What Makes a Great LinkedIn Profile Photo?

Headshot Photography by Howard Yermish

According to LinkedIn, your profile is 14 times more likely to be viewed if you have a profile picture. We have all seen those horrible profile pictures where you can tell that someone was cropped out, that the subject wasn’t thrilled to have a picture taken, that the picture has been radically edited, or even worse that it was a mirror selfie. So if your current profile picture isn’t awesome (or you don’t have one!), here are several points to keep in mind.

Becky Beasley1. Your Eyes – All great headshots start with the eyes. Your LinkedIn profile picture should make positive eye contact, and if possible from every direction. If the eyes don’t connect with the viewer, the picture doesn’t work. When you have a photo made by a professional photographer in a studio or with professional lighting, the eyes should have nice catchlights as well. I can usually tell whether a picture was captured with a smartphone because the eyes will lack that spark.

2. Personable Smile – You need to look friendly and approachable in order to make a great connection online. A nice smile paired with sparkling eyes is a great place to start. And a nice smile doesn’t mean showing lots of teeth. For extra credit, your headshot can show your unique personality in the expression. I’ve actually seen lots of images with a “Mona Lisa” type of smile, little smirk, or other approachable look that really jump off the page.

3. Reality – As powerful as Photoshop image manipulation can be, eventually people will meet you in person. The reality of how you look makes for a better picture. You are not trying to look like a supermodel, unless you are actually a supermodel. The funny thing is that we can all tell when a photo has been radically retouched, and from my experience working with clients, I believe that an unrealistic photo actually subverts the trust that you are trying to create.

4. A Little Makeup – But just a little bit will go a long way. If you wear makeup every day, then absolutely wear that for your headshot. My recommendation is that you tone down the makeup to avoid distracting colors or lines. Makeup is great for hiding bags under the eyes, evening skin tones, and eliminating shine. But too much makeup makes you look like a clown, especially in a close-up headshot. (Side note: Guys, you can wear makeup to get your headshot done. There is no shame in looking great.)

5. Your Head and Shoulders Should Fill the Frame – Clients will often ask why I recommend that images are cropped in a particular way. My suggestion is that you crop just below the shoulders and then position the eyes about a third of the way down from the top. This creates a balance that is pleasing to the eye without making the head too large in the square profile image.

LI-Headshot-Size-Example

Often this means that the top of the head may be cropped a little, which concerns some clients. Look at photographer Peter Hurley, who is responsible for some of the best headshots in the industry, to see that almost every single image is framed exactly this way.

Yes, Peter has a very distinct style, but it’s a style that looks sensational.

6. Clean Background – The goal of the profile photograph is to focus attention the person, not the background. Make sure that the background is a neutral color and doesn’t create distractions. Whether the background is white, black or other color doesn’t matter as much as it’s simplicity.

7. Appropriate Clothing – Your clothing for your profile image should be the normal daily wear for your profession. Perhaps it’s stepped up just a little, but I recommend that you focus on approachability. After all, with the right crop, we will only see your shoulders in the image. For women, don’t wear something strapless because the crop may make you look, well, like you aren’t wearing anything. (Unless of course that is appropriate for your profession.)

8. Square Crop – Social profiles almost always use 1:1 (square) images. Rather than assume that LinkedIn (or any other network) will properly size and crop your image with the best possible resolution, make sure your image is cropped properly in advance.

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The next time you are looking through your connections, keep the above points in mind when looking at their profile images.