The 7 steps to a great profile picture (a.k.a the Headshot)

Your profile picture can be one of the most important elements of your LinkedIn presence. Linkedin tells us that just having a picture makes your profile 14 times more likely to be viewed by others! Yes 14 times! So having a photo is the first step of having a social media presence! On Twitter the message is clear; if don’t have a profile photo, your avatar is an ‘egg’: you haven’t hatched into the social media world.   

From your profile picture (or lack of thereof), before anyone reads a single word from your profile, they've already formed an opinion of you.

That is because the first thing someone sees is your photo! We have all seen those profiles where the profile pictures are of their pets, or group photos where we cannot tell who's profile it is. The worst, of course, is the creepy hand on the shoulder that belongs to someone else.

Your profile photograph can also make the difference between someone reading through your profile, or not. This is true for Linkedin, but equally true for any web profile, on twitter or on your company website.

But why should you care who is looking at your business profile anyway? The simple answer is: Your Future!

Concretely, the person looking at your business profile is someone who wants to know more about you. This might be a recruiter, but if you are a recruiter or a hiring manager: a potential candidate. It might also be a future customer, a future business partner, a future co-worker, a business referral etc.  

You want a great profile picture for a positive impact on your future. So what is a great professional profile picture? It's a high quality photo that depicts who you are in a professional context, and only that.  This all goes back to branding: what do you want your contact (recruiter, client, partner...) to remember you by?

Remember: A profile picture is a portrait for people you don't know you well or at all. And as such, it should follow different rules than a regular portrait.

So here are 7 steps to a great Social Media profile picture: Kirkland Studio Headshot on Dark BackgroundKirkland Studio Headshot on Dark Background

1. Have someone else take the picture

Repurposing a private picture is not a good idea. For example, let’s take your vacation photo. It can be tempting: You look relaxed, have a nice tan and a genuine smile. But is your personal brand about vacation, about wearing Hawaiian shirts? Also, you will rarely get a headshot from your vacations, so you’ll need heavy crop which may give poor quality.

Selfies definitely will not work. They will always look cheap and unprofessional at best.

So, you’ll need someone who knows how to make a good portrait to do that for you with the specific intent of making a business headshot.

2. Be yourself

Have you ever had the experience of first seeing someone’s Facebook or LinkedIn picture online and then meeting them in person only to find that they look completely different (for better…or for worse)? If yes, you know it can be upsetting and even make you question their integrity.

So, make sure your LinkedIn profile picture is up-to-date (within the past few years) and reflects how you look on a daily basis – your hair, glasses, makeup, etc.

3. Wear what you’d wear to work

Wear clothes that match the level of dressiness at your office, Monday through Thursday, maybe just slightly better. If you work at a startup and wear sweatshirts every day, you should probably step it up a notch, but definitely not to the point of wearing a suit and a tie. Worn out tee-shirts or tuxedos are never good ideas.  You don’t want to be over or underdressed.

 Remember to look like yourself, on your best day :) Female business business profile pictureFemale business Headshot

4. Choose the right expression

The right expression depends of your audience. But in general, in Linkedin, the best approach is "smile with your eyes" or smize. You want to appear warm, friendly and confident. You don’t have to wear a big goofy grin if that feels unnatural, but don’t look too serious or sad. Ideally, people will be able to imagine having a pleasant conversation with you.  You can always ask your photographer for advice.

If you are an active job seeker, you may want to use a professional but not a business headshot for your non-business social media presence (e.g. Facebook etc.) That would be the place to show that big goofy grin that your good friends know :)

5. Fill the frame with you face

No one cares about the third button down on your jacket. They aren’t likely to need to know what the top of your hair looks like. If they are scanning on their smart phone looking through photos of the 342 men named John Smith in the Seattle area on LinkedIn, they aren’t going to recognize you from the shot of you on the top of Mount Rainier. A profile picture is a headshot: cropped from just below the shoulders to no higher than just above your head. I even crop into the top of the head in many cases.

Of course for a website''s profile picture, you might be able to chose a wider crop (if you have a larger space), but don't go too wide. Again, in general people are interested by the most expressive parts of yourself: your face, and to a lesser extent your hands.

6. Choose a simple, plain, neutral background Young professional business headshotYoung professional

After you put all that effort into having the perfect expression, you don’t want anything to distract from your face. Keep the background simple so that you are the focal point. Black or white are my preferred choice, although there are many other options. A studio is perfect for that, because with great light and a choice of simple backdrops you'll get flattering images that focuses on you.

7. Stay away from over processing

It's perfectly feasible to bring you 10 or 20 years back with Photoshop if you are in your 50s. I've done that at customer request, but against my advice. I'm kind of repeating myself but remember it's all about looking like yourself, on your best day, currently! So, remove pimples: yes. Soften some wrinkles: yes. Remove permanent scars: no. Make you look 20 years younger: no.

Color or Black and White? Some people have strong opinion for or against either one. I don’t. I would say, go with Black and White only if you like it, and if it is consistent with your brand. For example, it might be more consistent with a 45 years old artistic director personal brand than of a junior sales rep.

Go with the Pro! Bellevue Business Executive HeadshotBellevue Business Executive Headshot



In summary, to increase your response and referral rates, invest in your profile picture. It’s your first chance to communicate that you are friendly, likeable, and trustworthy. These attributes are crucial to getting prospects to engage with you. Think of it as your first step to building your personal brand on professional social media and making yourself stand out from the crowd of your peers.

Maybe I should have started with this: If you don't want to remember this, if you have better things to do with your friends, if you want results, use a professional photographer that will coach you before and during the session and will give you professional results.

Check to see how we can help!


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I would like to give you a big thank you for explaining these seven steps inside of which how can I make a perfect profile. I will consider it and will do it whenever I go for an interview. Once again I want to appreciate you for this.
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