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3 mistakes you’re making with your LinkedIn profile picture

Don’t let a bad photo ruin your professional chances.

3 mistakes you’re making with your LinkedIn profile picture
[Photo: Emmanuel Bior/Unsplash]

If a picture is worth a thousand words, your LinkedIn profile picture is worth a lot.

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Sure, you may have invested a lot of time capturing job descriptions, collecting solid recommendations, and identified tangible (and impressive) professional achievements. Those things are all critical and definitely showcase your professional track record. However, your profile photo also contributes to the first impression you make on a potential employer, recruiter, investor, or partner.

Digital marketing agency Digital Third Coast and risk mitigation specialists JDP recently collaborated to study 2,000 LinkedIn photos across 11 industries. After analyzing technical execution, style, facial expressions, and attire, they found a large percentage of LinkedIn users consistently fail to meet certain quality standards with their profile pictures.

To create a positive first impression with your LinkedIn photo, avoid making these three common mistakes:

Mistake one: using a low-resolution photo

When I first got more active on social media over a decade ago, I was somewhat shy about sharing a picture of myself in the public domain. I found it unsettling to have an image of myself online for anyone in the world to see.

I realized, however, that I am personally suspicious of someone without a profile image who reaches out to me online–even if that message is coming through a professional platform like LinkedIn.

[Photo: Isaiah McClean/Unsplash]
Although this may seem obvious, a surprisingly large portion of LinkedIn users display pictures with low resolutions that only look fine as the small, circular thumbnails that feature along with your profile.

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According to Andy Kerns, creative director at Digital Third Coast, “when a picture doesn’t meet a certain standard of high resolution, the enlarged version looks even worse.” This doesn’t exactly leave a positive impression with recruiters, hiring managers, or potential partners when they click on your picture.

Solution: don’t use a selfie

According to LinkedIn, the minimum size for profile photos should be 400 x 400 pixels. Make sure your LinkedIn profile image is sharp with high enough resolution to look good on any screen and larger sizes. Avoid selfie shots taken with your smartphone camera. Those rarely work as well because front-facing cameras often have a worse resolution.

[Photo: Flickr user Justien Van Zele]

Mistake two: cropping your face from a group shot

Some of my favorite photos of myself are not from posed headshots, but of candid shots that catch me during natural moments when I’m not even looking at the camera. If you’re like me, your favorite pictures of yourself are the ones you have with your good friends when you’re feeling happy, at ease, and most like yourself.

[Photo: rawpixel/Unsplash]
It’s no surprise that many LinkedIn users choose to crop themselves from group photos, often leaving partial faces, shoulders, and nonprofessional backgrounds in the frame. According to Kerns, “People are in love with how their smile looks in a picture or how their hair looks, but then overlook other issues.” Cropping from a larger group photo doesn’t always convey the right mood, particularly when you’re not in a professional setting.

Solution: Get a professional headshot

Use a photo of yourself taken for the purpose of being a profile headshot, not one cropped from another photo you happen to have. Use a background that doesn’t distract. Anything in the frame that isn’t your face should help support the overall professional image you’re trying to convey as part of your personal brand.

Mistake three: ignoring lighting

I admit that don’t always think about things like lighting or shadows whenever I’m trying to find a photo of myself to use on social media. My focus tends to be on my attire and my facial expressions.

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[Photo: Nicole Honeywill/Unsplash]
But according to the Digital Third Coast and JDP study, lighting is a fundamental part of photography people often struggle with. Some of the most common mistakes include dimly lit pictures, excess eyeglass glare, or uninviting blue hues. “Using a dimly lit picture is a tactic people who are self-conscious use to get a picture up without feeling too exposed, which comes across as unconfident and unprofessional,” according to Kerns. Uneven lighting can also be problematic. “If half your face is in the light and half in the dark, this can create a creepy, disjointed effect.”

Solution: Make sure to use a high-quality camera

Invest the effort and money into hiring a professional photographer who can take a uniformly lit shot specifically for the purposes of a headshot. Alternatively, you could even just ask a friend who’s good with cameras to take a picture of you with one of the latest smartphone cameras with high-quality portrait modes.

Attention to detail can go a long way

Hiring a professional photographer might seem like a big investment, but when you think about the professional payoff, you’ll probably realize that it’s not at all.

Kerns also suggests that in addition to following all the tips above–you should always have a warm smile. “A full smile projects confidence, energy, enthusiasm, and approachability–all hallmarks of a great candidate for an open position.”

Ultimately, your profile is an important part of your online personal brand, so keeping these things in mind when creating your profile photo will help you make the most positive first impression you can when it matters most. Don’t let a photo ruin a great professional opportunity.


Joseph Liu is a keynote speaker, career change consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast featuring stories of career reinvention. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

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