A photo is worth a thousand words… but should I put one on my CV?

While the phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ has been labelled as a Chinese proverb and attributed to the philosopher, Confucius, it was actually popularized in the 1920s by Fred R. Barnard in the United States. He used the phrase to discuss the use of drawn and photographic images to illustrate advertising. A picture may convey an idea more quickly and effectively than the written word. Whilst a photo may be appropriate on marketing material the debate rages on as to whether a photo is appropriate on a CV. Here in the UK, I had always been told that things like age, marital status and indeed a photo could all be used to discriminate against and should be avoided. Recently I wrote a post on LinkedIn expressing my reservations about adding a photo to my CV. Initially, I felt very negative about it as it went against everything I had ever been told. However, as I began to read the comments from the post I soon began to learn why many cultures see a photo as something positive. There was such an interesting fusion of views from people all over the world with contributors including translators, agency owners, project managers, HR managers and other people not connected to the translation industry. It yielded such a lively and thought provoking debate that it inspired me to write this blog post where I share with you some of the key points from both sides of the spectrum. But, before I begin, here is my original LinkedIn post:

‘As I’m currently targeting Spanish translation agencies, I recently translated my CV into Spanish. Upon completion, I asked my girlfriend, an Argentinian living in Spain, to correct any errors and offer suggestions to improve it. She helpfully obliged and I ended up using almost all of her suggestions apart from one; adding a photo of myself. She told me that all CVs in Spain, and back home in Argentina, need to have a photo. I responded by saying that in the UK nobody puts a photo of themselves on their CV. A photo on a CV means that you are automatically being judged not only on your ability and experience, but also on your looks. It just seems a bit discriminatory to me. And anyway, if they really want to see what I look like they can click on the links on my CV to my website or my LinkedIn profile.
 
So on Friday I started the long process of contacting agencies with my CV and managed to send a decent number out. In the evening we had been invited to a barbecue at our friends’ house here in Girona and the conversation moved to my job search and then to my CV. One of our friends works in management and deals with CVs every day. She was horrified when I told her mine didn’t have a photo and told me that if she saw a CV without a photo, she would ignore it.
 
I’m now very much in two minds as to whether I should add a photo. On the one hand, I’m in Spain and should probably start doing as the Spanish do. If it is not acceptable to have a CV without a photo, maybe I should add one. I’d hate to have my CV ignored by over 200 agencies. I’m not a bad looking lad so what harm could it do? 🤣
 
But on the other hand, I don’t particularly agree with it. It can lead to discrimination and it is completely different to what I’m used to. I don’t see what my appearance has to do with whether I can translate text from Spanish to English. I imagine Spanish translation agencies receive many CVs from Brits, or from people from other countries where a photo isn’t included. If they are looking for natives from other countries does it really matter?
 
It would be interesting to know if anyone has been in a similar situation and whether they have added a photo to their CV to adapt to the cultural norms of a country.’

It may not come as a surprise that many comments and opinions favoured the cultural norms of the country that particular person was from. Accordingly, many people from countries such as Spain, France, Portugal, Germany, the Czech Republic and South America spoke positively about the inclusion of a photo. On the other hand, those from the UK and the United States generally spoke more negatively. However, there was also a good crossover of people who were in favour of adding a photo who were from a country where it is seen as a big no. Some of them, although not necessarily liking the idea, were willing to set their beliefs to one side by adding a photo as gaining employment was more important. There were also some people who were very much against the idea of adding a photo under any circumstances sighting prejudice and discrimination as the main reasons. Interestingly, some of those were from a country where adding a photo is expected.

Cultural norms, adaption

Some of the most positive replies came from people who believed a CV should be adapted to embrace the cultural norms of the country being targeted. A comparison was made between how you would feel if someone wanted to connect with you on social media who did not have a profile photo, and how many Europeans would feel about seeing a CV without a photo. There would be less inclination to make that connection in both instances. Whether you disagree with it is irrelevant because it is part of their business culture and if you wish to boost your chances a photo should be added. They just have a different mindset about it and it may take some getting used to the different cultural sensitivities.

It was interesting to hear from people in the opposite situation who are from a country where the norm is to include a photo but are applying for work in the UK. It was comforting to hear they were having similar doubts in their mind when they were thinking about taking off the photo. One person said that it felt odd and unnatural to take the photo off their resume to send it to English agencies. They felt like it could be anyone sending it but in the end it is really just a cultural difference in the way we perceive things and it has to be accepted that different countries have different ways of doing things. It was also pointed out that the Europass CV format also requires you to add a photo by default.

Human touch

Some people also felt sad to assume that people will use photos to discriminate against people they recruit. Rather than that, it was explained that the photo adds a human touch and makes an application more personal. It makes it feel as though there is an actual person behind the two sides of A4. You can see what the person looks like and rather than judging them negatively they can be judged on their smile and expression. You can put a face to that person with those great qualifications and start to get to know them. Furthermore, project managers may never meet or see the translators they are working with so it is nice to gain that connection through a photograph. The kind of ‘vibe’ you give in addition to your skills was also mentioned. Most people don’t judge how attractive you are or worry about your ethnicity; they care more about what impression you make with your overall expression.

Connection

Marketing

It was pointed out that you should think of it less as a CV and more as a piece of marketing literature to promote your business. A photo will let the other person see who they are dealing with and give your business a face to match with the words. It will gain trust and make it all more personal and human. You are aiming to establish a personal connection with the reader and nothing does that better than seeing a person’s face. It is quite normal to have photos on marketing materials. You should not think of yourself as a candidate applying for employment. Instead you are a business with a personal brand so your CV should be more like a business card or brand leaflet. Also, if part of your strategy is to target translation agencies, especially in more creative fields like tourism where you really need to localise your translation, having a CV that has not been localised with the inclusion of a photo may be seen as a big red flag.

Professionalism

It was pointed out that a photo can show a lot. It goes beyond someone’s looks and can reflect whether or not someone exudes professionalism, ambition and even energy that is right for the job. In Germany, where it is also mandatory to add a photo to your CV, the picture has to be quite professional too. It was also very interesting to learn that there is an entire industry around getting the proper ‘Bewerbungsfoto’.

Fear of being ignored

Several people talked about the fear of being ignored and would hate to have their CV overlooked just because it was the only one without a photo. The easiest way to reduce a pile of CVs is to remove any with something missing such as a photo. Although some were against a photo, if it meant that their CV had a better chance of being read, then they were willing to put their personal feelings aside. It was felt that adding a photo and adapting to the target audience should be the priority.

Irrelevant

Wherever there are pros the cons always seem to follow and for those that reacted negatively to the inclusion of a photo, many were puzzled as to why one would be necessary on a CV. Some did not agree with it stating that in relation to your ability to do a job your appearance should be irrelevant. A few Brits mentioned that they have never put a photo on their CV when applying for jobs in Spain and they had never had problems securing work. As it is a freelance service that is being provided and you will rarely come face to face with project managers it should not matter, especially as translators are supposed to be invisible. It was also noted that it may depend on the industry you are applying for. Perhaps actors should include photos but why should freelancers who work from home? My assumption in my original post that all Argentinians added photos to their CV was incorrect as a few commented that they had never used a photo and had always managed to secure work both in Argentina and in Spain.

Bias and discrimination

The themes of bias and discrimination did feature heavily amongst those who were against the idea. It was thought that a photo could trigger internal bias whether we like to admit it or not. Any information that could give rise to discrimination should be eliminated, no matter where you are. People discussed how they would rather work in a place where someone actually took the time to review their experience and knowledge rather than being considered because of their looks. Somebody else mentioned that it might be a lucky escape not having to work for a company where how you look may be more important than what you know.

Ugly duckling

Somebody also mentioned that white males are less likely to be discriminated against compared to women or ethnic minority groups. Some women preferred not to include a photo because people may have unnecessary feelings when seeing the photo, especially if the recruiter is of the opposite gender. It is natural that people incline towards more beautiful people or towards somebody that matches their taste, even if this is done on a subconscious level. Somebody spoke of detesting the photo on a CV and mentioned an organisation they used to work for where it was common to include photos on CVs. Coincidence or not, it was also very common for all the interns within this organisation to be thin attractive young women. The only way to assure that nobody is being judged on their appearance, subconsciously or otherwise, rather than their ability and experience is to omit a photo on a CV. It protects minorities from prejudice. As strong anti-discrimination laws exist in countries like the UK and the USA, such legislation offers a more practical explanation as to why a photo is not included on a CV in these countries.

Fake

Although the viewer may gain some insight from an image, it was thought that even photographs are open to interpretation. Someone mentioned that a photo is just a moment where you can have a professional photo session where a photographer makes the person look more professional than they are. This could feel like it is pretending because translators do not generally wear a suit. A phrase like ‘a photo is worth a thousand words’ could easily be trumped by ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. I’m sure there are some lovely photos of Pablo Escobar out there but I wouldn’t necessarily want him working with me, no matter how entrepreneurial he may be!

Freelance pharmacist extraordinaire

When in Rome

I would say that the overriding feeling from the majority of contributors was ‘When in Rome’ or in my case ‘When in Spain’. People pointed out that I was targeting a new country with completely different cultural norms. I’m not eating fish and chips or roast beef and Yorkshire puddings anymore. I’m eating paella, tapas and the occasional octopus. If I wish to sell to them I need to adapt my CV to fit in with them. Isn’t this what translation is all about after all? Knowing your target audience and adapting your translation accordingly. Including a photo is the equivalent to what the great translation theorist, Laurence Venuti, terms domestication where the translator moves the text towards the cultural norms of the target audience.

In the end, after much deliberation, I went with a domesticated version and added a photo to my CV. I may still have the same reservations about a photo that I described in my original LinkedIn post but the truth is that I’m trying to secure employment in a Spanish market. It doesn’t really matter what I think. Nobody cares if I don’t like the idea of a photo just like nobody here in Spain seems to care that I don’t like eating a big meal at 9 or 10 at night. Adapting may sometimes be hard but change is essential if we are to survive and thrive. If a photo will help me fit in with my new target market and help me gain employment, then I’m all for it. A photo may be worth a thousand words and when you are trying to sell yourself in a country where it is the cultural norm, a photo could be priceless. It will inevitably lead to some cases of bias and discrimination but it will also open up that initial human connection which is so valuable in business.

It was truly fascinating reading so many insightful comments from such a globally diverse mix of people. Seeing things more lucidly through the prism of another culture gives you the ability to make you think about your own culture in different ways. What you thought was normal might be very strange in another country.

My CV photo

6 thoughts on “A photo is worth a thousand words… but should I put one on my CV?

      1. Sounds fantastic! I’d love to do the US sometime. The longest I’ve been there was one day when I had to wait for my connecting flight in Atlanta from Buenos Aires to Manchester. I took a metro to the city centre and had a look around but it was Christmas Eve so probably not the best time to do much apart from shop!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I hope you make it over here someday. There’s a LOT to see in this country. Don’t come now, though. What a hassle international travel is at the moment. We’re coming to England for Christmas and it’s been a royal pain. Three cancelled/altered flights so far and I’ve racked up 4.5 hours on hold with the airline. Still many weeks before departure, so I’m pretty sure that number will climb.

        Liked by 1 person

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