Skip to main content
leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Images, like any art form, are subject to interpretation. Portraits have been used by leaders throughout history to convey a carefully crafted image to the public. Fast-forward to the age of digital photography, image-based communication, and professional online branding. While the tools to create portraits have radically changed over time, what remains constant is the objective of putting forward an image that will be interpreted in an optimal way.

The networking site LinkedIn tells our professional story, the cover of which is our photograph. True, we should never judge a book by its cover. But it is difficult not to do so when using a network that presents image-based content first and details second. Our profile photos accompany, and physically outsize, every written description of the actions we take on the network, from gaining a new connection to joining an industry group. LinkedIn also presents visual content so that it is more readily consumed on smaller mobile screens. It demands that we communicate using high-quality images, and forces us to recognize the faces in our professional circles before the names.

For these reasons, our LinkedIn profile photographs matter, as do all images we portray on social media. While we have no say as to what is published about us by others in print or online, LinkedIn is a completely controlled environment. Each decision is deliberate and self-determined. There is no excuse for typos or inaccuracies. There is no reason not to put our best foot forward.

Our LinkedIn profiles in their entirety reflect our level of professionalism, our judgment, and our attention – or inattention – to detail. Of all the elements within the site, it is our profile photos which singularly convey our professional brands to our benefit, or to our detriment.

Here are seven rules to follow to ensure that your LinkedIn profile photo will have a positive impact on your job search, your professional networking endeavours, and ultimately, your career:

1) Upload a picture.

This seems obvious, but there are many profiles on LinkedIn without an image at all. If your industry does not impose regulatory restrictions regarding your digital profile, or if your company does not have an internal policy regarding same, use the most professional looking photograph available to you, or invest in having one taken. Get some feedback before making your final selection.

2) Do not confuse LinkedIn with Facebook.

One of the greatest mistakes that people make is to treat LinkedIn like any other social network, specifically Facebook. LinkedIn photographs should reflect the way we appear in a given professional situation, not on a holiday. Photos should show your network how you would present to clients, customers, or other stakeholders.

3) Let Ellen take the selfies.

There are a surprising number of selfies on LinkedIn. You may be sitting at your desk wearing your business finery, but the fact that you took your own photograph and uploaded it to LinkedIn is obvious. Portraits are greatly improved when someone else does the shooting. While the selfie is better than nothing, let it be temporary at best.

4) Lose the sunglasses.

The only person who could reasonably wear sunglasses on LinkedIn is the CEO of Ray-Ban, and even then, the merits would be questionable. Will you be wearing sunglasses during your next pitch? Is there something about your eyes that you are trying to hide? If not, then show your bright eyes to the world and remove the sunglasses not only from your eyes, but from the top of your head as well.

5) Make it all about you.

The only person in your LinkedIn photograph should be you. Keep children, partners, pets and busy backgrounds out of the picture, literally.

6) Dress appropriately.

Look your best, but be sure that your attire is in keeping with your professional image and is sector-specific. That little black dress is beautiful for cocktail parties but not appropriate for LinkedIn. Use accessories cautiously. Don't let them distract from other parts of your profile photo, or be contradictory to your professional objectives.

7) Compose and edit effectively.

All photos, professionally taken or not, can benefit from some editing basics. Be sure to use an image that is in focus, reveals your true likeness, is not over-exposed, and is cropped to eliminate excessive background.

If you are going to establish a professional presence in the digital age, make it the best that it can be. Scroll through your LinkedIn connections and have a critical look at the images in your database. Ask yourself which ones work best, which are weakest, and why. A favourable interpretation of your image on LinkedIn could well be worth a thousand opportunities.

Hilary Carter (@TweetFromHilary) is a public speaker and the founder of InTune Communications (@AreYouInTune), a strategic communications firm that helps companies and individuals amplify their messages and build their brands on Twitter and other social media networks.