Never underestimate the value of a profile picture on LinkedIn. How you choose to present yourself in that tiny square says, if not necessarily a thousand words, certainly quite a bit to potential employers, partners and clients. Yes, your resume is important, but as with any real-world encounter, it's the photo that makes that crucial first impression.
Despite this, LinkedIn is littered with terrible, embarrassing, poorly lit and composed profile pictures. By this point, LinkedIn's career expert Catherine Fisher and professional photographer Donald Bowers have seen a wide variety of violations.
Here, they share a few do's and don'ts.
Do have a profile picture.
This seems so obvious but there are people who still use the LinkedIn default blue silhouette, and that's a problem says Fisher. The simple act of adding a photo increases your visibility on LinkedIn by a factor of 14, so if you've gone to the trouble of making a LinkedIn account, there's no excuse not to upload a photo.
Don't forget the context.
LinkedIn is a platform for professionals, so unless you are a veterinarian, never include your pet, Fisher says. She sees far too many dogs and cats on the site, along with this repeat offender: photos marred by the intrusion of seemingly disjointed limbs, the casualty of aggressive cropping. And unless you are a swimsuit model, "don't take a photo of yourself in your bikini," Fisher says. "Please. Let's keep it professional."
Do think about the lighting.
If you can't afford to spring for a professional, have a friend photograph you, first setting up the light source to his or her immediate left or right, Bowers says. As opposed to a direct flash, which tends to "flatten and wash you out," side lighting will provide a more modeled look. While Bowers recommends shooting LinkedIn profile pictures indoors against either a grey or white background, if you are going for an outdoor shot avoid midday, when the overhead light creates problematic shadows.
Don't be too formal or informal.
Not everyone's LinkedIn picture should look the same. While headshots work for most professions, it’s important to tailor your picture's style to the type of job you are applying for. "Ask yourself, 'what would the people at that company be wearing?'" Fisher says. The answer to that will vary widely, depending on both the industry and the company.
Do consider hiring a professional photographer.
A professional headshot is an investment, one that can often be used for up to five years, says Bowers. He typically charges $200 for a one-hour session, although group rates often apply. You're not just paying for the lighting and composition, however. After the photo session, Bowers will retouch one headshot. Stress and sleep deprivation are things "that happen to us all," but with some subtle airbrushing, Bowers can minimize splotchy skin and eye bags. "You can fake. I can fix it up," he says reassuringly. Retouching "helps a lot. It can make you look five years younger. And for a first impression…that can sometimes be very important."