Can a picture REALLY tell a thousand words?

Last week a friend of mine asked me if I could help her put a job application together.

She had been approached by a head hunter representing a very well known US-based business. She really liked the sound of the opportunity and the company and had been asked to complete a pretty in-depth online application form.

The first part of application was to respond to 10 questions each with a 100 word limit. I have to admit some of the questions were a bit ‘out there’, but eventually we were both really happy with her responses.

After uploading her answers, the following text automatically appeared…

In the unlikely event that we choose not to read your responses to the questions just submitted, please upload an image that you feel best captures the key message behind your application. Feel free to include a caption of no more than 10 words”.


She thought about it for a few minutes and then said, “I need an image that really defines my ambition to succeed”.

In the end my friend decided to upload a photo that had been taken from a helicopter flying right above Manhattan. “Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” she said.

Interesting selection.

What photo would you show a recruiter/employer who, instead of looking at your CV and interviewing you, told you that they just wanted to see a photo that best reflected your success and achievements to date?

For example, I have a photo of me at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. To me this captures a true personal accomplishment and my desire to be constantly pushed outside of my comfort zone.

If I was the recruiter or hiring manager in the above scenario, and a candidate showed me the iconic photo of Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon, I would interpret this to also reflect personal accomplishment, and the desire to be the first to achieve something.

I know of many recruiters who ask candidates to submit a photo with their application. However this is usually as a way to literally put a face to a name. After all, a recruiter can easily interview a few hundred people every year and CVs can all start to look the same.

What if the idea of including a photo had nothing at all to do with putting a face to the name? But was more a way for you to reinforce the message behind your application?

Would you even need to be in the photo?

What would your 10-word caption say?

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(12) Readers Comments

  1. The statment to go with my avatar pic would be “I will take you to top and return a new person”

    Love the idea though

  2. That kept me thinking. Here are a couple of ideas. I am not sure which one I would use in an actual situation.

    1. Perhaps a bulls eye with the dart in the center – symbolising focus – “Until it gets done”
    2. Or a girl climbing the mountain – almost at the summit – Dreaming until achieved
    3. Or a desk in the middle of a jungle and a comfortably positioned employee – Finding a purpose to work, anywhere, anyhow

    The idea is really good. And it would perhaps sift the best out of the lot in the quickest way possible. The picture will also depend on the type of business that company is dealing in.

    A point of debate for the person applying here would be to decide if he/she should highlight his own personal strength, irrespective of the company’s industry, or correlate both.

  3. Interesting idea!

    On the one hand I like it as a way of getting some insight into what people see as important / representative of them – as reflected in the images and words they choose. On the other hand however I’m not sure how insightful and therefore valuable it truly is.

    We are all so different in what we see symbolisd in images I’m not sure it would help anyone to form accurate perceptions about the applicant. In other words I question the extent to which you could make fair judgements about people based on this exercise. I

    As for the approach – I don’t like that at all. Why not just say up front we want you to do this exercise as well rather than suggesting they may not bother reading responses your friend invested energy in providing.

    Karen :-)

    • Karen, I have to say that I agree with you about their approach. I would be mad as hell if I received a notification that they may not read my applicant responses and can I find an image instead, just in case. They would lose me as an applicant immediately and do serious damage to their employer brand.

      • I agree Karen. While I think the idea of adding a representational or symbolic image is a nice touch, I’d be annoyed if the employer used this as a lazy get out clause.

  4. It would be a picture of me raising my bike over my head at the halfway point between SF and LA with the caption, “Persistence”

  5. But I would add that they should have positioned it as an extra task, not a, “In the unlikely event we don’t read your thoughtful, painstakingly crafted answers blah blah blah.” That was crap.

    • Totally agree with you Todd. I think that’s pretty lazy and rude actually!!

      • Funnily enough, that was my first thought as well. Just felt a bit devious, and real power imbalance.

  6. Whether its right or wrong depend in the industry. I think it’s a great idea.

  7. I think if you provided a picture associated with a recent achievement. For example I was a proud member of a Programme Management Team and we delivered the final project on time, to budget and Users thought exemplary.

    The message is that you demonstrate evidence of experience and knowledge and through team working have attained a success for a previous organizational entity. It’s just an idea, hope it appeals.

    Kind regards

    Sunny Saudi

  8. The relevance also depends on the ability of the reviewer to interpret what the candidate was trying to say with their chosen image. I’m not sure I’d be overly confident based on experience, both direct and anecdotal.

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