7 tips to make your profile picture professional

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In previous articles, we’ve offered tips for using social media in your job search. That’s because more and more recruiters and hiring managers are using social networks to learn about and even contact potential candidates.

While most know how to lock down their profiles through privacy settings on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn is a little different. The point there being that the information you’re putting on the site is critical and relevant to your job search; therefore, your picture should also be professional and relevant to your job search. Even with your career transparency on LinkedIn, for all three sites (or however many you may be using), your profile picture is the one constant that’s nearly always visible.

“Your image is conveyed through your photograph, and it’s part of the first impression you make on others,” says Barbara Pachter, a business communications and etiquette expert who’s authored numerous books on social media professionalism. “You want to post a photograph that is professionally appropriate. You want to look like a credible, approachable person, not like you just came from the beach.”

The beach would be a treat, honestly. Some of the photos I see? For shame, people, for shame. So let’s go through some examples of what you should and shouldn’t be doing in your profile picture.

1. Use a head shot. This means that it should be head and shoulders, highlighting your face. It should not be some weird photo from a party. 

2. Your photo should be flattering. Who wouldn’t want to be portrayed in the best light? However, this doesn’t mean you should use butter on the lens to give that soft glamour-shot effect.

This example is neither a good head shot nor is it flattering; also, it should be in color.
Leave your artsy photos for the gallery.

3. Your face is the focus, not the background. Again, this is a headshot. That means you posing near the Great Wall is probably not the best choice for a main picture. Is it cool? Absolutely. Professional? Not unless you’re an ancient bricklayer. Keep your face in focus too — nothing is worse than a blurry photo. Well…

Yep, your face is typically important. Biceps, deltoids and other body parts should be left unseen.

4. Be fully clothed. The number of people I’ve seen without clothes or who post images of others sans clothing is appalling. Remember, your profile is seen by everyone, so clean up your act and keep the more risqué photos for “Missed Connections.”

5. Don’t make any funny faces. Pachter says, “If you are frowning or scowling, why would someone want to hire or work with you?” This is equally true for those who try to use more suggestive pictures. What kind of work would an employer assume you’re interested in? So while this ties in with No. 4, I still see photos of people with clothes on who are making weird, goofy faces. A smile will work nicely, thank you.

6. Keep your photo current. Make sure your photo actually looks like you. Stop using a photo that you love from five-plus years ago. Again, not only is this off-putting, but if people meet you and realize you’re being deceptive, why would they trust you as an employee?

I was less wrinkled and much thinner then. But still not a professional photo – I mean, look at that shirt.

7. Find a photographer. Whether you pay or find a friend or student to take your photo, it’ll be better than your mirrored self-portrait with your phone or a webcam shot. Trust me, the effort in having a professional shot will be worth the trouble of setting it up.

The moral of the story is this: If your account is locked down, put up any drunken/Halloween/inappropriate photos you want in your “Shameful Moments” gallery. But keep your profile image respectable, even if you are not using it as part of your job search. Google and other search engines will pull in your profile images when recruiters or managers search your social profiles (especially Google+).

See how nice a professional headshot can be, even if it’s taken by a photographer friend?

Please note all the photos above are of me, even though I so wanted to put certain people on blast for their awful photos. You know who you are.

Tell me about the worst profile picture you have ever seen or if you’ve ever judged candidates based on their profile pictures in social media!

  1. Justin Thompson i liked reading your post on profile picture professional very interesting topic but more than that i liked your two cute profile picture 5+ years ago & Google+

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  3. Hi Justin, what an interesting post! It was about time for someone to bring up this topic. I’m in the middle of my job search so every tip is more than valuable. I’ve had chance to screen through different sources related to job search and career development and besides The Work Buzz which I find as one of the better blogs for this matter, there was this http://www.blog.ivyexec.com which offered some interesting articles as well. Still I very much look forward to some articles like this one! Thanks!

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  17. Professional photos are important…especially if you are posting for a nanny position. I found the most interesting photos on a nanny search website. It kills me because I am searching for an upstanding, trustworthy person to watch my children. The photo of the person that does not reflect this sentiment is almost immediately disqualified in my opinion.

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