Your LinkedIn profile picture is your opportunity to let people know that you are happy, confident and approachable. If you post a profile photo that portrays you as negative, threatening or grumpy it is unlikely that people will want to employ you. And you probably won’t get the chance to overcome this belief in a job interview.
Research shows that even when exposed to a photograph of a stranger for just 100 milliseconds (or one-tenth of a second), people make judgements on factors including likeability, attractiveness, trustworthiness, competence and aggressiveness.
The first impressions people form can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They often look for evidence that confirms what they already think so these first impressions tend to remain over time.
Create a positive impression with a LinkedIn profile picture
The eyes have it
Avoid blocking your eyes, for example with sunglasses. This can result in people rating you as less likeable.
Similarly, obstructing your eyes with hair or shadow may make them perceive you as less competent or influential.
Smile and look happy
A LinkedIn profile photo in which the subject is smiling and their teeth are visible has been found to be more than 10% more likeable. For profiles with closed mouth smiles, the impact for likability is about half as much.
But what if you hate your smile? A neutral expression is fine as long as there are no other indicators of negativity in the photo.
This type of expression is much better than a half smile. This is likely to be perceived as showing contempt, superiority or disbelief.
Dress with care
A subjects dressed in formal clothes (eg a dark coloured suit, shirt and tie for men) was rated up to 10% more competent and over 10% more influential than a similar LinkedIn profile picture with the subject dressed in ‘neutral’ or informal apparel.
Your profession will also influence your choice. Creative types can have more flexibility in their choice of attire. However professionals such as lawyers and accountants should create a solid and trustworthy impression with their clothes.
How much is enough?
Head and shoulders or from the waist up shots are best. Close-ups of the face and full body photos are marked slightly down for likability, competence and influence.
Research shows the background or setting of a LinkedIn profile picture has no statistically significant impact on viewers. However a light-coloured background can be more flattering. If you want to resonate with potential employers, use a physical location or setting that means something to your industry.
Black and white photos have been found to have no significant impact on ratings. Subjects in dark or poorly lit photos are rated slightly lower for likeability.
Trying to make a colour photo look more professional by switching it to black and white can backfire. Avoid unless you know what you’re doing with your photo editing software.
Make it look professional
If you take your own LinkedIn profile picture, don’t make it look like you took it from your laptop or by holding your arm out. If you can’t stretch to using a professional photographer, use the timer setting on your phone or camera. Stand the camera on something solid to take a professionally looking photo.
Avoid placing the camera below your eye level, looking down your nose with your forehead back and chin forward or looking down to see the image. Otherwise the viewer may perceive that you are looking down on them and will consider you as contemptuous or arrogant.
Position the phone or camera at roughly eye level. If you are looking up, you introduce lines in your forehead that could be interpreted as tension or worry. And if the camera angle is significantly above you, you could be perceived as servile or sycophantic.
Hopefully the picture you end up using for your online profile shows you relaxed and comfortable, smiling and projecting positive vibes.