elegant blouse in my first professional shooting instead and that worked perfectly on my applications.


Also think about which colors complement your teint. Black and white is a sharp contrast and I know for example that I look like I’m sick when I wear this combination on a picture. If you’re unsure what’s suitable, take a few options with you to the photographer and ask him to take a few shots to decide what looks best.


Makeup or natural look?


That is the question. The important thing is to be authentic. If you love makeup and wear some every day, you should also use it for the resume picture - but be careful not to overdo it. You’re not going to a party, you’re not going to score, you’re not applying to be the next top model - you’re applying for a job.


If you don’t like makeup and hardly ever wear some, keep it simple for the resume picture as well. I personally am the more natural type so I usually just wear a little mascara and some lip gloss and powder for professional photos. Everything else isn’t me and I would sell a wrong image if I put on lots of makeup for the resume picture. I really recommend using powder though because it’ll make sure your skin doesn’t shine in the wrong places - something that can be exacerbated by studio lights.


No statements!


You’re left, you’re right, you’re religious, you’re not? We all have our beliefs and attitudes and that’s normal. That’s who we are. Just don’t try to make a statement with your resume picture. You don’t know what I mean? Well, let me explain.


When I was recruiting for a very international team a few years ago, I got a picture of a beautiful girl with Asian roots. She had added an A4 sized picture on her resume (which I really don’t recommend), so you couldn’t help but notice every detail. And you won’t believe what I noticed: she was wearing a swastika. I simply couldn’t believe my eyes!


Now, I know that this is originally a religious symbol and considering her background, in hindsight it’s obvious that she wore it just like others would wear a cross or a veil. But in the western world, a swastika just means the one thing. That’s THE association that jumps to your mind. And that’s really not the impression you want to make on a future employer.


To sum it all up, the important thing is to think which message you want to send with your resume picture. You’re an amazing woman, a professional who’s confidently pursuing her career, and a good co-worker.


If you don’t have a picture which clearly underlines that message, no picture is better than a bad one. Even if it is common practice in some European countries to send a resume with picture, it’s not mandatory. Recruiters like resumes with pictures because they feel that they get a better impression of who you are as a person but it won’t be a deal breaker. As resumes with pictures that are bad, however, might be.