The Best and Worst LinkedIn Profile Photos

The Best and Worst LinkedIn Profile Photos

mona lisaIf a picture speaks a thousand words the last thing you want is to be mute on LinkedIn.

Your profile photo and summary are the first things that other members see when they visit your profile. Choosing the right photo can mean getting a gig, connecting with a key contact and making the right impression on other members.

The photo represents who you are. Don’t make a mistake in which one you choose.

People Will Judge Your Face: Facial Perception and Social Cognition

Some professionals refuse to post a profile photo on LinkedIn. This puts them at a huge disadvantage to build an effective network. Since the LinkedIn profile consists mostly of text, the photograph serves as a stamp of authenticity, a way to build trust. This is not my opinion: science tells us that facial images have a huge impact on human behavior.

“Face perception is the process by which the brain and mind understand and interpret the face.” (Source Wikipedia).

When someone sees your LinkedIn photo, their brain immediately begins to create associations and categorize the image into a social schema. At this point social cognition brings to mind other information linked to the image by association. As a result judgements are formed which go beyond the image presented, pulling in outside information and influencing social behavior, such as whether to accept your connection request or email you for an interview.

This process happens almost instantly and unconsciously. You cannot afford to create a negative judgement either by lack of photo or a bad photo. If you want to know how to take advantage of psychology and post a LinkedIn profile photo that will get results then read on.

6 Ways to Look Your Best for a LinkedIn Photo

george washington profile picLook Slightly Above the Camera. When you are about to take your photo, look directly at the lens and then move your point of focus a few inches above it. This will cause your chin to tilt slightly upwards, your chest to open and your entire face to relax somewhat. It also gives you a look of purpose. Think of the paintings of famous leaders like George Washington or Napoleon after a victory. Their faces tilt up in much the same fashion. Also, angle your face about 45 degrees to the right or left. This will avoid the photo looking too much like mug shot.

Smile. On a B2B (“business to business”) network like LinkedIn a lot of members make the mistake of assuming they have to be ALL business. Being too serious, even on a professional network, can really hurt your ability to connect with other members. Smiling in your profile picture is one way around this trap. But did you know there is a whole body of science behind smiling that proves this even more (hat tip to blogger Emo Hannink for pointing this out)? In the article The Psychological Study of Smiling, Eric Jaffe talks about the process that happens right before we smile:

  1. “Emotional data funnels to the brain e emotional data funnels to the brain, exciting the left anterior temporal region in particular”
  2. It then hits the face with messages that activate two muscles:
    1. The “zygomatic major, which resides in the cheek, tugs the lips upward” and
    2. The “orbicularis oculi, which encircles the eye socket, squeezes the outside corners into the shape of a crow’s foot.”
  3. Generally the zygomatic major can be willed into action but the orbicularis oculi will only contract from genuine emotion

These two muscles working together produce a “Duchenne smile”, named after the 19th Century, French anatomist Guillaume Duchenne, “who studied emotional expression by stimulating various facial muscles with electrical currents”. How important is this? A 2010 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, showed that people in exclusive groups (such as executives and hiring managers) “showed a greater preference to work with individuals displaying genuine Duchenne smiles than those bearing cheap grins.”

Kung Fu the Camera. As a longtime practitioner of Kung Fu, I picked up a trick that can make it look like your face is completely engaged even when it is not (works great in corporate meetings). Put the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth.

According to Chinese medicine, the energy in your body flows through 12-major channels called “meridians”. Two of these meridians govern all of the others:

  1. The Conception Vessel (“Ren Mai“): travels up the front of the body, through soft tissue, ending at the tip of the tongue
  2. The Governing Vessel (“Du Mai“): travels up the back, through hard tissue of the vertebrae and skull, ending at the roof of the mouth

When you connect these two meridians your eyes light up and your ears literally perk up. You appear alert and focused. Internally, the energy flows better through your body as you are physically causing the hard to connect to the soft.

The result for your LinkedIn photo? You look alive.

Dress for Reasonable Success. Dress in a way that is appropriate to your role and industry. This can change dramatically for each member so make sure that you know what is expected.

A suit and tie may be too much for the software industry (even for the CEO) or in a certain cultures. I learned this listen well when I first moved to Israel. Having worked in the legal industry in the US, I believed that suit and ties were the norm for client meetings. Then I gave a talk at a top firm in Tel Aviv to their key clients including C-level executives from Fortune 500 companies. Everyone could tell the immigrant in the room because the “dressed up” meant you tucked in the button down shirt to your jeans.

Also, while you want to dress well, you also want to represent who you really are, so use common sense in choosing your wardrobe for the photo.

Think positive. Often we can read what someone is thinking on their face. If your thinking about your unemployment when you snap that LinkedIn profile photo you will not look like the winner you are.

As the photo snaps think about the awesomeness you bring to the table, especially in whatever role you are seeking. Focus on being in the moment, and let the good thoughts flow through your brain (using your trick from Kung Fu the camera here will help!).

You have a lot to offer. Understand and be clear on your marketable experience and what you can give that prospective employer or client. This will help you look confident and hopeful for new opportunities.

6 of the Worst Choices for Your LinkedIn Photo

Now that you have some concrete advice on how to take an awesome LinkedIn photo, let’s just review a few of the things to avoid. For each of these I will try to provide you with a photo of myself that illustrates the point.

An old photo. Sure you probably looked awesome at 25 (and still do at 35), but don’t use  a 10-year old photo on your LinkedIn profile. The photo to the right shows me playing Eugene in a stage production of stage production of Brighton Beach Memoirs almost 20-years ago. Remember the purpose of LinkedIn: to land new professional opportunities and build an effective network. If you do not look like the guy or gal in the photo then you may be hurting your credibility with a potential employer or client who then meets “the real you”.

Distracting backgrounds and objects. People will use profile pictures on LinkedIn that include all kinds of interesting things like shots at famous locations, on boats or holding the bouquet they caught at their best friends wedding.

Distracting photos like this are usually remembered for the wrong reason like “what about that shot of the computer programmer with his boa constrictor? Weirdo!”

The photo to the right of me with a rainbow: okay for Facebook; terrible LinkedIn profile photo. Avoid distracting the employer or client with your photo. Be memorable for the sum of what your profile conveys: a confident, capable professional who is right for the job.

Photos with other people. No matter how cool you think having a photo with your baby may be (and it is!), LinkedIn isn’t the place to put it up as your profile shot. The same goes for you with the boys, the co-workers and even famous people (cool stuff to share through an Application or status update on LinkedIn, but not as your profile pic).

Take this shot of me holding my daughter Shoshana. Awesome photo. She was my first born, I had just completed the NJ Bar Exam 2-hours before (yes, I left my wife in labor at the hospital to take the exam … yes I passed), and Shabbat had just started. One of the most incredible days of my life, and a good story to tell in networking. Not the photo to represent me on LinkedIn.

Pixelated. The last thing you want is for your LinkedIn profile photo to look like a Georges Seurat painting.

Pixelated photos happen when we play around with the size of a photo file without knowing what we are doing. Often you see a picture get pixelated through cropping or zooming.

Perhaps there was that amazing shot of you from the company party, but you are standing with three other co-workers that you want to crop out. When you do so and try to enlarge the cropped image you get pixelated.

There are ways to fix pixelated pictures using blur and sharpen filters on programs like Preview for Mac. Your best bet in the end may be to get some shots done by a friend or professional that are specifically for use in social media profiles.

Company Logos.These are fine for company pages on Facebook and LinkedIn. Some companies even do this for Twitter, although I have found a person’s face MUCH more effective. On LinkedIn however, you are representing yourself, even if you are an entrepreneur. Your face should fill the profile photo space.

Related Side Point. Do NOT start a member profile for your company on LinkedIn or Facebook for the purpose of “connecting” to people and having greater access to their feeds. These are blatant violations of the Terms of Service on most networks. It is the reason they offer company pages, and I will never accept a member invitation from a business posing as a member.

No photo at all.This is perhaps the WORST thing for your LinkedIn profile. One of the easiest “wins” on LinkedIn is uploading a profile photo. It takes under 20-seconds, increases the likelihood of results and really allows people to get a good sense of who you are. Whether you follow the tips in this post or not, find yourself a half decent photo, put it up, and then work towards getting a better one.

LinkedIn Resources to Help You Get Stuff Done.

I hope this post has helped you in your photo selection for LinkedIn. If you are interested in more resources on LinkedIn, then check out these posts:

Also, I am giving a workshop on Sept 10, 2012 in Jerusalem Israel on LinkedIn best practices. You can learn more by clicking: How to Generate Leads and Job Offers With Your LinkedIn Profile.

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