What your LinkedIn photo says (and doesn’t say) about you
Let’s start with a quick test: Who in the photo above looks like the hardest worker? How about most personable? Best team player? Most knowledgeable?
A huge chunk of my life is devoted to assessing whether a person is suitable for a certain job – and a lot of that assessment, at least in the initial stages, comes down to what I can learn from a LinkedIn profile. And that includes a lot more than just a photo; your title, job experience, portfolio, university, and social posts all play a part.
There’s a lot to be learned from your profile, but the first thing I notice – and arguably the most important thing – is your profile photo.
The way I see it, your photo can go in one of three directions. Four, if you include “not having a photo” as an option – though I strongly advise against that, even if you’re not actively searching for a job.
Option one – you opt for the classic headshot. White background, winning smile, professional attire. Simple, clean, predictable. This is the safe option; people will assume “this person is put together and presents well.”
Option two – still a traditional headshot, but with a more dynamic background. Maybe you’re in nature, or maybe you just stepped out of the office to grab a photo in the bushes behind your office parking garage. Wherever you are, the background is unassuming, the lighting is even, and your clothing remains professional.
Option three – you’re on a hike, or hanging out at the beach, or glancing up from your meal at a restaurant. You’ve ventured into the wilds of the real world to help expose your real personality. Your clothing is more casual and you’re looking like a normal, approachable human being.
Each option not only tells a different story, but actually elicits a different response. Recruiters, hiring managers, colleagues; they all have different expectations of you. Being strategic about your presentation can help make better connections and open more doors. Here’s what you’ll want to know before choosing your profile photo:
The art of not being boring
LinkedIn used to be about presenting a polished façade. It wasn’t a place to showcase your personality; it was a place to feature your strengths.
Those days are, for better or worse, behind us.
Just scroll through your LinkedIn feed – it’s likely packed with personal anecdotes, inspirational stories of triumph against the odds, and personal pleas for professional help. The most successful “LinkedIn personalities” are people who can intrigue, inspire, and meaningfully connect.
We’re not suggesting that you post about your deepest feelings, just that you showcase an authentic (but professional) version of yourself. Part of being authentic can mean:
- Showing a glimpse of your true self through your photo
- Keeping your professional network apprised of how your life and job are changing – i.e., updating your profile regularly with promotions, exciting upcoming events, etc.
Being Professional Vs. Being Approachable
These concepts are not, by definition, at odds. Yet the more professional you appear – with the white background, crisp button-down, and plastered-on smile – the less information you’re offering your audience. Information that can, potentially, lead to a fruitful connection.
The more “relaxed” your photo, the more people will feel comfortable reaching out. There’s a tipping point, though. Too relaxed, and you’ll come off as not serious to certain audiences – especially if you work in a more traditional-minded field.
Case in point, Finance and Accounting – the field in which I specialize. I can tell you that, as recruiters, we like to see a conventional headshot. It screams reliable, and when you’re in the people business, being reliable is crucial. It’s true that recruiters often gravitate toward people with classic, clean headshots.
If you’re in a creative environment, or tech, or a myriad of other fields where a more relaxed approach is welcomed – then go for that less polished headshot. Even in Finance and Accounting, authenticity can certainly get you far.
A final thought – if you’re not actively looking for a job, then a “personality headshot” can only do you good. You’ll turn away a few people, yes, but you’ll attract the kinds of people you really want to work with. And since you’re happily employed, you can afford to be picky.
Dos and Don’ts of LinkedIn Headshots
- Smile! People like to see happy, enthusiastic people.
- Focus on lighting – keep it bright and airy.
- Consider a more dynamic background; a scenic backdrop with portrait mode can go a long way.
- Wear glasses if you usually wear glasses – no need to look like a different person.
- Wear clothing that reflects the kind of environment/culture you’d like to work in.
- Take a new photo at least every five years.
- Opt for a selfie. No matter how professional you think you look – have someone else take the photo.
- Apply filters (you’d be both amazed and disgusted by how many profiles I come across with snapchat filters).
- Be “too” authentic – even if you go for a hiking photo, for example, make sure you’re appropriately clothed.
- Leave your photo blank. My first thought as a recruiter when coming across a profile with no photo is – does this person even exist? Is this a fake profile?
Beyond that, be as creative or traditional as you’d like! Just remember, your photo isn’t just for you – it’s for an audience. You’re looking to draw out a specific response, so think deeply about what that response is and go from there. I’m happy to help – just send your question/photo to email@example.com.