job listing asks candidates to submit a headshot

A reader writes:

I’m applying around for part-time office work. Every now and then, a listing will ask for a headshot along with a résumé and cover letter, and it skeeves me out. Is it a red flag? Can I just not send one? I know that’s common in the UK, but I’ve never had to do so in the US. Thoughts?

It should skeeve you out, because it’s super skeevy.

This is just not done in the U.S., unless you’re applying for an acting or modeling job.

It’s bad enough when a job applicant sends along a headshot of his/her own volition — but an employer actually requesting them?

Your photo has no relevance to your ability to do the job.

And they’re making themselves vulnerable to a racial discrimination lawsuit (or an appearance discrimination suit, in the small number of jurisdictions that prohibit making employment decisions on the basis of appearance).

These people are not very smart, and you don’t want to work for them.

{ 36 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I only saw that on a UK site in the employment section. But it was for “in front of camera” job (travel documentary). Why do they require photos?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, there’s definitely nothing wrong with you posting your photo on LinkedIn if you want to. The problem is when the employer requests it, since that makes it appear as if it’s in some way relevant to their evaluation of you.

  2. Charles*

    “super skeevy”

    AAM, that’s, at best, using very polite langauge for this practice; unless, as you say, it is for a modeling job.

    I would send a baseball card or maybe something from some sort of pokemon card set as my headshot just to see if they respond. Or, better yet, send as my headshot the “Death” card from a Tarot card set.

  3. Rob*

    Perhaps the person who wrote the add was from the UK, and wasn’t aware it’s not done here? Or maybe it’s actually a British company?

  4. Baglady*

    I’m not sure why people think this is common practice here in the UK – it really isn’t.

    1. Mike*

      Well if it isn’t there, in South America it’s automatically necessary for your application, your picture is posted there, and it’s common.

      This is big in Colombia.

      Have a great day!


  5. Anonymous*

    Also posting to say that never, in 12 years of work in the UK, have I been asked for a photo with my application. Photo after employment for security tag, sure.

  6. Anonymous*

    I’m also in the UK and I’ve also never been asked for a photo with an application and have only heard of this happening for modelling and acting jobs. I was also told people shouldn’t be requesting a photo due to discrimination legislation

  7. Luis*

    Sorry, this is common practice in Europe. A resume without headshot often gets rejected straight out.
    I’m not too sure what the sensitivity in the US is with this and wasn’t even aware that this is not done in the US.

    And no, I’m not racist or anything of the sorts.

    1. Anonymous*

      I believe it’s to avoid discrimination – race, gender, etc.

      However, I don’t know how that can’t be avoided in an interview if someone has extreme bias against a particular race or gender (etc.).

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s definitely true that if someone is going to discriminate based on physical characteristics (race or anything else), they could do that in the interview too. But the reason that asking for photos is just not done is that there’s absolutely no relevance to your ability to the job. There are all kinds of legitimate reasons to want to interview someone in person, but no legitimate reasons to ask for their photo with their application.

  8. Anonn*

    I’ve heard of this once or twice with Agencies in the UK but only when registering with them and they would take the photo. They said they were doing it for the following reasons:

    1. to back up that they’d seen the person on the ID

    2. to help them remember candidates more clearly.

    Otherwise… yeah, this is not a good sign. Even with the agencies It does take me back a bit.

  9. Gemsa*

    Again, backing up the other UK people and as a UK HR Manager, it is not the done thing here. I sometimes see photos on CVs from candidates from Germany and the Far East, but it is not normal. Maybe acceptable for modelling or acting, but not in other industries. I have never seen an advert or heard of an agency asking for a photo. Very weird… Avoid!

  10. Adam*

    I liked your post very much @KL. Don’t people find it contradictory to get in an up roar over pictures on resumes when we do the exact same thing with LinkedIn which is in part our very own Online Resume?

    This maybe in part why LinkedIn is growing as a place for job placement.

    Just a though.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, it’s different on LinkedIn, because in that context, an employer isn’t asking for it and saying that it’ll be considered as part of your job application.

  11. Anonymous*

    “I only saw that on a UK site in the employment section. But it was for “in front of camera” job (travel documentary). Why do they require photos?”

    Are you asking why they need head shots for an acting job, or why a non-acting gig would ask for head shots?

  12. Talyssa*

    I hate that people are posting photos on linked in – when you do that people just won’t be able to help judging points against you for one thing or another and it will have absolutely no bearing on your qualifications. You know “wow this person wore a suit how faked and pretentious” vs “wow this person didn’t wear a suit, its like they aren’t even trying”.

    IF there was some rule out there for exactly how a ‘professional’ job seeking photo should look, it would be ok (I’d still hate it but I’d live) but there aren’t any unless you ARE a model or actor, in which case there is a pretty set format for headshots.

    Right now photos are just WAY too open to someone’s personal taste and there is no framework to put that taste into. I mean job interviews are open to taste but job interviewers also have to find people who meet certain critera – they have experience wiht X, Y, Z, they seem to be excited about this position, they showed up on time for the interview and dressed appropriately, they had good communication skills. Most of those things have a subjective element (what do you consider ‘good’ communication?) but the framework for the rating is there.

    1. Anonymous*

      With LinkedIn, it is completely optional to post your picture, so I think people understand what they are getting into when they choose to post a picture.

      And as far as the subjectivity and standards of photos, I think as long as your photo is consistent with your industry’s general culture it would be fine. My LinkedIn photo is straight from my company’s website.

  13. UK HR Manager*

    As a HR Manager in the UK this is not a practice here AT ALL….not sure where people get the idea this is ok in the UK, and where the heck are you applying for jobs that are not in the entertainment industry that say you should?! We have a myriad of discrimination laws to adhere to, and this is no way ok.

  14. Liz T*

    Hey all, I’m the original questioner. Thanks for the comments!

    1) As for the UK thing, I am coming from a slightly skewed perspective–I was a directing student at a theatre school, where they indicated headshots were the norm for directors as well as actors. I know the theatre world is different, but my advisor was surprised to find that we non-UKers were skeptical of this practice. He was so genuinely unaware that anyone anywhere might have concerns about this I thought it was widespread. Also, years before, the London Hard Rock had asked for a photo when I applied there. But I did also get jobs through temp agencies that made no mention of this, so it’s probably not “common” as much as “permissable.”

    2) I have this inexplicable urge to respond to the latest posting like this I found just to tell them that the request is sketchy. I know that’s probably pointless, but I might do it anyway…

  15. Anonymous*

    I’d just like to add that as a manager, when I get an unsolicited photo with a resume, it’s often a turn-off. Not literally, since the men and women who voluntarily submit a headshot are usually good-looking or they wouldn’t opt to include a headshot in the first place. But it does make me question how serious they are and what deficiencies they are trying to make up for with a pretty picture. Not very fair of me, I admit. Just wanted to throw that out there.

  16. Ask an Advisor*

    I encountered an ad for an online teen counseling program that requested a headshot as part of the application for a counseling position. I know it was a from a legit, recognized national non-profit organization, but it made it seem seedy just by asking for a picture. Skeevy for sure. I just don’t understand why they ask…

  17. Anonymous*

    Photos in applications are common and expected in Germany, even with US based firms. Still haven’t worked out why they ask though.

  18. Kristin Fontenot*

    I recently helped my manager go through some application for a new position, and I think it would have been nice to have had a face to put to the applications. Discrimination should not come to mind when request a picture when we also ask to meet the applicants before hiring. It’s even easier to discriminate once you have interviewed an applicant than when you see a picture. If we really don’t want anything influencing our decisions, then we should hire based on what is on the paper.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That applies to such a tiny percentage of candidates that I don’t think that would be the explanation here (or if it is, they’re using the wrong solution, by making 99.9% of their candidates uncomfortable for no reason).

  19. herculestrockefeller*

    I’m seeing this more and more in restaurant jobs. A friend of mine in LA says it’s pretty common. I just read a Craigslist ad for a very reputable high-end restaurant in Minneapolis (not a strip-club or Hooters by any means).

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