Step 1: Level Up Your Professional Photo

You have a brand.  Everything you put out in the world projects a message on what you value and how you want to be perceived.  Just like a company’s brand, you are perceived by others through the cultural and contextual lens in which they are familiar with looking at the world.

You can’t control the lens that others see you through, but you can take control of what’s to be seen in front of that lens.

Having a professional photo is your chance to put your best foot forward and get your brand into people’s mind quickly. Your photo needs to inspire confidence, trust, feel authentic and be contextually appropriate for your position.  It’s best to use the same photo across all of your professional platforms to increase instant recognition. Consistency in branding is key.

The Ultimate Photo Has Professional Validation.

The absolute best photo to use on LinkedIn or a professional network is a well-cropped photo you speaking on stage at an event presenting in front of a huge screen.  A photo taken of you in a professional environment doing something that scares the majority of the general population more than death validates your authority and leadership credibility instantly. Similar examples: an astronaut in their space suit in front of a NASA sign, a member of the UN in front of a UN backdrop, and the POTUS at an event in front of the American flag.

Caveat Emptor: If you are actually speaking at an event always send the organizers a professional headshot. They are spending a lot of money to put the event on and project a level of professionalism. They want the attendees to see you as an authority on the subject and your presence is typically a validation of the event status.  A photo of you speaking at another event will not go with their event branding and for you it has the opposite effect. You will comes across as less professional.

You’re Worth it! Your Headshot Should Say the Same Thing.

Do yourself a favor and invest in yourself. The investment is more than affordable with pricing starting out at $300. If you are an executive or speak at a lot of events, a great portrait is something you should definitely have.  Ladies please allow one of their hair and makeup artists to make you look your very best in front of the lens. For $150, they’ll make sure they use the right foundations and textures for being photographed in a studio. The more your hair and makeup is styled in place the more professional you will appear.  Bring several changes of clothes to the studio. Your photographer should send you a step by step guide to look your best in front of the lens before your session. Make sure to read and follow their instructions.

Not Ready to Hire a Photographer? Take Your Own Professional Looking Headshot.

1) Cut out the distractions.  Use a neutral simple background that is not distracting. This is about you. White walls are best but or a solid neutral color will work as well. If you have access to professional photo lights do use them. It’s really lighting and post processing that make professional photos look polished. If you don’t have professional photo equipment, use natural lighting.

2) Dress for the position that you want to have and appropriate for the industry that you are in. A suit is the default for finance but comes across as disconnected when worn by an entry level software engineering applicant. Feel free to wear color but most most women should avoid wearing large jewelry or anything that is too distracting. Most C level executives tend to avoid prints and wear solid colors. Dark, white and neutrals look the most professional while brighter colors look youthful and energetic.

4) Look like the best version of yourself. Have an ultra neat appearance with everything in it’s place.  Schedule a hair cut before your photo. If you are a man don’t use too much product that is reflective in your hair. It will come across as disengenuous.  Women you should fully style your hair and keep as many flyaways under control as possible. Do your your makeup in a clean precise professional manner. Don’t style yourself to the point no one you know would recognize you. This isn’t a Kardashian glamour shot.

5) Look straight at the camera and slightly up. This appears more confident and powerful.  Looking up emphasizes your eyes and jaw line which increases perceptions of confidence and competence. Be approachable by smiling with your eyes and make sure that some of your teeth are showing.

3) Crop it like it’s hot. Don’t crop so close into your face that it is obvious you are trying to crop out your friends, a dog, a cat, children, a tree etc. out of the photo.  Crop so that your eyes hit around 1/3 down from the top. Take up about 60% of the shot. Crop from the top area of your shoulders to just above your head.

There are exceptions to every rule. Nothing in life is solid. But to break the rules well, you need to know the basics. A lot of CEO’s of SV tech companies don’t smile instead they look serious and pensive to be seen as a visionary ex. Steve Jobs. You can dress down if you are at the top of an industry ex. Mark Zuckerberg. Rebelling against the industry norm for a particular role can be seen subconsciously as a sign of power. Note that by the time you are the exception, you probably have a good idea of how you want to play the game.

Avoid These At All Costs.

  1. Say no to selfies.
  2. Don’t use a photo of you with your dog, children or friends out partying.
  3. Don’t use an old photo that no longer really looks like you.
  4. Don’t use a photo of something other than yourself.
  5. Most of all don’t skip the photo. 

LinkedIn Research “shows that just having a picture makes your profile 14 times more likely to be viewed by others.”

Bonus Tip for Companies 

Invest in your executives and employees because they are ambassadors of your corporate brand. Take their headshot when they start, and give them a copy to use for LinkedIn and speaking engagements. When you have marketing content such as blogs or webinars that require speaker photos, you will have consistent professionally looking ones for all of your employees. If more than one of your employees speaks at an event, your employees will look great and your corporate brand will be consistent.

Turnovers happen so make sure to establish a set lighting, composition, and overall look of the image to maintain them with each new hire and photographer.

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