LinkedIn Profile Photos: Simple Rules to Make Yours a Standout

The right professional photo will help you stand out in LinkedIn search results and keep people on your profile page longer. People are often driven by visual cues, it takes just six seconds before a recruiter or decision-maker either moves on or decides to keep reading. One of the best ways to get to that “yes vote” is to use an excellent profile photo.

The Things You Never Want To Do

There are a lot of mistakes that can be found in LinkedIn profile photos. While some of these can even be funny, this is much too important not to take seriously. Let’s start off with the things we never want to do:

No Picture- The gray silhouette pic that LinkedIn substitutes for your “no photo” in results is like having crime scene tape wrapped around your career search- without a picture, you’re dead on arrival.

The Hobby Photo- Off-roading or tearing it up on an ATV is an exhilarating pastime for a lot of people. Even so, if your LinkedIn photo includes your Jeep buried to the axles, it’s time for a new photo. Similarly, I’ve stumbled upon radio-controlled helicopters (no person here, just his helicopter), Civil War reenacting execs, and jousting junior developers. To date, the current all-time champion is: Santa Claus holding a shotgun.

The Family or Pet Photo- Next to avoid, we have group photos like the full-family shot, or you and the gang at a recent party. Finally, keep the pets out of it- if there’s a horse in your LinkedIn photo, you’d better be a veterinarian.

Party Clothes- If your outfit would raise eyebrows at a formal event like a wedding, it definitely doesn’t belong in your profile photo.

Props and Staged Backgrounds- This is a gray area. Sometimes people attempt to stage a photo that’s in context with their profession. For example, they might be standing at the head of a conference table. This can easily backfire, yet sometimes people pull off a photo that really works well. If your photo falls into this category, remember to compose it in a way that considers the thumbnail version in search results. Your face should still be easily visible and it should be clear to see what’s going on.

The Selfie- A cellphone selfie will almost universally be shot from a poor angle, with a sub-par background, and poor lighting.

Technical Difficulties- If you make a misstep during photo resizing, the final product might appear blurred or grainy. Pixilation can also result from cropping a small section from a much larger photo. Whenever you adjust a photo, keep the aspect ratio locked to prevent a funhouse style distortion of your facial features.

The Old Photo- We all would love to use that shot when we were younger and at our perfect weight. Even so, you never want to show up to an interview and look shockingly different from your profile photo. Keep an eye on clothing choices or hairstyles that might now look dated in your photo. A good test is this- If someone knows you only from your profile pic, would they recognize you in person?

The Key Components of a Great Profile Photo

Now that we have covered what to avoid, here are a few surefire guidelines to produce a great photo for your professional profile.

Professional Photography- If you go this route, keep in mind you’re looking for a professional photographer, not just someone with a professional-grade camera. Though not mandatory, a good photographer backed up by professional lighting and equipment is a smart way to go. If you’re short on time or funds, recruit a friend with a great camera and the skills to handle it.

When evaluating potential photographers, always ask them about image licensing. Images are typically the intellectual property of the photographer and they may set restrictions on where or for how long you can use your photo. If there are limitations or extra fees involved, find this out before you make a decision.

Solid Background- It’s safest to take your headshot using a solid background, a lighter color here typically produces the best results. The final photo should translate well into a thumbnail and still leave a good impression at full size. Be careful that the backdrop color doesn’t match your clothing, wash out your hair color, or change the appearance of your complexion.

Good Lighting- If your final photo is too dark or too light, it’s an automatic do-over. This is where a professional can be indispensable, both in the photography and in editing your final image.

Professional Attire- Dress the part, always look professional in your photo, and consider not only where you are in your career currently, but also where you would like to be. Go the extra mile to ensure your clothes are freshly pressed and completely free of stains, lint, pet hair, etc.

(LADIES) There are a few points for you to remember here. Go easy on the makeup and be sure to check the photos as you go- your makeup can look completely different in your pictures than it did in the mirror. For outfits, a basic black jacket seems to be the most often used. Even so, it’s simple to set yourself apart with a pop of color- perhaps a colored blouse under the jacket or a scarf. Stick with solid colors- as styles come and go, a print can severely limit how long you’ll be able to use your photo. Stay away from large earrings, no big hoops or sparkling chandelier type bling should be worn here. If you wear a necklace, stick to a simple, classic style- something that is timeless and will not date your picture.

(MEN) Fashion choices are a lot easier for guys. Simply decide where you want to fall on the professional image spectrum: 1.) a solid color dress shirt and tie 2.) a dress shirt with a jacket and no tie, or 3.) a suit and tie.

Hair & Makeup- Try to schedule your photo so you can also show up with a fresh haircut and/or shave. Remember to take care of all those grooming details like your eyebrows. Look well rested with a good night of sleep before your picture. Ladies, don’t go over the top with a hairstyle and consider taking shots with a few different looks, i.e. hair both up and down.

If you decide to go all out, hire a pro makeup artist for the photo shoot that has expertise in makeup application for professional photography- just ask your photographer for a referral.

Open & Friendly Expression- Put on a warm smile, you always want to look approachable. Some people really struggle with getting the right look in their photo. If that’s you, locate a few photos of you with a welcoming facial expression- they probably were taken when your guard was down.  Practice replicating that look in the mirror (just don’t let anyone catch you doing this). When it’s time, look directly at the camera and project confidence. Finally, make sure several of your shots convey the exact expression you’re looking for before wrapping up the photo session.

Carol Sosalla