19 reasons your LinkedIn headshot may be an epic fail

You don’t want to be too sexy, too stern, too blurry; go for well-lighted, not half-lit. Best bet: Pony up a little cash and invest in a professional, yet moderately casual portrait.


What is that you say? You hate how you look in photos? Welcome to the club. But fear not—anyone can look great, especially in a LinkedIn photo. You just need a little help. (I’ll talk more about that at the end of this post.)

After carefully combing through several hundred LinkedIn photos (offered via the page that says “People I May Know”), I have come up with these 19 personal epic fail photo categories.

Names are not listed to protect the guilty—but you might know who you are from the descriptions.

1. Just straight-up blurry. (Hello, I’m Digital Photography 101. How have we not met before?)

2. Terrible lighting. (Are you the Dark Knight rising? I can barely make you out from all those shadows.)

3. The “Sears portrait” background. (Your 1981 yearbook called… )

4. Random or odd background images. (My man, nice shot of the waiter behind you carrying a wine bottle under his arm. You are such a bon vivant.)

5. Classic Facebook-style shot No. 1. “I’m just way too happy right now.” (Party on, Wayne, but this is LinkedIn. As awesome as you look in a lei, you are succeeding in creating a visual cacophony on what we all know is a business network.)

6. Classic Facebook-style shot No. 2. “Look at my irresistible baby (or pet).” (How dang adorable your offspring is. Oh, but wait, wasn’t I on your page to learn about your work accomplishments?”)

7. Classic Facebook-style shot No. 3. “Check me out in my low-rent apartment, as evidenced by the microwave oven, Ikea cabinets, and unclean plates on the counter in the background.” (Even for a “talent management professional,” you should probably tighten it up—unless the talent bank you manage comprises pizza deliverymen.)

8. Classic Facebook-style shot No. 4. “How cute am I with my significant other in a tight embrace.” (Because, you know, the first thing I want to know about a “marketing project coordinator” is that she is heterosexual and attached.)

9. The boozy smile. (Really? Of all the possible looks you can show us, you want your future boss to have this first impression of you?)

10. The Shepard Fairey was here.” Ah, the Obama 2008-style stencil portrait. (Does this even need a snarky comment?)

11. Full-body action pic. (Jon Krakauer gets to do this, but you, my friend, are a “recruitment solutions specialist.” So that 80×80 pixel image size of you posing on a big rock while on a break from hiking in the evergreens isn’t inspiring confidence in your risk-taking judgment.)

12. “But I love this photo of me…” So, you’ll love it, too, even though my head is right next to someone else’s, the ear and left of eye of which you can still see because I can crop a photo about as well as I can consult for your marketing needs.”

13. The white-polo-and-oversized gut combo. “I’m standing in my white polo shirt holding my somewhat oversized gut with my left hand.” (I’m gonna go out on this limb and suggest that you, a “digital media sales professional,” opt instead for a friendly close-up of your face, if just to spare us all the spare-tire imagery.)

14. “Side shot of me working the phone, baby.” And a corded phone no less, because you’re doing the old-school landline thing, son, with pen in hand filling out that big contract you just got a verbal on. (Wow, no way. You use a phone and a pen in your cubicle? So do I.)

15. Mediocre black-and-white. (Black-and-white can really work—if done correctly. However, if your B&W was taken by your 1-megapixel camera circa 2006, then you’re not achieving the desired effect.)

16. “I’m all business and think that smiling is a sign of weakness.” (Lighten up, Dwight Schrute. Even “CRM integration executives” at Fortune 500 companies can show humanity.)

17. The “I’m important” shot. “Check me out. I’m a CEO who speaks at conferences, as you can see from the ad:tech event sign behind me and the microphone and podium in front of me.” (When I just see that, I think one thing: “What a tool.”)

18. The group photo. “Here I am, Account Director, along with three other people all scrunched up into this tiny photo. Oh, and to make it even more awesome, see how the outdoor sunlight is behind us rendering all attempts at identifying any facial features impossible?” (This combination of photo faux pas immediately triggers in me a strong reaction: gladness. I’m glad I can’t tell which one of these faceless folks happens to be you. Next.)

19. My favorite fail. The photo that shouts, “Seriously, world, look at just how strikingly beautiful am I in this over-the-top glamour shot.” (Congratulations, my dear, you’ve just turned every male viewer of your pic into Joey Tribbiani, and every female viewer into, well, I won’t go there.)

Like you (probably), I’d sooner sit still for a photo session than I would lie down in front of a herd of stampeding hippopotami. However, I’m fortunate to have a close friend who is an amazing photographer for The Studio Deux.

The scales fell off my eyes on this subject after I saw what he was able to do. He didn’t just take a “competent” photograph that avoided all the above pitfalls, but he achieved that Annie Leibowitz thing and captured the essence of my personality. I’ve gone from “Ugh, I have to pick a photo for this webinar/blog post/business network” feeling to “Hmm, which one of these awesome photos should I use this time?”

If your online photos need a refresher (and at least nine out of 10 of you reading this fall into this category), get some help. Call my guy David, or find someone like him who can bring out your best in a photo.

If you don’t want to do it for yourself and your career, then at least do it for the rest of us who are subjected to your picture far more often than you think.

A version of this article first appeared on MarketingProfs.

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