To photo or not to photo

“Is it OK for me to ask for a photo with the job application?” is a question that I get from many employers in Japan familiar with hiring foreigners. They wonder if it will make them look bad in the eye of the foreign job seeker that deems this practice discriminatory.    

As many of you know, in many counties asking for a photo can lend itself to age and race discrimination legal issues. These cases are actually rare but do exist and, in the USA, is a “Prohibited Employment Policy” under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Having lived in Japan for over 25 years (I suddenly feel old), I appreciate that the practice of attaching one’s photo to a resume is customary and not discriminatory… well maybe a little as we are human and make snap judgements (for example, that person looks just like my neighbor who has noisy dogs).

When hiring foreigners, I would definitely require the applicant to include a photo. The reasons are different than you would expect. 

Main Reason: I want to see if the applicant will follow this particular instruction

If my job description asks for you to apply with a photograph, and you do not, I can conclude either:

  1. You did not read the entire job description or you cannot follow instructions. Not considered for employment.
  2. You noticed the requirement and actively decided to ignore the request. This tells me that the applicant does not know anything about Japanese hiring practices and is not a cooperative person. Sometimes flexibility and cooperation is needed and in Japanese work environments people pitch in and help out to have a company run smoothly. I cannot have a staff constantly saying “that is not my job” or “that is not in my contract” or something like that, especially if I also have Japanese staff who will almost always help out with small tasks (even if I don’t ask them to).

Asking a foreign job applicant to submit a photo is a good guide to see if he or she is an agreeable person. Keep in mind that living in another country requires us to show more flexibility than we may be used to in our own country and the kind of person who can demonstrate this is more likely to succeed in a job in Japan. 

If I receive a social media type of photo, graduation photo or anything other than the passport style photo, I still give the applicant consideration. They may not have cultural knowledge about Japan but the person is probably agreeable to work with. 

Below are a few things that surprised me about the research behind this.

Do attractive people get more job offers?

While the research backs the claim that taller people make more money (A 2004 study in the USA found that every inch of height amounts to a salary increase of about $789 per year – the study controlled for gender, weight and age), this does not always apply to how attractive one is. Actually research suggests that adding a photo is good for handsome men and bad for attractive ladies.While the laws in the United States discourages companies from requiring photos, many applicants include this anyway as they see it as giving them an advantage. The belief is that resumes with photos are harder to discard. (This makes sense as we all have boxes of photos including terrible shots that you should have thrown away… I need Marie Kondo’s help with mine).

It is not in a woman’s best interest to attach a photo

The Social Science Research Network found that female job applicants without a resume photo had FAR MORE callbacks than attractive women who included a photo. Their conclusion floored me. Their conclusion is that HR departments are made up predominantly of women and due to female jealousy and envy of attractive women in the workplace. Conversely, handsome guys who included a photo received more callbacks than men who included no photo. I hope we are not that superficial as a society, but that is what the research concluded. 

Here is a link to the research paper: “Are good looking people more employable”:

The advice that I give to job seekers is to absolutely include a resume photo every time. If the employer is going to discriminate against someone on his or her appearance, you do not want to work for that employer anyway. Why let them waste your time coming in for an interview only to then be rejected for something that probably has little to do with the job requirements?

Next time we’ll be talking about referrals, and how they aren’t always as simple a decision as they appear.

Do you think companies should ask for resume photos? On the other side, do you think that employees would be better off including their photo in every application? Let us know in the comments

Peter Lackner

Peter Lackner operates the employment website He was a former director at GPlus Media (GaijinPot & CareerEngine) as well as a director at In addition to being active in the English Teachers in Japan (ETJ) organization, Peter serves on the Board of Directors for Tokyo Association of International Preschools.

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