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The reason you’re not getting that interview call could be your display picture, says the expert

A picture paints a thousand words… and what does yours say to the world. Here’s why it’s super important to have a headshot that reflects your best professional self

Speaker, Director and Photographer

There can be little doubt that we are meeting more online using video conferencing applications than face to face these days. However, as business owners and entrepreneurs, our profiles and images are still online and available for all to see. Whether that’s on LinkedIn, the About Us page of our business websites, various social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram.

As a simple example, if you are attending meetings on Zoom, does your profile image show on the waiting room screen? And for that matter, what is your Zoom background? Are you using a backdrop to advertise your personal brand and business, or are you missing the opportunity?

As a full-time professional photographer, I confess to being somewhat biased when answering the question about whether good profile images matter, particularly as I capture personalities for a living. As you’d expect, my answer is a resounding YES!

Here’s The Evidence

However, do not go by only what I say. Let me give you some independent evidence to support my position:

First evidence: a finding from a paper published in Psychological Science says that in 40 milliseconds, we draw conclusions about people based on a photo. Given that a profile photo is a single, static image, it could be that we draw the wrong conclusion, and these might change once we meet in person (or online). However, that initial impression is vital for the viewer to feel that the person in the photo is approachable. They should be confident to move from your photo to looking at your bio, for example.

As our eyes are naturally drawn towards images, a profile photo is often the first thing that people see, and therefore its importance shouldn’t be underestimated.

Second evidence: LinkedIn says that members with a photo receive far more engagement: with 21 times more profile views and nine times more connection requests. The evidence suggests that a person is up to 36 times more likely to receive messages too.

  1. I was part of a recent online networking event for business owners and entrepreneurs in which the host conducted a quick poll:
  2. How many of those on the call had already (or would immediately once the call finished) go online to check out the other attendees? The answer was 74%.
  3. Which of the social media platforms would they check? 82% said LinkedIn was their preference.
  4. If the person didn’t have a profile picture on LinkedIn, would they continue to their bio? 62% responded that they wouldn’t.

It is also worth noting the growing trend for virtual recruitment processes. For years many corporations have used research from 3rd parties or their own departments to check out the profiles of candidates for high-profile roles. This trend has been growing for less senior positions where online profiles of prospective candidates are being used as part of the shortlisting process. This leads us into a broader topic of what online content you have posted, which we will save for another time.

Third evidence: various studies show that over a short period of time, 80 per cent of people will remember what they saw, compared to 20 percent of what they heard and only 10 percent of what they read. As visual learners, we can remember images more easily than we can remember text.

On that basis, it helps if your profile image is memorable for all the right reasons! Believe me, I have seen quite a few images out there that are memorable for the wrong reason.

This trend has been growing for less senior positions where online profiles of prospective candidates are being used as part of the shortlisting process

Factors To Consider

So, if you’re going to update your profile picture, what factors should you consider?

Once again, there is plenty of research on the topic, and I’ve picked out some of the best practices below. However, my advice would be to consider what site(s) you will be using your image on and who is your target audience? If your primary purpose is LinkedIn, then your audience is more likely to be business-related, and as such, in the majority of instances, a corporate profile image is going to be better than one of you standing on a beach. However, if your audience is on Facebook, then you might have an image that is more lifestyle-oriented. The choice is entirely yours, but if you’ve gone to a professional photographer for guidance, then they should be able to discuss about you, your brand, your audience and tailor the shoot accordingly.

A good corporate profile image is likely to have the following characteristics:

  1. A slight smile with teeth showing. The smile should also reach the eyes.
  2. Smartly dressed (e.g., a dark-colored suit, white shirt, or blouse if no jacket is worn).
  3. Lighting that is flattering but shows facial features without having too much contrast.
  4. Head-and-shoulders, or head-to-waist photo.
  5. Asymmetrical composition – facing camera but with shoulders turned at an angle.
  6. Unobstructed eyes (glasses should not show studio lights reflected, for example).
  7. Color or black and white is also possible as long as not too ‘contrasty’.
  8. A plain/simple background is preferred so that the background doesn’t detract from your face.

Professional photographers are just that; professional. We have spent years studying and practicing how to take images that speak to a target audience. A great profile image will reflect your personality. In a digital world, it is a chance to remind people that there is a living, breathing human being behind your online persona.

Alan Bell can be reached at [email protected]

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