What You Need To Know About Graphics and Photos in Résumés

What is a fast and easy way to get your résumé tossed into the round file? Including any kind of graphic elements in this document, for starters.

As a general rule of thumb, any kind of graphic, color or photos are not acceptable in résumés, with the obvious exception for candidates applying in creative fields, where that kind of innovation can be part of the applicant review process.


In the case of photos, human resource and hiring managers are legally bound to not discriminate against job candidates, and by providing a visual representation of yourself prior to an interview, you might provide extraneous data that can influence the employer’s decision before you even meet them. Discrimination, albeit very difficult to prove, is pretty rampant on many different levels out in the job marketplace and can include ageism and racism, even including boiling down to looks.

Now wait a minute, some people might say. If I think of myself pretty good looking, wouldn’t that help me in getting the job?

Let’s put it this way: In theory, you aren’t being hired for your looks; you are being hired for your ability to do the job. Therein lies the danger zone for employers if they make a decision based on a visual preference. If someone else can prove that the company hired a lesser qualified candidate and can show a bias towards that person’s looks, there could be some legal liability on the part of the employer.

For this very reason, many employers simply skirt around any résumés that come in with photos (with the exception of the entertainment industry which does use headshots as part of the decision process). They simply don’t want the liability that a photo might add to the recruiting process.

However, there’s a new little wrinkle to this wisdom: LinkedIn and other social networking sites are offering up visual representations of job seekers, which can have an intended/unintended consequence. As social media has flourished, it is more acceptable to have a photo posted… and you should never misrepresent yourself to be something else you are not. Eventually, if you get to an interview, any disparities will be glaring if there are any!

If you do decide to post an image, make sure it is an accurate and professional reflection of yourself. Smile, be engaged with the camera, and exude confidence. You should know that while some employers are proactively trolling these sites for talent acquisition, the standard methodology to apply for jobs is still through electronic or snail means. This is your primary and formal way of introducing yourself to the employer, sans photographs. What the employer does after that introduction to research you on the Internet is going to be up to you to manage effectively.

Now consider the graphic element part of the résumé. You definitely want to think about the end user and how your document might read to them. You can include visual cues on your resume such as shaded lines to break out separate sections in your résumé, but adding any kind of pictures, images or drawings are considered a faux pas – those simply don’t belong in the document.

Some might argue that for this very reason, adding something into the document that is unexpected might draw attention to it that otherwise might not have happened. True, but remember, the purpose of the résumé is to provide, in a formal fashion, your career credentials, and there’s a certain amount of expectation from the employer side to have an easily readable format that allows the reader to quickly get into the ‘meat’ of the document. They’d prefer to not be otherwise distracted from unnecessary visual elements.

Finally, adding color is generally frowned upon, if simply for the reason that you don’t know if the end user has a color printer or not. Here’s the scenario: a hiring manager is in a hurry to get all the candidate résumés printed, and clicks ‘print’ without really reading the document. What comes out of the printer (which is black and white) is a fairly incomplete page because the printed sections that should be in color aren’t read by the printer. End game: the employer sits down in the review session and can’t really make heads nor tails of the résumé because it didn’t print out completely. Not good.

Keep these pointers in mind, and you’ll have a good idea of how to develop an easy-to-read document that doesn’t distract!