How to make a strong application – Part 2: The application photo

In our series “How to make a strong application”, you will find lots of information about applying for jobs and selecting the right job. Topics range from the question of “What do I really want do?”, to qualities of the perfect job application photograph and aspects of job interviews. 


“A picture is worth a thousand words” – this is also true for an application. Although an application photo is no longer compulsory since passage of the Anti-Discrimination Law in 2006, it is still a good idea to submit a photo with your application. As another proverb also so clearly states, “First impressions are important”. Images leave lasting impressions in our memory and a photo is a chance to leave a positive impression right from the start.

A job application photo is not just any photo: after all, in the end it is there to help you get a new job. It should show that you are a good match for the company and the job. It is therefore wise to clarify beforehand if there is company dress code. This often works by looking at employee photos on Xing or LinkedIn. Alternatively, you can go to the company as a customer and see for yourself. In general, you should aim to adapt your clothing to the style of the job position you are seeking and avoid being too casual. For women, shoulder-free clothing is just as taboo as deep necklines and too much make-up.

Do not shy away from masculinity

Both sexes should have washed and well-groomed hair. For men, this can also include a beard. For women, it is best to wear a high quality shirt or a blouse, without a low neckline, and a blazar. Men should wear a buttoned up shirt and jacket, a tie is not required. For both, colours should not be too loud. In terms of accessories and make-up: less is more.

According to psychological studies, it is advantageous for women to show their “masculine” side. A dark trouser suit with an unpretentious blouse is a good option, for example, because it is well received by most personnel, regardless of gender. This style of dressing makes you seem more serious and assertive. According to the research, you can strengthen this impression by combing back your hair or putting it up.

Palm trees in the background? Better not

Your application photo should definitely be done by a professional photographer and not be older than one year. If your appearance has changed drastically, this will have an irritating impact on the job interview. You photo should show you at half profile with a friendly smile – this makes a positive impression!

Recognisable objects in the background distract the eye and give the impression that the photograph is a personal shot. Personal photos and holiday photos are extremely unprofessional for applications! A neutral surface background is far better.

Whether you prefer to have your photo in colour or in black and white is purely a question personal taste. Ideally, in colour photos, the background colour should match the clothing, and particularly with black and white photos, make sure the lighting does not cast ugly shadows.

Make a good impression? Go for it!

The standard format for application photos is currently 6 by 4 or 9 by 6 centimetres. Portrait format is the one most commonly used. With landscape format, you can stand out a bit more but need to be sure that you select optimal picture details that match the design and layout of your application documents.

If you are using a cover sheet, this is where you should prominently position your photo. Otherwise, put on the first page of your CV, usually above the first line. Whether you put it on the right or left side depends on which direction the nose is pointing. As a rule: always look into the page, never out!

Attach the photo with glue, never with a paperclip! That looks unattractive and gives the impression that you want to use it again later. Nevertheless, make sure you write your name on the back of the photo. This makes it possible to reassign it easily to your application should it somehow fall off the document.

Checklist for application photos

  1. Eye contact with viewer?
  2. Open smile?
  3. Hair in place?
  4. Natural skin tone?
  5. No shadows in face?
  6. Matching clothes, without wrinkles?
  7. Neutral background?


In the next part of this series, you learn how to read a job advertisement properly, and in a way that enables you to understand how your potential new employer ticks and what they expects of you.

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