Profile Photos - 6 Steps to Looking Your Best

Your profile photo is critical to how you portray yourself online. Just Google yourself and see what comes up - Google Images, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, etc. - everywhere you look, you see yourself in all your photographic glory - looking exactly as you would want others to see you. Or, at least you should…

A surreal profile photo

A surreal profile photo


Because this is often the first impression you give people. An online search is the first thing anyone does before meeting someone else - be it for a date, a job interview or seeing who your next opponent is in your local chess tournament.

According to LinkedIn, profiles are 14x more likely to be viewed if they have a profile picture. Who knows what opportunities are slipping away because you are a white silhouette on a grey background?

In fact, TheLadders job site used an eye-tracking heatmap to see what recruiters spent most of their time looking at when reviewing someone’s LinkedIn profile. Of the 6 seconds (!) a recruiter will spend on your resume, 19% is focused on your profile picture. This is more than both Experience or Skills & Endorsements. So you definitely want that profile picture to be the best possible representation of you.

And this post isn’t purely about LinkedIn profiles, because if you think recruiters / clients / employers aren’t taking a peek at your Facebook, Google+ and Twitter accounts as well then you are sorely mistaken.

Here are some dos and don’ts when thinking about your profile picture. Some may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed at some of the profile photographs people try to get away with.

The Dos and Donts of Profile Photography

DO dress appropriately. Of course this is subjective to where you’re using the profile picture and what it’s for. If you’re updating your LinkedIn picture and work in finance, then you should probably wear a suit, or at least a jacket. If it’s time to replace your photo, then you could wear something that both reflects your character, and shows you off in your best light. If in doubt, err on the side of dressing up.

DO think about the background. You want it to be as neutral as possible, with decent contrast to you and what you’re wearing. Generally solid white or light grey backgrounds are optimal, if your face is well lit. Try to avoid anything too psychedelic!

DO keep your profile photograph updated / recent. Often people will Google someone before a first-meeting to a) research the other party, and b) help them identify who they’re meeting with. If you’ve lost weight, grown a beard and started wearing eye-glasses and your profile photo looks like the “old” you, then the chances are high that the two of you will never meet. Seriously, people can find this misleading - which isn’t a good first impression at all.

DON’T crop yourself out of another picture. There is nothing worse than a profile picture where you see rogue body-parts in the periphery of the photo. You want people thinking how good you look, not wondering whose hand it is on your shoulder.

DON’T upload a group photo. Are we supposed to guess which one is you? You might think it shows you are social and fun, but someone else could infer that you are just a party animal. Perception is reality.

DON’T use a selfie. Have someone else take the photo. Ideally a professional photographer who has proper equipment, can match your skin tone & wardrobe to the right background and can basically capture you looking your best.

Finally, a Linkedin beware: Don’t try to cheat the system -  Linkedin doesn’t allow fake or symbolic pictures. The profile photograph has to be of you, and you alone. Not your company logo. Not you adorable pet kitten. Not you and your buddies at a football game. If you mess this up 3 times you forfeit your ability to have any photo at all. You can read about LinkedIn’s photo guidelines and conditions here.

The bottom line is that if somebody is interested in you - be it for professional or personal reasons - they want to see what you look like. We’re biologically hardwired to want to know.. And technology has given them the means to do so: from Google Images to your social media accounts. Your profile picture is even added to your email accounts - so people can see who they’re sending notes to!

You can choose not to play the game, and opt to have no profile imagery anywhere. But this means you could be passing up on all sorts of vocational and social opportunities. Instead, we believe you should embrace your profile picture and do everything you can to look your very best in it. And it is our suggestion that you should hire a professional photographer to take your profile photo. The investment is fairly minimal, and it could end up being worth the time and money many times over.