Three years ago, I wrote "19 Reasons Your LinkedIn Headshot May Be an Epic Fail." It sparked a lot of responses, inspiring me to come back to this comedy goldmine with "19 More Reasons Your LinkedIn Headshot May Be an Epic Fail" (2013) and "20 More Reasons Your LinkedIn Headshot Is an Epic Fail" (2014).
So, you might think, "Well, OK, how many more ways can employed and educated professionals flub something as simple as a profile photo?"
A lot more.
The Selfie Era adds fuel to the fire
In this Selfie Era, people manage to mangle how they represent themselves on the most important business network in countless ways—entertaining, pitiful, and jaw-droppingly odd ways.
As someone who lives on LinkedIn as part of my job, I come across photo fails constantly. Moreover, after having three articles on this topic published, I routinely get Skyped or emailed a link to a profile with the sender adding something like "OMG, check out this guy's pic!"
Moreover, the social network now has 380 million registered users. Basically, every working professional on the planet is on LinkedIn.
So what, you say? In other words, your future boss, next client, potential business partner, aggressive competitor, and that great potential hire are checking you out on LinkedIn. Or just did. Or will be tomorrow. And these people make snap judgments.
Therefore, avoid what these 21 people are doing with their profile pic. As in all these articles I've written, each description is based on a real LinkedIn profile photo. No, we don't give names or link to specific profiles. (That would be crazy awkward.)
1. Magneto with a microphone
All right, senior conversion optimizer up in Canada, the professional-looking black and white photo of you standing on what probably is a stage in front of an audience (or, as we can't see the floor any background, it's just as possible you are in your basement alone) with your outstretched arms and open hands makes you look very much like Magneto in that scene in "X-Men 3" when he rips the Golden Gate Bridge off its moorings!
You're exuding all kinds of energy here, all right, but I'm clutching my keyboard in fear.
2. God-like sky guy
This is a composite of a two similar profile shots, both from men with lots of "Board Member" positions listed in their Experience sections. You're outdoors with a bright blue sky behind your head, staring downward at us, with the beaming sun DIRECTLY behind your head. God-like! It reminds me of those countless Middle Ages paintings of Christ with a bright sun-halo beaming from around his head.
You profile photo makes me want to dash over to the Post-Modern wing and check out the Picassos.
3. Look at me! I was on television
This company founder opted to post a photo of himself being interviewed on TV. We can't tell what show you were on—could have been the Local Cable Access channel or NBC; however, your name is clearly visible on the scrawl. And that's all the matters, right, Johnny Ego?
4. Have I got a hot property for you!
You are a Realtor, and your photo shows us your (we assume) face superimposed over a fully animated Superman image, red cape a-flutter, and big "S" across your chest. However, your animated self is wearing hot short-pants, has an exposed navel, and a belly ring. Look, I'm down with my real estate broker being a "character," but I don't know about one who fancies herself as Seductress Superwoman.
5. Wonder Twin power!
In the example I saw, the dear ladies of a certain age are twins, and I know that because of the close-up photo of them together, both wearing a pink top and identical earrings, and sporting the same hairstyle.
Also in a LinkedIn first for me, they list both their names in a dual profile. It's like you dolls have literally never spent a moment apart all these years. When I read that you are responsible for "teaching basic shapes, numbers, colors and all letters" to kindergartners, your profile photo started to make a lot more sense.
6. Empty studio for hire
I respect and gravitate to artists and musicians of all types, including anyone who is a "Composer, Music Supervisor" like you. However, instead of showing us you, you give us a not-too-crisp photo of your studio, featuring a modest-sized sound mixing board, a pair of keyboards, and a chair, all bathed in disconcerting yellowish lighting. Doesn't exactly fill me with Pharrell Williams-like confidence in your composing skills.
7. Head strategist
No doubt balancing four business books on your head with your eyes looking straight up, in an otherwise perfectly framed portrait photo, makes you stand out. But what does having a flat head have to do with being a content strategist?
8. This car won't wax itself... and I manage projects, too
Every time I write one of these articles, I really wish we could show the actual photos. Alas, we don't directly shame here. So I'll describe what I see in this highly stylized photo from our project Manager from Calgary: she's in a driveway, wearing a polka dot dress, one leg up in the air, leaning over the hood of a red vintage Chevy and wiping a rag over the hood while smiling and looking off to the side... I'm basically looking at Mad Men's Betty Draper after her daily double vodka out in the driveway getting the weekend car ready for Don.
9. Bang bang
Some of my favorite LinkedIn photo fails are from computer guys... like this LAN admin who selected a close-up image of a rifle range target with three bullet holes in the center. Bull's eye! LAN-man, are you trying to showcase the accuracy of your coding or the likelihood that you'll shoot up your workplace upon becoming disgruntled?
10. Are you the dad or the son?
I've harped in prior articles about using a group photo that leaves us the viewer totally confused. In this variation, we have three people posing together, and I'm really perplexed because it's a totally non-business setting on a football field, and the younger guy in a football jersey and shorts is book-ended by what look like two parents. Help me out... Are you the parent and that's your son in the athletic gear? Or, Mr. Bus-Dev Director, are you the young athlete? Inquiring minds need to know.
11. Really, I know people at Google!
This poor soul from Guangdong, China, gets his own chapter in the "Unemployed but Looking" category.
I know it's tough to be out of work and looking. Truly. I've been there. Yet I don't think I would post a profile pic on LinkedIn of my standing in front of a big glass Google building. (Nor by the way would I go with "Self Employed—Survival Mode" as my current job position.) Also, it's a weird decision to list your Skype address but add "rarely used" parenthetically. Brother, let's get you back in the saddle, and let's start with cleaning up these details, so recruiters don't judge your book by its cover.
12. Tilex special
The still all-too-common "I'll just use this pic where I look good, but I'll poorly crop out my friend's head that is leaning in right next to mine" is taken to a new dimension here with a full 50% of the frame filled with what I'm assuming is your bathroom shower tile and shower head. Well, the shower head could belong to your cropped-out friend whose partial face is still visible—we'll never know. But as a social media marketing intern, you can shoot a better selfie, a shower-less one at that.
13. Sad bikini
Usually a woman posing standing on the beach wearing just her bikini looks... happy (or is at least smiling). You're on a beach. C'mon, la dolce vita! But our dear former office manager in a creative marketing agency who is "currently relocating and seeking #Jobs" (nice hashtag there) believes that the picture of her Dontcha face—bikini, dark sunglasses, Kardashianesque No-Smile—is the path to that next gig. Happy job hunting.
14. Hands-on photographer
My man, the "owner" (lower case title, always a power move) of his own photography business is really pushing the LinkedIn envelope. You see, he provides "high-quality photos for headshots, portraits, fashion, and products" and that apparently includes some clients who pay him back via certain, um, non-financial methods. I'll just say it: His profile photo is of himself sitting down peering around the torso of a topless woman in a miniskirt facing him, and he's holding her across her thighs with both hands. It will shock no one that you have been self-employed for many years.
15. Hot for teacher
Speaking of risqué photos, this dear lady in Utah is promoting her piano instructor service "for students of all ages and abilities" by posing sitting on the piano chair (so far, so good)... in a plunging neckline dress (um, not so good, or at least not so professional). Well, we can all clearly see exactly what you've spent your tutoring income on. Or should I say exactly WHERE. I bet her student roster skews heavily to boys aged 12 and up.
16. Rico suave
A colleague forwarded me this tech guy's profile page when she came across his smoky black-and-white photo. You're leaning back on a couch, right hand casually behind your head, come-hither eyes aimed slightly downward, black open shirt right from the club. Oh, software engineers, you saucy bunch.
17. Delta Leader, this is Bravo, copy?
This experiential producer's LinkedIn profile has no copy, just a listing of titles and prior companies. So, there is no context to help us understand why we are looking at a photo of you wearing yellow snow goggles and very complex winter gear complete with a face mask. Bonus points for holding your hands up with two sideways peace signs. "The Bourne Redundancy" sequel beckons.
18. Photo-booth style
Another co-founder makes the cut, this time chopping up the already small LinkedIn profile photo real estate into four quarters, populating each quadrant photo booth-style with four pics of yourself clearly taken at the same time/place. Next time, carve up the box into nine photos, and we can play Hollywood Squares!
19. Touch my monkey
A new variation on the "Awwww, See Me and My Cute Pet" Facebook-type photo, you, my dear VP of Marketing, are holding what looks like a capuchin monkey while looking back over your shoulder at us. I need to know: Does the monkey help you focus on branding or lead gen?
20. All up in your grill
I shouldn't pick on young customer service associates at national clothing retailers... but I can't help it. My man, what is UP with this WAY close-up photo of your big open-lipped smile? The flash of your camera blinds as it bounces off the two rows of metal braces running across your teeth! I love the enthusiasm. I just need less gums. And less teeth. And a LOT less exposed dental work.
21. It's Doctor Evil
I have to thank Ann Handley for forwarding this one to me. It's my favorite on this list. Yet another co-founder, he has the best 'worst LinkedIn pic" of all time. We see you from the waist up in what is clearly a professionally taken photo. You're relaxed yet focused. Sharply dressed in a well-tailored dark gray suit coat with an expensive-looking white button down shirt. And... drum roll, please... you're holding in both arms a... kitty. Now, this cat is truly just as striking-looking as you are. Quite the power couple, man and feline! I seriously bookmarked this link as my browser home page; it inspires me daily!
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In writing this, I aim to amuse and inspire change.
If any of these fails reminds you of your LinkedIn photo, then please find a professional portrait photographer, spend a few hundred bucks, and get a bunch of high-quality headshots taken. You'll be able to use them on LinkedIn and all the myriad other places online where professional-quality images are required. It'll be one of the best career investments you'll make this year.
If sitting for a pro photographer is too much to ask, get over yourself and reconsider... but at least have someone with a steady hand take simple close-ups of your smiling (but not psycho smiling) face with nothing silly or distracting behind you.
Last of all, read this great, evergreen article about personal branding; it grows more relevant each year. See you in 2016 with at least 22 more LinkedIn Photo Fails. Meanwhile, I welcome any fun or cringe-worthy examples you've come across lately.