December 11, 2018

Express Yourself in Your LinkedIn Photo — As Long as It Fits Industry Norms, That Is 


By this point, most of us are familiar with LinkedIn. The social media site for professional networking has become a staple of the recruiting world. Job seekers use it to connect with opportunities, and recruiters and hiring managers use it to scope out leads. Every part of an applicant’s LinkedIn profile says something about them — even the profile photo.

Be certain that if you are looking for a job, someone is scrutinizing your photo and making judgments about you, according to recent research from marketing firm Digital Third Coast in collaboration with JDP. The research explored 2,000 LinkedIn profiles to discover the best and worst that job seekers have to offer.

“We measured the technical execution of LinkedIn profile photos — based on lighting, framing, and resolution — across 11 industries, so our primary findings amounted to which industries performed better or worse,” explains Andy Kerns, creative director for Digital Third Coast.

According to the research, real estate, HR, and marketing/advertising had the best profile photos, whereas education, government, and retail had the worst. The research also found that healthcare and government workers were least likely to upload profile photos, a fact that “indicates either a need for privacy or a lack of emphasis put on physical presentation in those fields,” in Kerns’ view.

While a study focusing on the art of LinkedIn profile photos might seem a little niche, your profile photo is ultimately an important tool in your arsenal during a job hunt.

“By reviewing our data alongside an open LinkedIn search window, people can quickly identify missteps to avoid and feel confident in other stylistic choices — perhaps a black and white photo with no smile — especially if it jives with their industry of interest,” Kerns says.

What Your Profile Photo Says About You

Rather than snapping a quick bathroom-mirror selfie to slap on your profile, take the time to do a little research. Find out what will impress recruiters, hiring managers, and coworkers in your target industry.

“When it comes to strategically styling a LinkedIn profile in pursuit of a new job and selecting a photo, we recommend that people look the part,” Kerns says. “That means take cues from other people in the same industry, in the same types of positions you’re pursuing, and particularly those in leadership positions. Like it or not, personal style can be a language of its own within certain industries, and it makes an impression.”

People who fail to post photos that reflect the norms of their industries risk implying that they, as employees, will also fail to fit in if hired.

“It’s not ideal — people should feel free to express themselves — but in a modern job hunt, you’ve got to be strategic,” Kerns adds.

Your Online Brand Is Bigger Than LinkedIn

You leave a digital footprint behind you everywhere you go. If you’re in the midst of a job search, make sure you limit public access to private social media pages. Similarly, make sure any publicly visible photos won’t give a negative impression to anyone who might be looking into your online presence.

“We recommend curating your online brand on social media, personal websites, company sites, and across the many other places your name and behavior or beliefs can be expressed,” Kerns says. “Whether you run a 5K, comment on a restaurant, or make a political donation, there are all kinds of ways you can be projected online outside normal channels. Seasoned professionals make sure they put forth a thoughtful public persona that aligns with their professional interests. At the very least, be ready to answer for anything distasteful.”

Even the gainfully employed should be at least marginally aware of how they project themselves online. If you think you’re safe just because you’ve already got a job, consider all of the viral video stars who have been fired by their employers for unethical behavior in recent years.

“In many industries, careful curation is not just suggested, it’s mandatory,” Kerns says.  “And even when it’s just suggested, we encourage people to think about the broad reach of their work and who might be tempted to judge something in a way that could impact your professional interests.”

Read more in Using LinkedIn

Jason McDowell holds a BS in English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. By day, he works as a mild-mannered freelance writer and business journalist. By night, he spends time with his wife and dogs, writes novels and short stories, and tries in vain to catch up on all of those superhero television shows.