The director of the career center for which I work recently sat in on one of my LinkedIn workshops in which I talked about how to use your whole LinkedIn profile to brand yourself. I thought I did well, and afterward I asked the director for her thoughts.
She was happy with my performance, but she said I forgot one thing. I never mentioned how your LinkedIn background image — the picture which sits behind your headshot — could be used as a branding opportunity.
I should have known this, but it honestly didn’t occur to me until she mentioned it. Boy, did I feel like an idiot.
In fact, the background image seems to get a pass from many LinkedIn users. They often stick with the default image that comes preloaded on every profile:
To take a pass on this area is a mistake, as this is the first image people see when they visit your profile. This is prime real estate on your LinkedIn profile. Therefore, it should reflect who you are, what you do, your brand, and your professional image.
Your Background Image Should Brand You
One of my most valued LinkedIn connections, Shelly Elsliger, is all about branding. She takes it to a higher level than most people, developing a unique professional identity and coherent message that sets her apart from others. This is truly reflected in her background image, which you can see above.
Ask yourself, “What does my background image say about me?” If the answer is, “Nothing — I’m using the same tired background image everyone else is,” it’s time to make a change.
Create a background image that conveys your unique identity, as Elsliger has. Obviously, she went through the effort of creating her own personalized background. You might not have the ability to go that far — but you can still make the most of your background image.
Your Background Image Communicates Who You Are
One of my clients uses as her background image a picture of herself hiking in the Appalachian Mountains (above). This works because the client loves hiking and wants her connections to know this. Her photo is also work-related, so it is professionally relevant — a double whammy.
You may have a background image of the New York City skyline, a tranquil lake, a field where horses are grazing, or anything else that describes you as a person. I recently asked my LinkedIn connections — a bit facetiously — about including family members and pets in your profile background. The answer was a resounding no.
Your Background Image Describes What You Do
If you’re a yoga instructor, the above photo of a woman doing yoga might be an appropriate background image for your LinkedIn profile. It sends a clear message about what you do.
As a surgeon, you might not have a background that shows you in action, operating on a patient — but perhaps you can find a photo of a hospital instead. You may have to get permission to use this photo. (In fact, everyone should generally be aware that you may need to get permission to use any photos you haven’t taken yourself.)
Your Background Image Shows That You Care
When you take the time to upload a background image on your LinkedIn profile, it shows you care about how you present yourself.
I was once critiquing a client’s profile when I noticed his background image was a striking photo of Lowell, Massachusetts. Does this represent what my client does as program manager? No. Does it brand him? Not really. But it does show he cares about his professional image.
I’m grateful that my director highlighted my faux pas of not mentioning background images as an important part of LinkedIn branding.
If after reading this post you now feel you need to upgrade your background image, no worries. You can get free images from places like Stocksnap.io. I get many of my images from Flickr, which allows you to use its photos as long as you credit the photographer.
A version of this article originally appeared on Things Career Related.
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.