The great CV controversy: maybe you are asking the wrong question? (Barry O’Brien, March 2016)

All seekers of jobs or lab positions have had reason to ponder over the eternal question: “Is it OK to put photos on your CV or not?” Barry O’Brien, British career coach based in Stockholm, has a very definitive answer: “It depends …”

The theme of Crastina this month is “creating your professional persona”.


barry_cc“I like to see the eyes of applicants” was a comment I recently heard from a recruiter that I know in Stockholm, Sweden. We were at a HR event where I was, amongst other things, digging for gems of information on how the minds of recruiters’ work, so I can share this knowledge with my job-seeking clients.

You see, at every lunch, career fair, relevant LinkedIn discussion or HR (un)conference, one thing I always try to get a viewpoint on is whether recruiters, be it agency or in-house, like to see photos on the CV or resume, of an applicant.

After three consistent years of asking, on a mission not too dissimilar to that of the hunt for the Lost Ark of Covenant, I have battled through some swamps and met some dragons, and now have a much clearer answer to the question I regularly get asked:

“Should I include a photo on my CV?” – the answer is simply – (Yes) sometimes!

This is obviously not a clear ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ situation, and a change in my own viewpoint from circa 2012.

The reason that this is such an interesting question to ask, is that it leads job-seekers down roads that they never even considered. It actually enables them to better understand what is involved in the modern job search ‘game’ – technological knowhow, personal brand development, implementing networking strategies and opening up opportunities for themselves, rather than purely relying on the mind numbing task of responding to job adverts.

On the surface, people think that the CV photo argument is just an issue of beauty versus skills, of trying to catch the eye of the recruiter with your charming smile, but dig down into it a little more, and you can understand why I argue that ‘sometimes’ you must include a photo on your CV, but not every time.

Before you read our longer guide (see link below), consider these two points, for reasons why I say sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t…

Geography: You have to know that the job hunting game has different rules in different parts of the world. Whilst seeking jobs in Germany, you almost always have to include a photo on your CV,  whereas most American and British career coaches will dissuade from doing this when you apply for a position in their countries.

Technology: Many recruiting companies use Applicant Tracking Systems in which a “robot” reads and rates the CV as a good match, or not, for the job role. Images which are included in the submitted documents may actually corrupt them. The result may be that a very interesting CV is harshly excluded from the recruitment process, before any human has laid eyes on it.

Those were just two examples to get you thinking, but feel free to read on here, with a more indepth guide.

Barry O’Brien is an English communications consultant and job search optimiser based in Stockholm, Sweden. He specialises in helping people who have English as a second language, to make a great first impression online or in real life. Among his clients are several universities, e.g. Karolinska Institutet, KTH and Luleå tekniska universitet.

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