What’s In A Profile Photo Anyway?


Career development


There are countless articles and tutorials dotted round the internet (including a few written by me) about the importance of a ‘good’ profile photo.
They all tell a story about the how the perfect image of yourself will get you your dream job, noticed in your field or help you to gain followers.

When it comes to LinkedIn however, I believe that most of the advice offered (again, including my own) is now incorrect, or at least partly incorrect.

“If a picture can tell a thousand words, then why do we limit ‘professional’ photos to a mug shot that says nothing about who we are or what we do?”

In a world where it’s becoming more and more imperative to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate that you’re indeed an individual, having the same forced mug shot as every other person on LinkedIn surely flies in the face of this strategy?

LinkedIn themselves have some advice on how to take the perfect selfie. Don’t take a selfie, get someone else to take a photo of you, it’s easier.
Other advice included is to use a blank white background – I disagree with this for the reasons listed below.

So what is it that you could, and should, be portraying about yourself to the world with your profile photo?

Firstly a stat or two about LinkedIn:

With the above in mind, and the fact that your profile photo is the first impression people viewing your photo will have, isn’t it important to make sure you’re getting it right and portraying as much information possible?

lady in office

What do profile photos immediately say to me when viewing a person on LinkedIn?

  • Blank — Thought it would be a good idea to create a LinkedIn profile. Did the bare minimum, never returned
  • Cartoon — Uploaded their photo in 2005, when they thought it was cool to have a cartoon version of yourself
  • Black and white — Overly artistic, maybe a photographer. Pointless otherwise
  • Blurred — Try again. You didn’t try hard enough the first time
  • Holiday snap — Couldn’t find any photos suitable for a professional network
  • Side on, head turned to camera — Creepy, like a school photo
  • Mug shot — Generic, forgettable

If every photo was the epitome of professionalism, then LinkedIn would be full of profiles with emotionless images of robot-like, soulless faces, easily forgotten and unapproachable.

So. What type of photo do I think you should upload to your profile?

With your photo you’re trying to show the viewer why they should engage with you. Whether this is to simply connect, discuss an opportunity or start to follow you, your photo needs to give the right impression straight away.

Ideally, you portray the following with your photo:

  • That you’re a human — personality and individuality
  • Your passion — you love what you do
  • What you do — the environment you thrive in
  • How you work — how you get the job done successfully
  • That you’re approachable — you want people to engage with you yes?!

How can you accomplish the above in one photo?

Real life. By showing what life is like in your world, you can immediately illustrate many aspects of who you are, what you do and why you do it.

A good, clear candid shot of you in an everyday working situation says a lot about you, enough to give a great first impression to anyone viewing your profile.

Like many wedding photos, it’s the candid shots captured of guests mid-conversation, of an individual watching the proceedings or reacting to something someone’s said that are the most natural and most telling about the story of the day.

linkedinprofile A workplace photo illustrates a lot more about a person than a traditional profile image

A photo of your working day tells the viewer many things about what it’s like to work with you.
It also tells the story of your personal brand. If you’re visible on other networks then they may not necessarily give much away about who you are at work.
By including a glimpse into this environment in your photo, you can immediately reinforce your image before even your LinkedIn headline has been read.

As a business leader you could invest in a photographer to provide such photos of your employees. By visiting your offices for a length of time, a professional photographer can capture unique, honest candid photos of your employees that they can use on their profiles.
This will not only improve your employee’s profiles and personal brand on LinkedIn, but it also proves an effective perk to build engagement and advocacy among your workforce.

What do you think? Do you agree or think a different type of profile photo is better than the candid approach?

Please don’t assume my profile photo is a great example of the above, it’s not. Yet.