Are You Guilty of Recruiting Cliche Images?

Aug 3, 2011
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Have you seen these people? The ones in the picture to the right? If you have, immediately call the marketing police and report their location. They are on the “Most Overused Stock Image Photo” list at

I’ve personally tracked the photo to eight HR-related sites where it shows up illustrating employee engagement, consulting services, headhunting, and a company’s commitment to diversity recruiting. I know there are more. Google has 19 pages of results.

Is your company among them?

A moment’s digression: Google has a new, handy image search that lets you drag an image into the search box to find where else it appears. You can also upload a picture, search by URL or, with the right extension, right click an image. Google explains it all here. has a dozen pictures on its list, which it put together as much in fun as to make the point that imagery is not immune to cliche. The images are all stock photos, available at little or no cost, which is one reason they’ve become so ubiquitous.  They are a cheap way to spice up a site.

The downside for recruitment marketers is that like elevator music, no one pays much attention. And when they do, instead of thinking “diversity” (in the case of our suspect picture), they think, “Now where did I see that photo before?”

I found it on the internship page of a company that boasts of being the “best of the best.” It may be, but consider the message communicated by the picture  (and, oh dear, the site has several more offenders). The message it sends is more along the lines of, “We’re just like everyone else.”

Is that what you want candidates to remember? Think of another cliche, the one about a picture being worth 1,000 words. Behind that trite expression is an enormous amount of research that all says the same thing: Images evoke a more powerful response, and are more easily recalled than words.

You can probably guess why. We see the image first, then zero in on parts, just the opposite of how we read. In a journal article a few years ago noted market researcher Dr. Alan Braithwaite, managing director of Ignition Marketing Research, explained it more scientifically:

Images have an immediate impact, as they are perceived holistically rather than in the linear-sequential fashion of verbal accounts. Whereas verbal messages are processed rationally and consciously, visual imagery is perceived and partially processed preconsciously.

You don’t have to be a market researcher, however, to appreciate the value of choosing images wisely. The web has plenty of sites with tips on how to select images. Here’s a simple starter from Brand Innovation Group.

Note the first point BIG makes: Fit images to the concept you are looking to communicate. I’ve sat in on enough meetings to know just how tempting it is to edit an idea, a concept, or a message to fit the image. This is especially true with logos, and thematic color choices.

I very clearly remember one heated creative discussion about choosing the “look and feel” for a website. The design team pitched hard one particularly attractive look. It was slick, modern, almost avant garde, with colors that popped. It was also totally inconsistent with the message we wanted to convey.

So here, in addition to the tips and advice from BIG and others you’ll find online, are mine:

  1. DO NOT choose images until you have written out the message and impression you want to convey. Writing it out will (literally) ensure everyone is on the same page. And it will keep you from backing down when the design team comes up with the wrong image.
  2. Avoid using images that have become Internet cliches. Search Google to see where else that cool, stock image appears. If it shows up more than just a few times, or if it shows up on other recruitment sites, don’t use it.
  3. Before going live, invite in employees not involved in the image selection. Instead of asking them what they think of the picture, show it to them in context, and ask about the impression the entire project conveys.
  4. Whenever you can, use real people. Have a photo day and engage your employees in shooting photos for the web site. Give them a photo credit online. Mount the best submissions and hang them where everyone can see.
  5. Be ruthless in your selection and your photo editing. It may be a great picture, but if it isn’t consistent with your message, it doesn’t get used.
  6. Change the imagery periodically. This is especially important to make sure the workers on your site are still your workers and haven’t moved on.
  7. Candids are better than posed.
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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