What your LinkedIn profile photo says about you

From the overly professional headshot to having no photo at all, a LinkedIn profile picture is worth a thousand words. What does yours convey to the world?

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You can’t manipulate someone’s first impression of you – that is true both for in-person and digital networking. Just like on a dating app, we decide in milliseconds if we find a LinkedIn business connection worthy of our time, or not, based on their profile picture.

Does the photo make this person seem kind, intelligent, and open to networking? Or do they look like they’d be a relentless braggart, a personality vacuum, or even someone who’d remind you too much of an uptight former boss?

Before you even reach out to connect or send them a direct message, you’ve already created a whole narrative around someone on LinkedIn. A profile picture is another clue as to who that person could be – your future investor, an employee, or your business archnemesis.

But guess what? That’s all true of your profile photo as well. With thousands of potential connections seeing your photo, we’ve put this guide together to help you know the impact of a hyper-produced headshot or a sloppy selfie.

The moody black-and-white

Although there is no doubt that a classic monochromatic profile picture looks sharp and polished, it also feels that classical music should be playing in the background as connections scroll through your profile.

If you opted to take the colour out of your profile picture, it’s likely you want connections to take you seriously, and to feel that you have an imposing character.

Your typical morning? You’ve already done your 5-to-9 before anyone else has started their 9-to-5, powered by an espresso for which you weighed the coffee beans, some early meditation, and a read through the morning’s Financial Times.

You don’t think LinkedIn should be considered a social media – it’s a daily ingredient of business networking and should be taken seriously. Accordingly, you’re a prolific LinkedIn poster who shares a digest of your daily thoughts and follows up with all your active connections. If you were to go to an in-person networking event, you’d be the first to ask to scan someone’s LinkedId QR code to connect instantly.

The passport photo

Licence to cross border control? Check. Licence to drive? Check. Licence to network? Also check.

If you’re recycling your passport photo for LinkedIn, others might judge you for being lazy, but you might just defend yourself by saying that you’re being practical.

After all, it shows your full forehead and ears, which means it’ll be easy to recognise you in person. You don’t believe in professional headshots or filters, and firmly stand for being honest with your connections by showcasing yourself in the most neutral way possible.

Since convenience and practicality are your guiding North Stars, in a networking event, you’re the first to get there and the first to leave. Small talk is your version of corporate hell and you’d rather get straight to the point and do a sales pitch. Your simple pleasures in life? Avoiding meetings that could’ve been emails, bullet point lists, and dodging slow walkers in the streets of London.

The cropped out partner

This image is just as cringe on your LinkedIn profile as it would be on your Hinge profile.

If your favourite personal photo has a ghost arm wrapping around your shoulders, you’re not exactly imbuing your potential connections with a sense of confidence. And no, it’s not an excuse that the most recent photo of you wearing a suit came from your friend’s wedding two summers ago.

Just like it would throw a would-be swiper on a dating app off, on LinkedIn, potential connections might think that you don’t take the LinkedIn culture particularly seriously.

If this is you (read: you should probably take a picture that shows just you and your own limbs), it’s likely that in a networking event you’re just there for the free-flowing wine and the canapes. If anything, you’re probably the person the ‘moody black-and-white picture’ serial networker would prefer to avoid. Even if you don’t live and breathe corporate culture, your easy-going attitude can be appreciated as it cuts through the stiffness and awkwardness that characterises business meet-and-greets.

The group photo

Which one is it? The one who blinked when the shutter was clicked? Or the one that is towering above their other work mates?

Who knows – you like to keep people guessing so you can pleasantly (and hopefully not unpleasantly) surprise them. If this is how you approach your profile picture, you probably like to keep your cards close to your chest and not give too much away.

Instead, you work the strategy of intrigue. Rather than diving head-first into a sales pitch with a new investor, you drop a couple of hints here and there to gradually hook them in. Your approach doesn’t always work, specially because when they look up your profile after your chat, they can’t even remember your face, camouflaged as it is within your group. Have you been told to change your profile picture, particularly by your friends who are in it themselves? Absolutely. Are you planning to change it? Absolutely not.

The extreme sports brag

We get it – you’ve done a Tough Mudder. Your LinkedIn photo doesn’t have to prove it, though.

Whether it’s you dribbling your way into a basketball three-pointer or sliding down a mountain in full snowboarding gear, you’re probably trying to compensate for something with the extreme sports brag profile pic.

Flexing your sporty side is a great way to avoid connections fixating on that time you worked for a shady crypto trader or when your time at your last company got cut short because you took quiet quitting a bit too far.

Your fondness for adrenaline rushes also means you never are short on energy. Caffeine in the shape of coffee? No thanks – you walk into the office with a large Monster Energy drink. While your co-workers are moderately concerned about how much shared fridge space your meal prep boxes take up, you also are the energiser in that Monday morning standup where everyone needs an extra kick to start the week. You bring a similar hyperactivity to networking events, which might exhaust investors, but it also means they get all the information they need from you very quickly.

The AI-generated one

You're so on trend with the AI-generated world we now work in, why shouldn't your profile reflect that? Plus, no visible pores as a bonus.

If you're the kind of person who'd let AI take over your profile pic, then let's guess you probably have a ping pong table somewhere in your office, and trace every living step Elon Musk takes (who you have a love-hate relationship with).

That X rebrand of Twitter? Disaster. But the whole Space X ambition? What an absolute king. You’re looking into investing on the metaverse, where you think the future of real estate lies. A typical Sunday night usually features exploring the depths of the deep web and having Bloomberg News on in the background.

Your phone goes off every other ten minutes with notifications about the fluctuations of blockchain, which you’ve tried to explain to your coworkers thousands of times to no avail. You live and breathe tech culture and genuinely hope that one day artificial intelligence will take over all of your jobs so none of us have to set foot in an office ever again. Meanwhile, your Dall-E designed LinkedIn profile photo may be on the curiously over-smooth side (and it’s a good job your warped hands aren’t showing), leaving new in-person connections unsure if it’s one and the same person they just met.

The no-photo photo

Man or woman of mystery, there's no guessing what you'll look like in person – and whose business is it, anyway?

Are you even on LinkedIn? When you’re reaching out to connections, they have to stop to accept the request because they’re not even sure you’re active on the platform or if they’ll be sending a direct message out into the void of the internet. But that’s a risk you’re willing to take.

We get it – with no end of creeps out there, it’s understandable you might want to hide your photo from all but approved connections. But having no photo, full stop? That’s a level of tech platform distrust that shows you’re still old school at heart.

What happened to the magic of paper business cards? Why are all the young professionals asking you to whip out your LinkedIn QR code on your phone? You don’t even have the LinkedIn app downloaded. Whenever it happens, you just stare them blank in the face, repressing an eyeroll, and hand them a copy of your crisp, freshly printed business card. The kids these days will never understand what networking was like back in your day…

The Blue Steel pout

Throwing that finest pose, you know which is your favourite side, and that LinkedIn will gaze adoringly at it.

To you, LinkedIn is not about networking – it’s about being what you call a ‘business influencer’.

In fact, your most recent sales pitch was to create a revamped LinkedIn where you can have Stories and live videos so your connection can follow you in your ‘day in the corporate life’ vlog. You think preaching to your LinkedIn network about the (minor) career struggles you’ve faced or about the intrinsic values of ‘the hustle’ is part of your job description.

You stalk Steven Bartlett’s profile during your lunch breaks and get into arguments in his comment section over trivialities, in the hopes that one day he’ll reply ‘this guy gets it!’. You also are an avid member of hundreds of LinkedIn groups, where you try to spark conversation about anything ranging from the latest changes in government funding support to the ergonomics of your office chair. You’ll do anything to please the LinkedIn algorithm. We’re not even going to ask whether you have the green banner that says #OpenToNetwork outlining your picture – we all know the answer.

The classic business-friendly headshot

It might be vanilla, but it’s exactly what everyone is expecting from you on LinkedIn.

Crisp shirt on point, dug out from the back of your closet, arms crossed in front of your chest, and a wry smile that hides how much you actually dread networking events – the majority of us are all too familiar with this formula.

You probably don’t check LinkedIn more than twice a week, but when you do, it’s to instantly close it when you run into the essay-long posts that some ‘business influencer’ guy just uploaded. Don’t people have a life outside the office? Jeez.

You don’t think LinkedIn is transformational – you need to show your face out there so your connections don’t forget you exist, but you’d rather resort to emailing or calling to set up business meetings whenever possible. Although you did find it pretty nifty that you can scan someone’s QR code to load their LinkedIn profile on your phone…

The handshake photo

What says 'business' better than a firm handshake with someone notable? Time to knock them all back with this networking evidence masterstroke.

It might be The Queen or your old boss, but you think that showing a handshake is the best way to manifest your next business deal.

It’s all mental games, really. If an investor sees you in your profile shaking someone’s hand, surely you’ve planted a seed in their head so they want to shake your hand and close a deal with your company? You don’t see any faults in that logic.

It might look slightly stiff but there’s no such thing as too-much-business-like in your head. That’s what LinkedIn is for, anyways.

The Dos and Don'ts of the LinkedIn profile picture

Dos:

✔️ Professionalism: Choose a professional-looking photo that aligns with your industry and the image you want to portray to potential employers or professional connections.

✔️ High-Quality image: Ensure the picture is high-resolution, clear, and well-lit. A crisp image reflects professionalism and attention to detail.
Simple background: Use a plain or simple background that doesn't distract from your face.

✔️ Head-and-Shoulders Shot: Frame the photo from the shoulders up, focusing on your face. This framing is standard and ensures your face is clearly visible.

Don'ts:

No selfies or casual photos: Avoid selfies, party pictures, or overly casual images. Your LinkedIn profile should represent your professional self.

Group photos or cropped images: Don't use group photos or cropped photos where part of your body or someone else's is visible. The focus should be solely on you.

Outdated pictures: Don't use an outdated photo that doesn’t represent your current appearance. Ensure your photo reflects how you look now.

Busy backgrounds: Refrain from using backgrounds that are cluttered, overly busy, or distracting. Your face should be the main focus.

Conclusion

There might be certain LinkedIn profile picture archetypes you want to replicate. Or, you might’ve just given your would-be network the ick, because no one wants to be associated with the Blue Steel pout photo.

One of the best things about LinkedIn, though? You can change your profile picture in a moment.

Choosing the right one can get you a step closer to that business opportunity you’ve been chasing, or to that extra pot of funding you need to continue to innovate. While LinkedIn might not be everyone’s favourite place to hang out, it’s now so ingrained into our networking routine that you should think carefully about your image. And please – no group shots.

Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Startups Writer. Specialising in the Marketing & Finding Customers pillar, she’s always on the lookout for how startups can leverage tools, software, and insights to help solidify their brand, retain clients, and find new areas for growth. Having grown up in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, Fernanda is passionate about how businesses can adapt to new challenges in different economic environments to grow and find creative ways to engage with new and existing customers. With a background in journalism, politics, and international relations, Fernanda has written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to how businesses can retain staff during a recession. She is currently strengthening her journalistic muscle by studying for a part-time multimedia journalism degree from the National Council of Training for Journalists (NCTJ).

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