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Ask the Hiring Attorney: Can I put my photo on my resume?

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Q: I’ve been told that I’m really pretty, and I’ve known that I’ve gotten some perks because of it. Since I need to positively influence the hiring process anyway I can, I want to put my photo on my resume. Can I?

A: Simply put, no.

There are many types of bias in the workplace, and you’re right good-looking people get perks. Studies have demonstrated what we knew to be true anecdotally.

Under international resume standards, photos are fine. Those international resumes (usually we call them CVs) also might include other personal information like marital status, number of children, age, nationality, and citizenship status. In the U.S., however, we don’t include any of that information on resumes.

Why not? In the U.S., we have a lot of laws and rules to prevent bias. Employers are not supposed to use gender, age, disability, race, sexual orientation, and similar factors in making hiring decisions. Doing so can open them up to bias and discrimination claims, which are bad publicity and expensive to defend against.

Of course, many of these factors can be inferred from information on the resume itself—for example, your gender and your ethnicity might be inferable from your name, while your age might be inferable from your college and law school graduation dates, along with your lack of high level employment. Further, your ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation might be inferable from membership in affinity organizations or volunteerism in mission-driven nonprofits.

There is a real difference between including data on your resume that allows an employer to infer these things (like being elected president of the women’s law student association at your law school), and including a photo.

It can seem like a fine line, to be sure. But here’s the key: ask yourself whether the information you want to include is a legitimate part of your candidacy. Of course, this is a question you should always ask yourself when thinking about whether to include any information on your resume!

So let’s do that analysis here. What’s the point of including your hypothetical role in the women’s law student association? Yes, including this role on your resume allows employers to assume you’re a woman (although men can be and are members of such organizations), but the information is also a legitimate part of your candidacy. Most legal employers are looking for law students who are assertive, good multitaskers, active members of their communities, and have other leadership qualities. Your presidency demonstrates these traits. You might also include some of your achievements in that post, like organizing panels of local judges and attorneys to discuss current topics of interest.

What is the point of including a photo? In some industries, a photo is a necessity. For example, a photo might be critical if you in the acting or modeling fields (where your looks are related to the offers you might receive) or even in public speaking (where who you are and your appearance might be important to your message).

Other industries may be open to the idea of a photo. A photo can personalize a resume and make it more memorable, although it’s a risky decision. You risk, for example, choosing a photo that actually undermines your candidacy—it may be poor quality, or show you in a bad light.

The legal industry is more traditionalist than most. We lag behind in technology, wardrobe formality, and more. The legal industry is also more risk-adverse than most. We often think about risk and liability before we take action—it’s part of our training—and take actions that are least likely to end up in a lawsuit.

So let’s consider the idea of a photo on a resume sent into legal industry employers. By your own admission, the photo adds no legitimate information to your candidacy. In your case, the photo’s entire purpose is to sway the employer inappropriately. So putting your photo on your resume will suggest to a cynical employer that either you don’t know legal industry’s rules of etiquette, or you don’t think those rules apply to you. If this isn’t convincing enough, then realize that some employers will not even consider resumes with photos because of the fear of liability.

But do you really want to be called into an interview because of your looks anyway? Or because of your skills and potential as a lawyer?

Until norms in the legal industry change, leave photos to LinkedIn. As a professional networking site, it’s standard to include a quality photo as part of your profile. If an employer is interested in your resume, they’ll likely do a social media check of you anyway, sometimes even before they call you in for an interview. And then they will see what you look like so keep it classy.

A version of this article was originally published by Bloomberg Finance L.P. Reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Shauna Bryce Shauna C. Bryce is a graduate of Harvard Law School with 20 years in law and legal careers. As a nationally recognized lawyer career coach, she works one-on-one with executive-level attorneys in Global 100 law firms and multibillion-dollar businesses in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, as well as regularly presents to groups of lawyers, career coaches, law students, and others. Her advice column, Ask the Hiring Attorney®, inspired by what general counsel and partner-level clients said they wish they had known while they were in law school, was originally published by Bloomberg Law. She’s the author of the How to Get a Legal Job® series and Bryce Legal® Career Advice for Lawyers blog.