Whether you use LinkedIn to find talent, look for a job, land that next great business deal, or simply stay connected with your network, the first thing people will notice about your profile is the picture. No matter how good that picture is, it won’t accomplish any of your goals for you. A really bad picture, though, will make potential contacts skip right past you.
Here are eight of the most common mistakes people make with their LinkedIn profile pictures:
No picture at all: This is probably the most frequent error among casual or new users of LinkedIn. You throw a cursory profile together just to see what will happen. You can always add the picture later, right? While that’s true from a technical standpoint, not having a picture on your profile is a huge mistake that will virtually ensure anybody who finds your profile will pass you by. It shows you just don’t get it. Are you uncomfortable with technology? Don’t you have a single friend who could snap your picture? Is there something so completely bizarre about your appearance that you’re trying to hide it? Go with the flow on this one. LinkedIn was designed to include a picture. Not having a picture can actually be worse than having a really bad one. But try to avoid the following bad picture advice as well.
Poor quality pictures: You’ve all seen these. Blurry images. Red eyes. Busy backgrounds. Awkward expressions. Why would anybody want to do business with somebody who cares so little about how they present themselves to the world? You don’t need to have professional head shots taken (although that can help), but at a minimum your photo should be clear enough so that you would be recognizable to anybody who met you after reviewing your profile. By the way, selfies almost always fall into this category and not just because an inordinate number of them seem to have been taken in a bathroom mirror. Even if you can avoid having a shower curtain as a background, it’s hard to take a selfie seriously as a profile picture—especially if you’ve had to contort your arms so much that it’s obvious that you’ve taken the shot yourself.
Sexually suggestive photographs: LinkedIn is primarily a business forum. Your photo shouldn’t make you look like an escort, exotic dancer, or swimsuit model unless you actually work as an escort, exotic dancer, or swimsuit model. You may have looked fabulous in that strapless evening gown at the charity gala, but if your head and shoulders photo makes a viewer lean over his cubicle to ask, “Hey, Ted, check this out—is this girl naked?” you’ve probably chosen the wrong look. Bonus tip in this category: While “duck lips” may be appropriate in some photographic contexts (although I’ve never actually seen one), that’s something else you definitely want to avoid.
Dated photographs: That Farrah Fawcett hairdo or silk shirt unbuttoned to the navel may have looked great when that picture was taken in 1978, but it’s time to update your photo. If, on the other hand, you’re still sporting a Farrah Fawcett hairdo or silk shirt unbuttoned to the navel, it may be time to update your look. In any case, a good LinkedIn profile picture should be a flattering representation of how you look now. Not when you graduated high school, not when you won that varsity track letter in college—but today.
Group shots: There are two common errors in regard to using group shots. Yes, it is an impressive professional achievement to be named one of the top 25 whole life insurance salesmen in the Pacific Northwest for 2015. But posting that group shot of the Top 25 Whole Life Insurance Salesmen from the 2015 Pacific Northwest Whole Life Insurance Salesmen Convention isn’t appropriate as a LinkedIn profile picture. Which of those tiny smiling faces is you? Similarly, zooming in on your tiny smiling face while cutting off those to your left and right isn’t much better. Ideally, your LinkedIn profile picture should be of you and you alone.
Photos where you’re either too casual or too dressed up: Casual work spaces have become the norm in many places, but sometimes this can be taken too far in a profile picture. Avoid using pictures where casual slips into sloppy. If you occasionally work from home and walk around in cargo shorts and flip flops all day, nobody needs to know that. We certainly don’t want to see it. Conversely, whether you work in a casual or a more formal business environment, you shouldn’t be too dressed up in your profile picture. You may never have looked better than when you were a bridesmaid in your cousin Debbie’s wedding, but that isn’t the picture you want to use on LinkedIn. You may not even own a suit today, but don’t compensate for that by using your prom picture where you wore that great-looking tux with the clip-on bow tie. Your profile picture should be a reflection of how you look at work. Well, maybe your best day at work. Unless you’re the maître d’ at a fine restaurant, the conductor of an orchestra or a British double aught spy, avoid appearing in a tuxedo on your profile page.
Pictures better suited for Facebook: Again, LinkedIn is primarily a business networking site. Your profile picture should reflect your professional competence—or at least not detract from it. In an attempt to highlight their personalities, too many people use photographs that would be better suited for another forum, like Facebook. These include photos of pets, kids, flowers, landscapes, sunsets (or sunrises), and illustrations of anything other than you. So unless you actually are a golden retriever, a four-year old blowing out candles, an irregular incurve chrysanthemum, the sun setting (or rising) over the Grand Canyon or the Marine Corps insignia you shouldn’t use those images as your profile picture. Bonus tip: Lose the sunglasses, ball caps or anything else that restricts the visibility of your face. Yes, you’re cool. We get it—but what are you hiding behind those shades?
Pictures depicting controversial behavior: It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a LinkedIn profile picture of somebody actually smoking a bong, but you don’t have to look hard to find folks dressed in pot-embossed clothing, cultivating marijuana, or smiling in front of a hemp-themed logo. All of which is fine if you are in the cannabis industry. It might not work to your advantage if you are hoping to find new clients for your business manufacturing finely-tuned precision instruments. Likewise, I frequently place sales people in the Wine and Spirits industry and one of their common job functions is to conduct wine tastings for buyers and consumers. Consequently, many of them have profile pictures depicting themselves holding a bottle or glass of wine. Again, this is perfectly acceptable in context, but may look out of place if you hope to land that next job as headmaster of a Christian boarding school. Bonus tip: If these pictures exist elsewhere on social media, you’re not really fooling anybody by not using them on LinkedIn. Employers, clients, and potential business partners often check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites to learn more about whom they are dealing with. Any picture that is publicly available can reflect on you positively or negatively. Try to purge the negative ones, on LinkedIn and elsewhere.
So what does a good LinkedIn profile picture look like? Generally speaking, it should be a clear and well-lit head-and-shoulder shot against a non-descript background that looks like you in a flattering way. It should reflect your competence and professionalism in the field in which you work. If you are a marketing executive in a fashion-related industry, your overall look may be very different from that of a graphic designer for a non-profit organization, but all the other elements should be the same.
Here’s a test. If a recruiter arranges a meeting between you and a potential employee in a nearby Starbucks, you should both be able to recognize each other from your respective LinkedIn profile pictures without raising any red flags that make you want to reconsider the wisdom of the get together. Seems simple, but I’ve seen enough profile pictures to know that many people can’t meet this standard.