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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

September 7, 2016

Is it ok to include a personal photo on a resume?

Julie Q. Brush

Your resume is one of the most important career marketing tools you have in your professional toolbox. It is the first impression an employer will have about You. And that first impression can make or break a candidacy. Given its importance, some professionals use the resume as an opportunity to “be different” in order to catch the eye of the resume reader. So they kick their right brain into high gear and get creative with things like colors, unique font, fancy formatting and…photos.

But is including a photo on a resume a wise choice? Does it differentiate a candidate in a positive way and provide a competitive advantage?


The purpose of a resume is to provide an employer with information on your professional qualifications. It’s your best professional foot forward. And it’s your qualifications that employers care about at this stage of the hiring process – not your appearance. Not a face with a resume. So there is almost all downside when including a photo as part of a CV. Why?

People are very judgmental when it comes to physical appearance – consciously and subconsciously. And you will never know the biases and personal opinions of your audience when it comes to this issue. Too attractive, not attractive enough, bad tie, bad hair, bad suit, too old, too young, too much makeup, tired looking, too this…too that. It happens every time a person looks at a photo. Judgment. And this judgment about the way a person looks (positively or negatively) detracts from what’s really important: The quality of the experience.

In addition, employers skim resumes from the top down. And if a photo is at the top, it’s the first thing they see. If that photo creates any kind of negative impression – for whatever reason, a candidate is already at a disadvantage before the first word on the page is read. But what if your headshot is fabulous? Even a great photo won’t provide much, if any lift. At best, it’s a “push” – with no advantage.

In past Lawyer Whisperer posts on resumes, I’ve noted this and will note it again: An employer makes critical assumptions and receives the strongest impressions about a candidate within the first ¾ of a page on a resume. So that real estate is precious. Photos at the top take up a sizable portion of that premium space, where other more impactful information should go. This, combined with the downsides of using a photo compromises marketability.

With this said, in some countries including a photo on a resume is more common (it is not common in the U.S.). If you live in an area where this is the norm and you feel compelled to conform, make sure the photo is as professional as possible…and taken by a professional. Go easy on the makeup, hair should look nice, no weird poses, wear proper clothing and flash a nice smile.

For legal professionals in the U.S. or other such lands, if your desire to flash your pearly whites is still strong, my recommendation is that you include a photo on your LinkedIn profile – as many employers view these profiles in connection with a candidacy. And because many professionals include a photo with their LinkedIn profile, employers are socialized around this formatting and the risks are not as numerous (as long as your photo is professional).

It’s a dog eat dog world out there. And the legal profession is no exception. So everyone is looking for an advantage and a way to differentiate themselves from others in the market. A photo on a resume is not the answer. Instead, focus on how to best articulate your experience, your education…and your value. Clearly. Concisely. Confidently. Focus on what will make your resume the most “readable” and impactful to a spectrum of audiences – as well as how to highlight the most relevant and marketable aspects of your professional background…so you can shine. The resume is one of your most important marketing tools. So use the real estate wisely and you’ll maximize your opportunity to make your best first impression.

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