What Does Your Profile Photo Say To Potential Employers?

Right here in public, I will admit it: I am old enough to remember a time when Facebook and Twitter did not exist.

However, that does not mean I will post prehistoric pictures of myself on the web; I think it's as important to be as up-to-the-moment with my photo as I am in my status updates and tweets. I wouldn't post text that says "OMW to school. 6th period gym sux!", so why would I upload a picture of myself that's just as out of date?

I've often wondered if adults who post youthful pictures -- or even snaps of themselves as kids -- as their avatars are somehow trying to live in the past. So when I saw that Dayna Steele (author of Rock To The Top: What I Learned about Success from the World's Greatest Rock Stars, and one of the foremost experts on career networking) was using a school photo on her Twitter page, I just had to ask why.

Steele replied, "It is my second-grade picture. I have used this photo on my website, my note cards, to begin my speeches, etc., -- long before anyone ever thought of Twitter. So it seemed appropriate to use for Twitter [also]. It symbolizes my desire to be successful at something in life, to succeed beyond my wildest dreams, even as far back as Mrs. Griswold's second-grade class at Sutton Elementary. I knew I wanted to be a 'rock star' -- it just took me awhile to figure out a rock star what. This picture says Dream Big to me."

However, Steele does agree that unless it's an established branding tactic, using a kiddie shot is probably not best for presenting yourself in a professional manner. Anyone who is online can see your profile photo -- including people who might hire you.

What profile photo to post -- and not to post

In general, Steele says, "Cartoons bother me. Celebrities that aren't you, sexually explicit ... and the worst: no picture at all – makes me think you don't take the time to finish a project in a quality, timely manner."

Ronald Spatz, an HR manager at financial management group, says, "I don't take applicants seriously who use kittens, puppies, or sparkly glitter to 'dress up' their existing photo." Ditto on religious icons, movie posters, and drunken party candids. Spatz adds that he often views potential hires' sites on his iPhone, so a close-up of the person's face is easiest to see and mentally process at a glance.

The best thing to use is a simple headshot. Professional portrait photographer Suthi Picotte uses her Twitter page for socializing and business, so she has a picture of herself that she thinks is inviting to her friends, but is also appropriate for potential clients to see. "My Twitter avatar is a vertical medium close up of myself," she says. "In the photo, I have a large smile, I'm almost mid laugh really, with eyes closed.

"The reasons I picked this image are: I love the overall color and energy; I feel like it gives off an approachable, friendly vibe; it's a high quality headshot done by a pro headshot photographer (Vanie Poyey); and although it's not a 'serious' look, I feel that it gives a professional and competent vibe."

As for what would make Picotte uncomfortable: "I would be turned off by any avatar that seemed like a party shot one might have on their Facebook account. Especially if the Twitter account is for a business. I really don't like anything that has that 'party, group drinking, lewd' vibe. I'm not saying that personally one can't be fun and crazy, but would you give your hard-earned cash to that person?"

Whether you are looking for a new job or you are self-employed and wanting to raise your professional profile, it is probably time for an online makeover. Picotte has a few helpful tips:

When hiring a pro photographer

  • Talk to the person you are thinking of hiring. If possible, meet with them. Photography is a collaboration and if you like and trust the person you are working with, it will not only show on your face but also allow you to feel relaxed enough to have fun and get creative. Conversely, if you dislike and mistrust that person, it will show in the finished photographs.
  • Research the photographer you are thinking of hiring. Look at all the images on their website and in their portfolio. Make sure you that you like the majority of their work, as every photographer had a specific visual feel or style.
  • Ask your photographer for their opinion. It's just as important to listen as it is to share what you think.

When taking self portraits

  • Practice and experiment! The more you do this the more you'll discover what works for you. You'll find out what angles you like best of yourself and develop a style of self portraiture that's truly your own.
  • Do the above in private. Privacy will help you be relaxed; plus, nobody can judge you or the "rejects" you delete.
  • Using a camera with a self-timer is preferable to holding the device at arm's length.

Remember: Twitter's parameters for a profile pic are 73 x 73 pixels, and square. Unlike Facebook, you are not given an option to crop your photo yourself -- so make sure to upload an image that's already positioned the way you want it to appear.

Next: To Tweet or Not To Tweet? >>

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