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January 20, 2016
Smile! Tips for Your Social Media Profile Photo
Many clients approach me and ask for help in setting up LinkedIn and other social media profiles. Easy enough.

However, when I tell them that they need to get a photo posted, they get uncomfortable.

One of the biggest concerns they have is that employers might see what they look like (especially more mature workers) and make specific judgments about them based on physical attributes alone. That’s where things get touchy.

On one hand, humans are, after all, very visual creatures, whether we like to admit it or not. We can and DO make assumptions about people based on what they look like.  Some people are better at not letting those stereotypes influence or cloud their impressions than others.

But posting a photo always runs the risk of having someone who is judgmental make certain stereotypical assumptions based on looks alone.

The other side of the coin is the same: humans are visual creatures. When we encounter a “blank egg” photo on social media, a knee-jerk reaction is: this is social media — what are they hiding?

The rule of thumb here is that social media is, well, social.

Include a photo…only on your social media, not your résumé or cover letter (which is part of the formal application process).

Cultivating a professional image of yourself is important…and consistency matters.

The photo itself should include you smiling (even if you don’t like to!). Smiling conveys confidence and happiness and attracts people to you. That can make a big difference in a job search.

It also goes without saying that you should mindfully think about how you want to portray yourself in this image…individuality is important to many creative types; however, slipping into an employer’s standpoint: What do you think the employer might want to project to their customers if you have a front-of-the-house type of job? 

The best advice out there: dress the part. Most career-industry experts advise that you should err on the side of caution and be more conservative in your attire. In a way, dressing up does convey respect, and that is something that resonates with employers. Remove excess jewelry, make sure hair is neatly trimmed and styled, and make sure your clothing is clean, unwrinkled, and not distracting.

Make sure the lighting is good; I see a lot of profile photos that put people’s faces in shadows. Another thing to make sure is that the framing goes up from the shoulders so your features are easily distinguishable. Vague photos from a long distance aren’t helpful!

Think about the background; if you have a photo taken up against a wall as a background, the wrong image could come across that this is a mug shot. Summer is just around the corner, and using a nice backdrop (out of focus) in muted sunlight might be a good setting.

Once you select a photo, the next task is getting it out there. A consistent personal brand image says something about you to potential employers. There are some services, such as Gravatar.com, that allow you to upload your image and any time you comment on posts online, that image follows you. But other social media sites require you to upload it individually to each platform, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, About.me, Klout, and Vizibility. 

Your personal image matters on the web. While you can still restrict your privacy settings to friends-only, many social media platforms allow your profile to be searchable on the greater web. So take the steps to make sure that the first image that pops up is a consistent one so employers aren’t left wondering whether the potential candidate is suffering from a case of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!”

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Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is the president of Portland, Ore.-based Pathfinder Writing and Careers, which specializes in mid- to upper-management résumés. She is an active volunteer in her community and donates her time teaching a résumé writing class at the Oregon Employment Department every week to help empower unemployed professionals and workers.
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