Secretarial: Avoiding snap decisions

It's not what you can do. It's what you look like. That's why many secretaries dread being asked for photographs.
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The Independent Culture
COMPILING A CV, as every secretary knows, is no easy task. How do you cover up periods of unemployment? How many pages should it be? Should you say you failed the final exam? But while there is an abundance of similar advice on such matters, the latest dilemma - whether or not you should include a photograph of yourself - remains contentious.

"After all, it's a trend that has only become popular in the late Nineties," explains Paul Jacobs, of the recruitment agency Office Angels, which reports a fast increasing number of job-seekers following the practice. The logic is clear. Your CV will stand out immediately from others in the pile and you get the opportunity to reflect a little of your personality - something that is currently possible only under a sub-heading of Interests. "Everything - including your hairstyle, glasses, jewellery and make-up - indicates something about you," claims Jacobs.

Suzanne Ormand, a secretarial temp, recently moved over from the US where sending a photograph with job applications is prevalent. "So it's something I continued to do here as a matter of course, and I've never had a negative response," she says.

Angela Edward, policy adviser with the Institute of Personnel and Development, adds that enclosing a photograph is welcomed by many personnel officers following growing numbers of job applications. "When you're interviewing tens of people in a single day, it can be really helpful to have a photo attached to each application.

"It prevents the rare - but existent - fraudulent practice of someone turning up to an interview pretending to be someone else," she continues. "And if you have access to a digital camera and can successfully scan your photo on to online applications, it can reveal that you are au fait with the latest technology."

According to Paul Jacobs, however, unless secretarial hopefuls are applying for particularly creative media-based companies, they should act with caution. "CVs should be simple and concise, revealing only why you are suitable for the job," he feels.

The employment agency Adecco Alfred Marks takes an even stronger stance, advising secretarial staff to refrain from sending photographs. "Subconsciously or otherwise, employers will use photographs to influence their decisions during the staff selection process," explains Julie Murray, a spokesperson for the company.

Debra Allcock, head of campaigning at the Industrial Society, has concerns about increasing numbers of employers requesting photos with applications. "It is well known within recruitment that first impressions are often the most influential factor. So you should never comply, even if they say you won't get an interview unless you do.

Jacquy Jacobs, who was instrumental in setting up Forties People, an agency that recruits mature secretaries, agrees. "Many older women wouldn't have a hope of getting a look in if they sent in a photo, because they're the `wrong' age. In fact, it may simply be a matter of not liking your spectacles or considering your efforts to be `well-presented' as `tarty'."

If you want to assist personnel staff, however, says Debra Allcock, take a photograph along to the interview. That's quite acceptable.

According to Angela Edward, there is a minor cult for "face-reading" emerging in personnel work in the US; people are claiming that they are able to detect personality traits from a person's appearance.

Whether this will catch on here remains to be seen. But in the meantime, the message from experts on both sides of the fence is to think carefully about any aspect of your CV, always asking yourself why you're omitting or adding anything at all.