Is Your LinkedIn Photo Sabotaging Your Success?

Is Your LinkedIn Photo Sabotaging Your Success?

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

This article is the second of a three-part series describing how to optimize your LinkedIn profile in order to fast-track your professional advancement. 

As outlined in Part I of this series, The New Alpha Checklist for Your LinkedIn Profile, LinkedIn is an easy, inexpensive and relatively quick way to define your professional identity and get strategic professional exposure.

One of the essential components of an effective LinkedIn profile is a professional looking photo, which makes your profile more likely to be viewed and sends certain subtle messages about who you are as a person and a professional.

Depending on the photo you select, you can communicate your strengths or expose real or inferred weaknesses.

What’s more, this is a surprisingly easy thing to get wrong—in large part because professional looking means different things to different people.

With that in mind, here are some common examples of photos that can sabotage an otherwise stellar LinkedIn profile:

A non-existent photo

Not having a photo on your LinkedIn profile makes you look non-tech-savvy and, frankly, non-descript and indistinguishable.

A photo of you wearing anything other than interview attire

You should dress for your photo exactly as you would for an interview in your field. Inappropriate attire almost always includes tank tops or strapless shirts/dresses, which make you look inexperienced and unprofessional.

A selfie

Again, this makes you look inexperienced and unprofessional. It can also send the subtle message that you’re self-absorbed and/or too disorganized or inept to ask someone to take a picture of you.

A photo that’s old or doesn’t look like you

Your profile photo should be a recent photo—ideally no more than 3 years old. It should also reflect how your normally look. For instance, if you normally have a clean-shaven face, don’t use a picture of you with a beard (same with hair color, style, etc.). If you aren’t sure, ask a friend who you know will give you an honest answer.

A photo where you’re looking alluringly at the camera

Even if it’s a great picture, this absolutely sends the wrong message to your professional network.

A photo taken by your computer’s built-in web cam

Unless you’re in a technical-creative-blogging-type industry where this might be an acceptable norm, having a web cam photo generally sends the message that you don’t have a lot of professional experience and that you don’t have the social or organizational ability to put on some professional attire and ask a friend to take a decent headshot.

A photo of you wearing theater/wedding/clubbing makeup

Unless you do any of these three things professionally, your makeup should be minimal and neutral.

A photo of you looking grumpy or mean

In general, you should be smiling or at least projecting the image of someone who’s friendly and easy to work with. It sounds simple, but it’s easy to forget this, especially if you tend toward seriousness…

A photo that’s obviously airbrushed to give it a “misty” look

It’s too reminiscent of the 1990s, which makes you look outdated and out of touch.

A photo where you’ve noticeably cropped another person out

This one is surprisingly common (and I even did it at an earlier point in my career…). It’s not as terrible as some of the other photo mistakes that you could make, but it does send the subtle message that you don’t have the kind of career experience where you’d have a decent professional headshot lying around for just such an occasion. Anyone who’s looking to advance their career should be mindful that using this kind of photo, no matter how competent you are, will make you appear less experienced.

Given this list of easy mistakes, you might be tempted to think that I’d recommend hiring a professional to take your photo. Not so! While it is important to have a professional looking photo, you don’t necessarily need to pay someone to do this.

For instance, my partner shot my profile photo in our living room. (The background is a large picture from our wall.) Granted, he’s a great photographer (if I do say so, myself…), but anyone can pull this off with the right lighting and a few practice shots to make sure it’s sharp and clear with no shadows on your face. (Btw—if you find my profile picture abhorrent, then you’re probably going to want to stop reading now, since the tips and tricks I list below will only help you to create an equally abhorrent photo of yourself…)

When shooting your own photo, you can opt for the traditional white or gray background (Use poster board to achieve this.), or try a contemporary look with greenery or steel/glass in the background—think about where you live and what local options might work.

Bonus points if you have access to a camera with a lens that can be adjusted to focus on your face with a slightly out-of-focus (blurred) background, since this will give it that “professional photo shoot” look; however, this isn’t essential, and thanks to the magic of technology, you can use your iPhone to mimic this look if you’re feeling really creative.

If you want to adjust the lighting or coloring on your photo (easy does it!), you can try Fotor, which is a user-friendly, free option. If you’re looking for something more advanced, you can experiment with a free 30-day trial of Photoshop and/or Lightroom.

At the end of the day, your LinkedIn profile picture is just one piece of your entire professional image, and it may take some time to get it right, given your other priorities; however, it’s worth spending an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon, perhaps as part of another outing, to make sure that you have a professional looking photo since, whether you like it or not, this picture speaks volumes about who you are as a person and a professional.

Friends and members of the Leadership and Human Potential community: what are you favorite tips for a great profile photo? Share your ideas and feedback in the comments below.


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Danielle Harlan is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential ( and author of the leadership book, The New Alpha ( She earned her doctorate in political science and M.A. in education from Stanford University, where she was a Jacob K. Javits National Fellow and received a Centennial Teaching Award for excellence in instruction. Prior to launching the Center, she was the Chief of Operations for the Carnegie Foundation, where she worked to harness the power of networks and quality improvement strategies in order to solve important educational problems. Named one of Silicon Valley's "40 Under 40," Danielle has also been a speaker for TEDx and worked as an instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension's Corporate and Professional Development Program. In addition, she has given guest lectures at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the “”) and the Career Development Center at Stanford, and has been featured in leading publications such as Fast Company, Forbes, and Women's Health. Danielle started her career as a Teach For America corps member and later served as a mentor and advisor for Global Leadership Adventures, an international leadership development and service program. In addition to teaching in the U.S., she has taught in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, and South Africa. She is a member of the International Leadership Association, the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, and the National Association for Female Executives.