Beauty, CVs & Job Applications

This New York Times piece (inexplicably filed in the ‘Health’ section) concerns a study about the effect of sending photographs along with your CV when applying for jobs. I was under the impression that this was a pretty unusual thing to do, but the study’s abstract begins by stating: “Job applicants in Europe and in Israel increasingly embed a headshot of themselves in the top corner of their CVs.” Disappointingly, the authors do not cite any evidence for this claim. Other anecdotal evidence comes from this rather messy blog post (which led me to the study in the first place), where the author reports that a student of her’s was advised to attach a photo to CVs by some sort of visiting careers consultant.

If there is any such trend, then it is a worrying and potentially pernicious one, for reasons those of us familiar with the literature on implicit bias can easily guess. Indeed, the findings of the study seem to yield pretty much the conclusions you’d expect given that literature.

Here’s the NYT on how the study works:

The study, conducted by economists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, sent 5,312 résumés to more than 2,600 employers who had advertised job openings. Two applications were sent to employers, each with virtually identical résumés. The only real difference was that one of the résumés included a photograph of the applicant. Sometimes the applicant was an attractive man or woman, and sometimes the photo showed a more plain-looking man or woman. (While sending a photograph with a résumé isn’t typical in the United States, it’s not uncommon in Israel, the researchers noted.)

Given what we know about implicit bias, we’d expect most people to have very weak associations between attractive women and intelligence or competence (and a variety of strong associations that are even more sexist). Thus, unlike the blogger Jourdemayne, the results of the study didn’t strike me as particularly surprising, I quote here from her post, which summarises the conclusions about women thus:

The interesting results come when we get to ‘potential employers’ and ‘women’.

Ready for this ladies?

‘No piccie’ does best of all. Tagging slightly behind – so slightly that the results could come out differently in repeated study – is the ‘plain’. And nearly 6% behind ‘plain’ is … ‘attractive’.

So if you are stunning and female, don’t send a picture to a potential employer, no matter what the one-day consultant twerp at uni. says.

Unsurprisingly the study also shows that attractive men actually benefit from sending photos at 19.9% invited for interview (whereas ‘plain’ men – you have to love the euphemism – do worse at 13.7%). Interestingly though, the men who didn’t send photos did worst of all at 9.2% (which makes me wonder if I should start enclosing photos in future).

Seriously though… Has anyone ever been advised to enclose a photo? Has anyone ever received a CV with a photo? And assuming one is aware of the effects this can have on one’s judgement of a candidate’s merit, isn’t the only rational thing to do to have them removed before sifting through them?


17 thoughts on “Beauty, CVs & Job Applications

  1. It’s a common practice in Germany, where I live, to attach a portrait photo to your CV. This is not something new. I’m not quite sure when exactly it started but we were taught to do this way back when in middle school (early 1980s). These days it’s still absolutely necessary to have a photo when applying for joby in industry. In academia, the practice is starting to fade out, I’d say about 50% of applications have photos on them and 50% don’t. My personal preference (I’m currently on the job market) would be not to use photos but the advice that most people who’ve been on hiring committees give is that it’s better to have a photo as long as it’s professional and you don’t look too terrible. Sad, but true.

  2. As the previous commenter, I am from Germany where photos on a CV are standard. If you don’t enclose a photo, prospective employers think you have something to hide.

    I was hiring for a law firm for 7 years and of course the photo mattered. Not that I wanted hot supermodels, but if someone was really ugly, they could be as competent as they wanted; they would not get invited.

  3. A professor advised me to include a photo on my cv with grad school apps. I did not though. I thought the suggestion was wrong on a number of levels.

  4. I have vague memories that in the past when hiring we very occasionally got vitae with pictures. They tended to be gimmicky–the sort of thing consultants or books would advise to get attention. In one case I clearly remember a candidate listed positions she occupied in her Shire in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

    I lumped the people who sent pictures into the unacceptable category along with the SCA candidate–flakey, gimmicky, unprofessional.

  5. In Philosophy people don’t send photos with job applications but note that almost all of us maintain professional web pages and these almost always have a photo. Having a photo on your web page is the norm.

  6. Our vet has a picture of each of our cats on their charts. I suppose if you are worried about telling people apart, it might be useful.

    It sounds to me as though it is some extra cute thing that the career consultants think should willingness to make an extra effort.

  7. As I previously mentioned (on a different post) I had to send in photos with my application to Cambridge Uni. I have also seen many different people submit CVs with their photo on at my various jobs. Although I personally have never been asked to and have never done so, for job applications at least. (I live in the UK).

  8. When I was doing grad studies in Scotland, I was told that photographs used to be a common European practise for job applications but that they becoming passe due to anti-discrimination laws (in particular, I’d read that France went so far as to disallow them). It’s disappointed to hear something this is still taking place in parts of Europe, because it should be obvious that it would lead to discrimination, and if someone dresses truly unprofessionally or smells rank or whatever, you’ll find that out at the interview stage anyway.

  9. In France–I don’t know the current status of this proposal–they were also considering blanking out names on resumes because sting operations showed that applicants with ‘Franco-French’ names got many more call-backs than those with Arabic sounding names.

  10. I was given the option of including my photo on my application to the university where I did my undergrad work. My mother told me to go along with it because, she said, I was pretty, and that would increase my chances of getting in. :-(

    (I did get in, because of or in spite of the picture).

  11. I am faculty at a U.S. university. I have seen photos on CV’s occasionally–and if I recall, always from European applicants. I was required to include a headshot of myself when I applied to grad school.

    I’m curious about the findings reported here. Some studies of teaching evaluations suggest that men and women who are judged to be more attractive get better teaching evaluations than those judged not to be attractive. I guess I would have expected people with good-looking photos on their CVs or resumes to get more positive attention overall (which may include the wrong sorts of attention, of course), resulting in enhanced opportunities. I wonder if it would make a difference what sort of work or job they are applying for–a job that interfaces with the public or a cubicle job, for instance.

  12. Same in Poland. We always send a photo and if you don’t your resume might not even be taken under consideration since it’s a common practice to say in job advertisement – send your CV with a photo.

  13. Sitting on philosophy search committees, I have seen an increasing number of cv’s with photos, I think all from European candidates. I must admit I have to struggle hard to discipline myself to judge their cv’s on the merits and not just immediately hate them because the practice seems to obnoxious and vain and corporate-culture-y. It’s a cultural difference and so I try hard not to hold it against them, but … yuck!

    FWIW academic web pages that prominently feature a picture of the person (for instance where the picture is right in the middle of the page and big, rather than small and tucked into the upper left corder) also rub me the wrong way. I’m not saying this is fair or rational; it’s just true. When I look someone up and his web page looks like some corporate advertisement for him, I can’t help but hate him just a bit.

  14. ‘Corporate-cultury’–that nails it and what I was trying to articulate.

    Including a picture (to me in the US where it isn’t the norm) seems all of a piece with presenting the kind of personal statement books on getting into college or grad school are advise candidates to write.

    You have to sell yourself because you have nothing else to sell–no special skills, talents, abilities, knowledge that sets you off from 1000 other applicants. You’re dull as dirt and undifferentiated from the 1000 other candidates, groomed, manicured, and marching in lockstep in their success suits so you have to find some gimmick to set yourself off.

    [rant mode on] This is essentially the predicament of the students we churn out with Bachelor of Business Administration degrees. They learn a little econ, how to work a spreadsheet and some basic secretarial skills. They go through a program on grooming and dress for a ‘professional’ appearance–how to avoid looking odd. We make them stupid and boring. And then provide them with gimmicks to help them sell themselves.[/rant mode off]

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