Personal Branding: 12 Photos types that you don’t want to use on your profile

Photos: Make sure you create a good impression

Photos have an enormous impact: Make sure you create a good impression

I’m amazed at the variety of photos which people use as part of their LinkedIn profile – with little thought about the impact these have on the viewing public!  How does that work? You go to a huge amount of bother to set up your profile, pulling together all the good bits from academic and work records. Goal:  Make the reader believe that you turnaround failing economies, anticipate the emergence of entire new industries and rescue animals from burning buildings. Then, when that’s done, you simply ‘paste in’ whatever photo happens to be to hand.  Those of us who are less photogenic are more attuned to the need for a half-decent mug shot. So, without further ado and without offering even a scintilla of supporting scientific evidence to back this up, here’s a jaundiced view of how your photo might be seen by others.

  1. Wearing Sunglasses (or Sunglasses placed on Head): Intended Message: Yes, I’m cool. I’ve visited places in the world where the sun breaks through the cloud cover and where sunglasses are more than a fashion item. Suggest: Lose the accessories.
  2. Speaking into a Microphone: Well now, look at you! Who’s a clever boy? So clever, in fact, that people want to amplify what you say – without missing a single word. Unless you are auditioning for a non-speaking role, people will assume that you can talk. Ditch the Mic.
  3. Graduation Ball: These photos come complete with Bow Tie/Elegant Evening Dress (delete as appropriate; the two don’t really go well together). Intended Message: Don’t I look fabulous? No, you look like someone trying to appear fully-grown up. Kit yourself out in some actual work attire. We know that you went to college.  Congratulations. Now, let it go…
  4. Cartoon Photo: Have you seen these cartoon representations? Mostly used by creative types in the marketing world. Message: Any gobshite can get a headshot, but it takes real talent to source something as cool as this. The Black & White is a variation, telling the world that you are retro cool. It’s up there with skateboarding to work. But…it creates a tiny nagging doubt that you are trying a ‘bit too hard’?  Perhaps wrestling with my own unconscious jealousy that I couldn’t pull off that ‘look’.
  5. Outdoor Pursuits: This is the unexpected ‘shot’ taken while you are wearing a mountain climbing harness against a gargantuan cliff backdrop (substitute kite surfing or deep sea diving while feeding a school of man-eating sharks).  Message: I am particularly interesting and virile. Hire me and you won’t just meet a programmer (they always seem to be ‘techies’) but you will get to know a ‘rounded person’ who has no limits. Unspoken: I know that LinkedIn is for business and is not a dating website, but nothing wrong with an each-way bet, is there? The viewer: He couldn’t be bothered to find a more normal photo because he probably doesn’t comply with ‘organization rules’ and thinks it’s all crap. This category overlaps with the Exotic Location photograph.  Hello there!  Greetings from…wherever. That’s me with the Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, Mount Fuji just slightly out of focus in the background. Don’t think of me as just an Irishman or even a European. I’m more a citizen of the world. If you want to book me on a Ryanair flight to Birmingham to do great strategic work, I’m up for it. Because, I’ve been on planes before and didn’t pick up Beri Beri (just a mild influenza).  Good News: Don’t worry, it’s not incurable. You will (hopefully) eventually grow out of the juvenile habit of boasting about where you’ve been.  Removing that stupid photo is the first step. The guilty party? Mainly men! Women have more sense – or do they? (see next category).
  6. Mad Maxine: Look into my eyes. Am I not the living, breathing, and spitting image of Kung Fu Panda?  You can’t fool me. Everyone loved that movie. Some of these photos look like a team from the Brown Thomas make-up counter worked on the candidate, non-stop, for 72 hours. Message: I’m sophisticated. Eh, no you’re not actually. You look like someone trying to look 27 years older. Suggest: Lose the OTT look; you don’t need it.
  7. Very Serious Face: Message conveyed: This is I. I’m solid, semi-intellectual and WYSIWYG. Quite. But we’re not convinced that we want to chat to someone in the canteen who looks like they’ve been constipated for the entire month of March. Lighten up. Jesus, did you just take one photograph? Who stole all the smiley ones?
  8. Head Resting on Hands: The photo can be full face or a softer ‘profile’ shot – but they always have the candidate staring intently into the camera while resting their chin on one hand. The intent: “This is me in a thoughtful pose. I am confident, have hidden depth and an awful lot to offer”. Actual impact: Are those stupid poses still in vogue? I thought this stuff was canned in the 1960’s? Sack the photographer!
  9. No Photo: Somewhat intriguing. The viewer is torn between two contradictory ideas:  Idea # 1: This person is an independent thinker. S/he does not just ‘comply’ with the instruction to post a photo. Perhaps a bit of a rebel – but in an understated way. Certainly worth meeting, if only to satisfy a curiosity. Idea # 2: This person is either too lazy to put up a photo or couldn’t figure out how to do it. Perhaps a radical feminist who refuses to put age or marital status on her CV. A bit risky?
  10. Uncontrollable Laughing: This one has a bit of form e.g. the Dutch painter Frans Hals finished working on The Laughing Cavalier in 1624. Communicates: Your search is at an end. I am the very man/women that you urgently need to hire for the sports and social committee. As a bonus, I do a terrific Karaoke impression of Right Said Fred singing “I’m too sexy for my shirt”. Feedback: While such entertainment skills are undoubtedly useful in times of acute stress (e.g. during a nuclear war), perhaps you shouldn’t lead with this as your ‘trump card’ in peacetime?
  11. Wearing Headphones: A (surprisingly) common photo. Couple of possible subliminal messages at play here. Choose from one of the following options (a) I am a man but capable of multi-tasking e.g. listening to music while stabbing my index finger at the keyboard (b) I am über cool – check out the way my headphones colour coordinate with my vest (c) I’m actually very wealthy. You don’t want to know how much these Beats, Noise Cancellation Headphones knocked me back. Well actually, now that you have mentioned it, they cost me over €400 in a closing down sale where I managed to snag the last pair. I only do quality – cause that’s who I am. Suggest: Lose the Headphones. Fast.
  12. With Partner/Child: Look at me, please. Here’s photographic evidence (which is completely free from any form of digital manipulation), that someone loves and needs me deeply. Can’t you see how close we are? My charisma is practically leaping off the page. Isn’t it? I’m great with other people, a natural. That’s exactly the sort of team player you’re looking for. Right? Feedback: Eh, actually no, it isn’t. We were trying to hire an individual with key skills, not create a relationship with your extended family. Next!

So, there you have it. A guide to the impact of photo profiles on LinkedIn. Think about how your photo can positively or negatively affect your ‘personal branding’. What message is your current photo communicating about you? It’s not just consultants who are in the sales business…


Paul Mooney

PS Disclaimer: No actual LinkedIn users were hurt during the construction of this blog. If you have been affected by anything contained here, please dial ‘I-800-I-Need A-New-Photo’. Out of work Press Photographers can usually be sourced on any evening after 20:30 in Mulligan’s pub in Poolbeg Street, Dublin. They have been drinking there, steadily, since the Irish Press offices closed down in 1995. Just buy the first round and you could end up with a terrific head and shoulders portrait that makes you look like George Clooney.

PPS: Lighter Moment: Courtesy of Brendan Butler, who was undoubtedly IBEC’s answer to Tommy Cooper.

a. Tried to buy some camouflage trousers the other day, but I couldn’t find any.

b. Went to seafood disco last week and pulled a Muscle.

c. Two Eskimos sitting in a Kayak were chilly so they lit a fire in the craft. It sank, proving once and for all that you can’t have your kayak and heat it.



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About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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4 Responses to Personal Branding: 12 Photos types that you don’t want to use on your profile

  1. That is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. From a man who uses a Happy Meal toy as his profile picture on Twitter.

  2. 12 Angry Mug Shot Competition: If you’re running a vote for the most annoying mug shot, I’m going for head resting on hand.

  3. Eimear Ní Mhéalóid says:

    I’d be very worried about a photo that made me look like George Clooney…

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