How to select the right profile photoYou know you’ve seen it. That cringe-worthy photo from your friend’s beach vacation that she’s using as her LinkedIn profile photo. “What in the world is she thinking?” you’ve wondered. “I’d never use a photo like that to represent myself online.” Really, Mr. Look-at-me-and-my-super-cute-puppy?

Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for puppies. I’m pretty keen on babies, too, but not in our profile pictures. There was a time when we framed and displayed those photos at home or, perhaps, on our desk at the office. Things are no longer as simple. Today, our workplace is not limited to just one desk in just one office. To some extent, we’re all connected to others online and we still want to express ourselves by decorating our online office with our favorite photos. For those of us who have businesses or careers, the version of ourselves we put online matters. It can and will be seen by anyone interested in learning more about us.

One of the often overlooked elements of our online presence is our profile photo. The photo is important for a couple of reasons:

  • It makes it easier to recognize you. If I’m meeting you in person for the first time, having seen your photo will put me at ease knowing who I should be looking for. Similarly, if we’ve met in person and you send me an invitation to connect online, seeing your photo will help me remember you.
  • Simply put, it humanizes you. I don’t want to connect with an anonymous account. I want to connect with a person. And, yes, this means that it’s time to finally add a photo to your LinkedIn profile if you haven’t yet taken the plunge.

Choosing the Right Photo

  1. Head shot – Probably your head, neck and a bit of your shoulders, but no more. It should be the real you, not a cartoon or Mad Men version of you. And, by real you, I also mean current you. It may feel like you were in high school only yesterday, but if you did the lindy hop at your prom, your old yearbook photo won’t do.
  2. Logo – Unless your business is a well known brand (think Ford or Macy’s), it is probably best to use your photo rather than a logo. In general, we like and want to connect with people, not businesses. It’s important to note that using a logo instead of a photo on LinkedIn would violate the User Agreement. Skip the logo and stick with your own head shot.
  3. Keep it simple – This means we want to see you. Lose the baseball hat, those awesome sunglasses or anything else that competes for our attention in the photo. Same goes for busy backgrounds.
  4. You and only you – Getting back to puppies…your primary profile photo is probably not the best use of your puppy photos. Ditto for you and a group of your best friends or you riding your bike.
  5. Nudity – If I can see your shoulders in your head shot, I want to see clothing. While you may be wearing a strapless dress, it’s all about perception. Don’t take the time to create a great profile only to leave people wondering if you’re actually naked. Eww. There is no difference between being naked and appearing to be naked in a profile photo. There is a time and a place for nudity, but your profile photo is neither of these.
  6. Consistency – A great way to help your own branding is to use the same photo for all of your online profiles. Use the same photo on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube channel, your blog, etc. It will make it much easier for people to recognize you right away.
  7. Smile – Don’t overthink your pose. Attempts to look too serious can come off as intimidating. And none of those here-I-am-looking-busy-by-pretending-to-talk-on-the-phone photos. You’re not that busy. Put the phone down for a second so you can smile and have your picture taken.
  8. Doesn’t need to be fancy – You don’t need to rush out and schedule a session with a professional portrait photographer. Having a friend take a photo of you in front of a solid background should be fine as long as the lighting is sufficient. Word of warning – Whatever you do, have someone else take your picture. Do not, under any circumstances, let me see you taking your own photo in the bathroom mirror with your phone.

Exceptions

I can hear you all the way across the internet, “But I use the different social networking platforms differently and that’s why I have puppies on Facebook and am wearing a suit and tie on LinkedIn.” You are in good company. If you must have a profile photo with your puppy/baby/surfboard/bottle of wine/cigar/goat, keep it on Facebook and only on Facebook. As long as you understand what can be seen when a potential client or employer Googles your name and you’re OK with it, that’s all that matters.

Are your profile photos dressed to impress? What profile photo best or worst practices have I missed?

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