That LinkedIn Pic...

As many know, I am an advocate of social media, particular as a space to develop professionally.  I use it a lot and encourage others to do the same.  I also regularly teach workshops on how to use social media for personal, professional, and organizational uses.  I enjoy the opportunity to help others with social media and connecting with others.  I also enjoy helping people increase their professional opportunities through social media and have done workshops on that as well (as can be seen by the SlideShare below).  Recently, while on LinkedIn, I realized that there was some good advice that I could pass along to people looking to maximize their profile impact and it had little to do with most of the content.  I am going to take this blog post to discuss the most important part of your LinkedIn Profile: your profile photo.

Before we start that conversation in full, I want to acknowledge a few problematic things about this whole post (Note: this is the Lance of 2021, returning to update parts of this post and this glaring omission).  The importance that I'm putting on the visual here is unfortunate; I hate that we're typically reliant on "first impressions", especially when we know--WE KNOW--that this contributes to a variety of discriminating practices.  There's also an element of performance here and having to "perform" for potential future employers by maintaining a professional digital identity that appears proper. But if you are using LinkedIn for professional opportunity and advancement, this is the game that we have to play.

So the first thing you need to know is that you really do need a profile picture. It's not enough to just have your name on LinkedIn. There are many times when I'm looking at LinkedIn profiles and I only realized who the person is because of their profile picture. Remembering names is challenge for many of us, but faces, not as much. It's also relevant when you have a common name. If I see 3 John Smith's, how do I know which one is the one that I'm friends with? Yeah sure, I can go and look at all three profiles but a much simpler way for me to know is to see the profile pics. So for most people, you should have a profile pic. There are some exceptions, of course, but typically those exceptions have to do with people who need to keep themselves and their information private. But then again, those people usually aren't going to use social media.

Okay, now that we know you should have a profile pic, what should the picture contain? These are some of the must-haves!  

First, the shot should be of you. You should not have a photo of your dog or cat (it's soooo tempting!!!). In truth, the photo should only be of you with no one else in the actual picture. Again, if a person is looking at your profile for some particular reason, they will actually want to know which one is which. You also don't want to distract anybody from you if you are the subject of their search.  The point is to be the center of attention and others in the photo might cause confusion.

Your photo should be taken in either a neutral location or a relevant location. By neutral, I mean a very simple background, such as a single-colored wall, a building, or some other non-descript background. You want a strong contrast so consider clothing and skin-tone to determine if the background helps you stand out or makes it harder to see.  If you were to do a relevant location, be sure that it is clearly relevant. Sometimes, this is really easy. For instance, you might be a track coach and therefore, take your picture at the track. If you are some kind of manager, then a picture within an office space is probably a good shot.  

Don't take photos of yourself in ambiguous environments such as in the woods (unless you are seeking a job as a park-ranger or the like).  Taking photos of you in interesting places may sometimes work but it is a gamble.  I've seen some photos of people in interesting places. One person looked like they were in the midst of some kind of race, maybe a marathon. But I don't know that this entirely sits well with somebody trying to check them out professionally. Sure, it hints at a deeper person than just what their professional life is like but I could also see it distracting from the message in the content of the person's profile.

Your picture should also be of high quality. Avoid uploading a pixelated picture of you to  LinkedIn. Nobody really wants to see a vague and hard-to-distinguish image of you.  Upload a picture that is well detailed and ideally, recently taken. The photo should also be taken in a well-lit place. Don't make people should not have to strain to see you.

Your photo should also be a reasonably close shot of you. This means it should either be a mid-shot from the waist or ribs or even shoulders up or a headshot.  Do not take a picture where it is hard to see you in the photo or it's hard to make out your face.  

Word cloud of blog post on LinkedInBe sure to smile in your picture or at least have a welcoming look. Again remember, this is about first impressions. You generally want to smile when making first impressions.  Along those lines, your face should not be obstructed. In some cases, it might make sense. But mostly your face should be clear and identifiable. You want people to see you.

 Just a little bit more about things you probably shouldn't include as your profile pic. I've seen a couple people include their wedding photos or family photos. These are definitely not professional photos for your profile. It's great that you got married and have a family but that is not necessarily relevant to the job that you may be hired to do (even if it should be relevant!). Another pic that you would generally avoid is obvious selfies. There are probably a decent amount of profile pics on LinkedIn that are selfies. However, it's not necessarily obvious or clear that they are  However if the picture looks like a selfie, then you might consider having somebody else take a better picture of you. The selfie itself isn't necessarily a problem. It's more about how our culture perceives people who take selfies. Again, this is a first impression. You want that first impression to be professional. Selfies don't often feel professional.

In the end, you want to treat your LinkedIn profile picture like the image you want to present to someone at your first interview for a job.  Besides being an opportunity for a good first impression, it creates the opportunity for a good second impression, should you be called for an interview.  When you show up looking professional, you've now represented yourself twice as a professional and that could be enough to give you a lead.

What other tips or ideas do you use when priming your LinkedIn profile to be eye-catching?

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.