2023 | Reading time: 24 Minutes

Job application photo: What to look out for

A professionally taken job application photo that makes a sympathetic and serious impression can open the door to a new job. That's why it's worth investing in a great job application photo.

Job application photo

A good job application photo will evoke sympathy and leave a positive impression on the recruiter. But be careful: a poor job application photo can have the opposite effect, reducing your chances. So, you should know what a good job application photo should look like, what to wear, and what is important for the quality of the photo. We show you examples of job application photos and give you tips to make your job application stand out.

Job application photo: Three rules you must follow

When you want to include a photo in your job application, you should check the law in the country you’re applying in. For example: According to the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) in Germany, employers are not allowed to ask for a photo. This is to prevent discrimination - after all, appearance does not tell the recruiter anything about a candidate's suitability. Despite this, it is still common practice in Germany to use a job application photo. Especially in small and family-owned companies, the personal impression is still important.

Other countries have stricter rules when it comes to your application photo. Make sure you know exactly how this is handled in the country of your choice.

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Job application photo: Three basic requirements

If you want to use a job application photo, it should meet these three requirements:

  • Job application photo only: A good job application photo is only taken for the job application. It should underline your professionalism and present you as a suitable candidate. So, passport photos - especially from photo machines - holiday photos, party photos, snapshots, or selfies are taboo.
  • A professional photograph: Your job application photo should be taken by a professional. Exposure, posture, body language, background: a professional will put you in the best possible light and achieve high image quality. If you cut corners or try to do it yourself in an amateurish way, you will send the wrong signal to the employer.
  • Up-to-date picture: The more recent your job application photo, the better. It should never be more than a year old. An outdated photo shows a lack of commitment and motivation. Besides, the employer wants to know what the future employee looks like today – not what he or she looked like ten years ago.

Woman’s job application photo: good and bad examples

Young woman in a job application photo Good: The upper body is slightly tilted to the side, but the face is turned towards the camera with an open, friendly smile. Clothing and discreet styling complete the professional impression.
Young woman in a job application photo Good: Again, the posture and friendly expression are convincing. The quiet background, simple but smart blouse, and unobtrusive styling give a serious and competent impression.
Young woman with waving hair Bad: This photo puts the woman in the spotlight, but it is unsuitable for a job application as it is a private photo. The hairstyle and clothes are not suitable for a job application.
Job application photo of young woman with fake smile Bad: A forced smile makes you look unsympathetic and tense. If you find it difficult to appear relaxed and natural in front of the camera, do not force a smile.

Job application photo tips: What you should look out for

If your job application photo ticks the three boxes above, that's half the battle. However, other factors need to be considered for your job application photo to fully impress the recruiter. The following job application photo tips will show you what to look out for.

Composition and perspective of the job application photo

Your job application photo should focus on your face. For a job application photo in the CV, a so-called half-portrait in portrait format is best: This shows the head and shoulders of the person photographed, but not the entire torso. The bottom of a half-portrait should be at chest level – no elbows or waistline. If your job application photo will appear on a cover page, a landscape format is also an option.

You should avoid frontal shots, as they often have a confrontational effect. Instead, it looks more open and approachable if your body is slightly turned to the side, but your face is looking directly at the camera. Also, make sure you have a straight posture and positive body language.

A full-body shot is only an option in exceptional cases, for example, if you are applying as a model or personal trainer.

The perspective from which the job application photo is taken is also important. Ideally, you should 'meet' the camera lens, and therefore the person in the picture, at eye level, with direct eye contact. Looking up at the camera from below, on the other hand, can make you look insecure or even submissive. If you look down at the viewer from above or avoid eye contact, you will appear arrogant and unappealing.

Job application photo: Background and design

When it comes to the background and design of a job application photo, less is more. The candidate should be the focus of the photo. Any design elements that distract from this are counterproductive. This means:

Modern job application photos are also increasingly being taken in a business environment, for example in a company lobby or in front of a large window, rather than in a studio. Photographers often deliberately blur the background in such shots so that the candidate is clearly in the foreground. It is also important that the other elements of the image do not draw too much attention to themselves. However, such elaborate job application photos are not suitable for every job application: If you want to land an entry-level job, you should opt for understatement and not pose like a CEO. Overconfidence rarely goes down well with recruiters.

Be authentic, discreet, and smile

Your job application photo should give a serious, professional impression. Remember that the recruiter is looking for a reliable employee for the company - not a friend for your spare time. However, it is important to remain authentic. If your job application photo shows you with a gold tie pin and gel hairdo, but you show up for the job interview with a more casual look, this raises questions. Such over-staging usually does more harm than good.

Instead, present yourself in a discreet, industry-standard look in your job application photo. Of course, clothing plays an important role – more on this below. Also, make sure your appearance is well-groomed. Long hair should be tied back or simply combed. You should not have a three-day beard, but should either be freshly shaved or have your full beard trimmed. Discreet use of jewellery and make-up is acceptable.

A friendly, open smile is also always well-received. Again, authenticity is important. An artificial smile, forced, or tense tends to put people off. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to relax in front of the camera and smile casually. When in doubt, have several job application photos taken - some smiling, some not. Afterward, ask the photographer, friends, or family for advice: together, the decision will be easier.

The more natural your expression, the more sympathetic your appearance, the better – and you can succeed even without a smile.

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Creative job application photo: Rarely a good idea

If you want to deviate from the norm in your job application with creative ideas, you should have good reasons. This is especially true when it comes to your job application photo. Remember: Your job application photo should convince the recruiter that you are a suitable and qualified candidate for the job. Therefore, you should only use a creative job application photo if you are sure that it will have a better effect than an ordinary photo. Other things to look out for:

  • Perfect execution: The more unusual the approach, the more convincing the result has to be. Even the best idea will fall flat if the execution is amateurish.
  • The right industry: The industry has to offer space for creative ideas. A dance teacher, a photographer, or an actor can use a creative job application photo – but not an insurance salesman.

Man’s job application photo: good and bad examples

Man on a job application photo Good: Recruiters would appreciate this candidate's open, natural smile and professional clothing choices. The well-styled hair and neatly trimmed beard look well-groomed.
Young man on a job application photo Good: Depending on the industry and entry-level, a strong job application photo can be achieved without business attire. A pleasant smile and positive body language will make a good impression.
Young man in business attire takes selfie for job application photo Bad: Even if the styling and choice of clothes are right, a selfie is not a good job application photo. It lacks seriousness and professionalism.
Man in business attire looks down arrogantly from above Bad: The view from above and the crossed arms look unappealing, arrogant, and withdrawn. The photo raises doubts about the candidate's teamwork and communication skills.

Job application photo: What to wear?

Many applicants are unsure about what to wear for their job application photo. However, a simple rule of thumb can clear up many doubts:

Wear an outfit for the job application photo that you would also wear for the job interview. If you won't wear a jacket and tie to an interview, you don't need to wear the same outfit for your job application photo.

There are a few ways to think about what to wear for your job application photo:

As a general rule, clothing should be clean, wrinkle-free, and in immaculate condition. Men can almost always get away with a business shirt without doing anything wrong – jacket and tie are only compulsory in a few industries. Women, on the other hand, are usually on the safe side with a smart blouse - suits or trouser suits are rarely required.

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Take your own job application photo

Many applicants wonder if they can save money and take their own job application photo. In most cases, however, this is strongly discouraged – unless you are a photographer and know exactly what you are doing.

Many factors go into taking a good job application photo. The quality of the shot, the exposure, the framing, the perspective, the image editing: all these things have to be right for the job application photo to make a professional impression. This impression is important because recruiters often interpret amateurishly produced job application photos as an indication of a lack of interest, care, and seriousness – an assessment that does not bode well for a candidate's chances.

Take your own photo: This is only an option if you can produce shots that are indistinguishable from professional job application photos. However, the equipment - camera, light screens, tripod, etc. - and the know-how are rarely available.

Application photo with AI: not a good idea

Many people already have their job applications written by chatbots. Now, with the help of artificial intelligence, it is even possible to create an application photo in just a few clicks.

Apps like Remini, Profilbildpro or playground.ai are very easy to use: You upload a few photos of yourself, and the AI generates an application photo from them. The more photos you provide, the better the result should be.

However, the drawback of these AI-generated application photos is that you can see at first glance that they are not real photos. This is mainly due to the artificially smooth and flawless skin. Hands are another known source of error in AI-generated images: You can easily end up with too many or too few fingers. Also, most of these photo apps cost money and only offer a free trial period.

It is impossible to say how these artificially created application photos will be received by employers. At worst, they could give the impression that you are not motivated to invest time in creating your application. A fake application photo could indicate that you don't really care what others think of you. So, you could quickly be labelled as unmotivated and even stingy – after all, you have to pay for a professional application photo.

On the other hand, some employers might be thrilled that you're interested in AI tools and know how to use them. In technical and creative industries, you'll probably stand a better chance with an AI application photo than in a more conservative company such as a bank.

As the technology behind these artificially generated application photos is not yet mature enough to create a truly realistic and authentic application photo, we still recommend that you hire a professional photography team. This is the only way to ensure that you get an application photo that shows you in the best light.

Job application photo: Frequently Asked Questions

Many applicants are unsure about their job application photo. The photo should make a good impression on the recruiter - but what should you look out for in a job application photo? Below we have collected and answered some of the most frequently asked questions about job application photos.

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