There was a time when U.S. job seekers would not consider a photo part of their job-search materials. But since LinkedIn joined the professional scene, things have changed. While it’s the job seeker’s choice whether to share a picture via social networks, there’s no doubt most people who notice a photo-less LinkedIn profile will assume one of two things: 1) you don’t know how to upload a picture or 2) you are really ugly.
For better or for worse, an avatar—the image that represents you online—needs to be part of your social networking efforts, and an online profile helps propel career success. Take some time to think about the picture you post and how others may react to it.
Here’s how to choose a photo for your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other avatars:
1. Use a current, close-up picture of your face. It should be a photo of you in professional attire—and only you. It’s not uncommon to see avatars including family members or even pets. But no one wants to hire your three-month-old daughter (or your dog, for that matter) so there’s no need for them to appear in your photo.
Some people consider using an alternative, such as a QR code, logo, or other visual representation. While those may be clever or fun, a picture of you makes a better impression and is easier to identify.
2. Post a high-quality picture, taken in good light, and make sure it’s sharp and clear. You have a very small space to display the picture, so if it’s shadowy or dark, it won’t show you in the best light, literally and figuratively. A professional portrait is a great option, but if that’s not feasible, do your best to create as professional-looking a portrait as possible.
3. Pay attention to the background. Is there enough contrast between you (the main subject) and what people see behind you? Make sure there isn’t anything too busy preventing people from focusing on you. Look at other avatars, especially if you use Twitter. Scrolling through, it’s always easier to identify avatars with bright or unusual backgrounds. You may want to create a backdrop to distinguish you from the crowd.
4. Don’t wear a distractingly large piece of jewelry or other accessory. You want people looking at your face, not the large, geometrical shapes dangling from your ears or neck. Sunglasses or a hat may have been the order of the day, but if no one can recognize you in your photo, it’s useless.
5. Evaluate the picture. In my book about social networking for career success, I suggest using a picture of you smiling, looking friendly and personable. If your picture resembles an ax murderer or someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark ally, don’t expect to garner many interview invitations. Joshua Waldman told a story on his blog, Career Enlightenment, about someone whose photo literally killed his chances of landing opportunities. A recruiter re-took and uploaded a new photo, and the candidate had several potential opportunities within the week.
6. Unless you are an actor or actress, there’s no need for an overly dramatic pose. Try to appear as natural as possible, keeping in mind “natural” does not need to mean what you look like after a ball game. You may want to arrange to have your hair professionally styled or cut and consider having an expert apply makeup if you plan to wear it. You want the photo be be recognizably you, but you on your best day. (Note: if you post a new photo and everyone says it looks great, but they don’t recognize you—you need to start over!)
7. Choose an avatar and stick with it. It’s easier for people to keep track of their social networking contacts when their avatars are similar across the board.
8. On LinkedIn, your picture may be a JPG, GIF, or PNG file. (File size limit is 4 MB). When you upload it, you have a choice to make it available to your connections, your network, or everyone. Select “everyone.” Remember, if people can’t see your avatar when they land on your profile, they’ll wonder why not. Following these tips will help you come across as professional and personal all at once, which can only help your chances of landing a job.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Connect with her via Twitter @Keppie_Careers.