Five Tips for a Good LinkedIn Profile Photo

Any old headshot just won’t do.

Patrick Barlow pointed me to a helpful web post the other day. It was in some silly fashion magazine (you know how much Patrick loves his Seventeen) and it was a collection of tips for taking a great portrait for your LInkedIn profile picture. Such a noble idea! The tips weren’t bad either, but the author really lost me when I checked her own LinkedIn account only to find that she’d not followed any of her own advice and selected a terrible profile photo. So here, without further ado, is my own list of things you can do to make the most of your LinkedIn portrait photo.

1. Keep it simple. Some might argue you need to use a white background, but I’d say that any background that’s simple, not distracting, will do just fine. In the studio white or black or any other solid color is a good choice, simply because it drives the focus to where it should be: the subject’s face. In the natural world, that might be an out of focus background of a park or other lovely scene. Though bear in mind that an outdoor portrait will inherently come off as more casual, less stuffy and traditional. This might be a good thing (are you an author, or some other creative type?) or a terrible idea (I’m talking to you, lawyers and doctors and accountants). When in doubt, just ask your photographer to keep it simple.

2. Dress appropriately. See #1. Busy, flashy, wild-patterns and tons of jewelry and accessories do NOT make for a simple portrait. Nor do they often send the most professional and businesslike message—which is likely what you want since this is for LinkedIn, after all. Aside from not dressing like you’re going out clubbing (unless, of course, your job is about going out clubbing), you want to avoid clothes that are too much of a distraction, or clothes that send the wrong message. If you want to look young and hip and like a party animal, by all means dress that way. And if you want to look older, smarter and more professional, you need to dress the part in business attire. (Eyeglasses never hurt either, when it comes to looking older and wiser.) Bottom line, think about your brand identity, and dress to reinforce it, but do your best to resist flashy attire in any case.

3. Don’t use a selfie. Just don’t do it. Seriously.

4. Choose a close-up… within reason. Bearing in mind that LinkedIn photos are viewed at super-tiny sizes, you’re going to want to ensure that the shot you choose is relatively close-up—like a head-and-shoulders portrait, typically. The more body we see, the less face we’ll be able to recognize. (If you’re in the witness protection program, use this information to your advantage.) Beware of cropping too close, though. Remember that the LinkedIn avatar gets cropped square, so if your portrait starts off as a frame-filling facial closeup, you’re going to end up nothing more than eyes and a nose and maybe a mouth once the portrait’s been cropped. When in doubt, default to head and shoulders.

5. Be yourself… as long as yourself represents your brand. Remember when I talked about dressing appropriately for who you are and what you do? Same goes for your pose and expression. Squared shoulders and staring straight stone faced into the camera a’la your passport photo is going to send a whole different (possibly psychotic) brand vibe than, say, a shot of you seated at your cluttered desk, looking up from your work and smiling naturally into the camera. Maybe your brand benefits from a bit of energy and movement in the frame, and from a broad grin and a mischievous glimmer in your eye. Or perhaps the look you need is simply all business all the time. That’s okay, but don’t get confused that “no smile” equates to “I’m serious about business.” In my experience, it usually means “I’m uncomfortable with my smile” and sends the message that the subject isn’t even able to smile like a normal human being in their portrait. Don’t want a big toothy grin? Fine by me. That’s not what I’m advocating. But a pleasant demeanor—usually typified by a smile, with or without showing teeth—is almost always a positive. I’m sure there are exceptions that prove this rule, but I’ve encountered very few people who really are best served by a photo that says “I’m a difficult badass.” If that’s your brand, well then hey, we know what to do.