Just as you don’t want any of your job search materials looking generic, you don’t want your LinkedIn profile looking generic to a job recruiter or hiring manager. If your LinkedIn profile is to serve as a piece of online personal branding that helps you stand out as a professional, one simple step you can take is customizing your background image.
“The LinkedIn banner image instantly creates a strong first impression,” says Kyle Nelson, a founder of a product photography and video company. “Not only is it the first visual a visitor is presented with on your LinkedIn page, but it can say a lot about who you are.”
In the past, if you hadn’t customized your background image, you were left with an abstract series of blue dots as your background image.
Then in 2020, as part of LinkedIn’s redesign, users were left with a plain gray-on-gray image, which unfortunately is not a design that is approachable or personalized.
“Failing to upload a background image creates a feeling of uneasiness in visitors to your LinkedIn profile. It suggests you’re not contactable and your presence is static,” says Patrick Ward, director of marketing at software company Rootstrap. Without a background photo, a user could miss opportunities to expand their network and connect with business leads and job openings.
However, there’s a fine balance between personal branding and shameless self-promotion. Here are five ways you can customize your background in a way that promotes your LinkedIn profile, without coming off as boastful.
One simple way to spruce up your profile is to feature an image of a relevant location. “This is a great way of showcasing to potential connections the city you are based out of,” says Heather Taylor, communicators coordinator at a virtual legal services firm.
You could consider featuring a skyline, a well-known landmark, your target audience’s location, or your hometown city to showcase a bit of pride, particularly if it’s relevant to your work.
Industry or function
Using an image that signifies the industry you work within can be an effective way to convey the work you do. This imagery can supplement the description you use in your profile’s “Experience” section.
For example, if you work within the transport industry, consider featuring transport hubs, vehicles, or railways. If you work within the finance function, consider a trading floor, currency, or financial district. The more specific you can be to the exact nature of your role, the better. And if you’re an architect but focus on healthcare facilities, consider featuring hospitals rather than a randomly chosen building facade.
Tools of the trade
Rather than featuring an image of you doing your work, you could feature the objects you use to do your work. “A picture that depicts the work environment or the primary tools of the pictured person’s profession can offset the boring white backgrounds seen in most profile photos,” says Jeremy Rose, director at internet services company CertaHosting.
Whether a simple image of your desk, a Gantt chart if you’re a project manager, or a photo of a table saw if you’re a craftsperson, showcasing specific objects can convey a sense of know-how.
This works especially well if you’re a maker or creator. An artist could feature the exact type of drawing utensils you use for your work. A chef could showcase the type of food you specialize in cooking. Find an image that represents your passion and expertise.
Customer’s desired benefit
Taking a page out of marketing fundamentals, rather than focusing on yourself, focus on your target audience. Communicate the exact benefits your client or customer derives from the work you do. Feature an image that conveys the outcomes you achieve for people.
“Speak directly to people’s emotional buying impulses, without overly promoting your specific products and services,” says Marsha Kelly, president of the small business resource Best4Businesses.com. “[Focus] on the end benefits you offer clients, such as health and freedom.”
One point of inspiration could be your company’s mission statement rather than a product or service page. For example, if you work in the insurance field, the image may relate to peace of mind or confidence. If you work in hospitality or travel, convey belonging or comfort. Further, if you work in travel, illustrate adventure or serenity.
On-brand pattern or color
If the ideas above still feel forced or unnatural, you could always resort to simply featuring an abstract, on-brand image, pattern, texture, or color. “Photos of things like laptops, cups of coffee, and keyboards can look overused and cliche,” says Deborah Boggs, a professional coach who often advises on social media protocol. “Abstract images or textures can make your profile stand out without looking inauthentic.”
Consider patterns that relate to your industry. If you work in construction, wood, floorboards, or tiling can look beautiful and convey strength. If you work in agriculture, an aerial view of crops can be quite striking with an environmental tilt. If you’re a coder, a billboard of numbers can convey your analytical skills. Just make sure the colors or image you use doesn’t conflict with your own brand’s colors or personality.
Use the right images
Once you’ve decided on the type of photo you wish to feature, you need to find one you can legally use. Consider images from sites that feature attribution-free, Creative Commons photos such as Unsplash, LibreStock, or Stockio. You can also use tools such as Canva for editing and cropping images to be the right sizes on LinkedIn and other social media sites.
Finally, watch out for a few faux pas that may turn off visitors to your page. Avoid using images with very low resolution and clip-art photos, both of which can appear dated. Likewise, avoid unnatural stock images that feel too staged. Don’t overlay too much text on top of an image, which inevitably gets chopped off across different devices. And don’t go overly fancy. Prioritize simplicity and directness when selecting your background image; the cleaner and less cluttered, the better.
Customizing your LinkedIn background is one of the simplest steps you can take to differentiate yourself from others on a very crowded platform. If you choose your background photo thoughtfully, you can convey your unique positioning and avoid getting lost in the crowd without having to shout about who you are.