Unless you're submitting a portfolio to a modeling agency or a headshot to qualify for an acting gig, you shouldn't include a photo with your cover letter and resume. Even then, submit photos only when specifically requested. Otherwise, your application materials should reflect your professional qualifications and job skills – not the way you look or whether you're photogenic.
If you think attaching a photo to your cover letter and resume will show that you have a a professional appearance, you're on the right track because that's what most employers prefer. But a photograph only captures the way you look, and it's not a suitable attachment for your application materials. In fact, many recruiters and hiring manager might toss aside application materials that include photographs because it shows the job seeker doesn't understand proper job search techniques.
The most effective way to make a favorable impression is to be well-groomed and wear appropriate interview attire. Men usually wear a suit and tie, or a sportcoat and slacks. Women have options such as a pantsuit, a skirt suit or coordinated separates. If you're new to the workforce or uncertain about what to wear to your interview, search for online resources, contact your college or university career center or call your local department store and speak to a salesperson or image consultant.
Even if you're a runway model or Hollywood actor, your qualifications are as important as your appearance. In the business world, however, you want potential employers to focus on your qualifications and not the way you look. Invest your time and resources in creating an outstanding cover letter and resume instead of searching for a photographer who specializes in professional bio shots. Fundamental to a successful job search is showcasing your skills, job knowledge, education and work history, as well as your core competencies, such as communication and interpersonal relationship-building skills.
Aside from being judged as a job seeker who doesn't know the ropes, attaching a photo to your application materials can be an invitation for the recruiter or hiring manager to rely on personal bias in selecting you for an interview. It's an unfortunate reality, but personal preference, bias and, in some cases, discriminatory hiring practices factor into the selection process. That's one reason why Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that employers rely solely on job-related qualifications and not physical characteristics in their interviewing and hiring processes. In fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – the federal agency that enforces Title VII – includes asking for photographs during the application stage on its list of prohibited practices for employers.
If you're applying for a job overseas – that is, with a non-U.S. employer – you may be asked to submit a photograph. In that case, it's appropriate to do so. Employers outside the U.S. aren't bound by the same civil rights laws, nor do they always have similar application processes, as U.S. employers. In its post titled, "Is Your Resume Overseas-Friendly?" the HCareers website assures that this practice is customary for many overseas employers.