Like it or not, your LinkedIn profile picture functions a lot like your cover letter. It's what your prospective employers are looking at as they form their first impressions of you. It's time to confront an unpleasant truth: appearances matter, whether that's fair or not. Nobody wants to hire someone they perceive to be a slob, or worse, someone with poor professional judgment.

I'll pause for a moment here to tell you that I'm a work-at-home mom of three little boys under the age of four. Plus, I'm a writer. Put plainly, I am a slob. There's just no denying it. The sweatpants and the Grumpy Cat t-shirt I'm wearing as I write this are dead giveaways.

If you can count yourself among my slovenly co-conspirators, your mission is clear: you need to use the magic of technology to trick people into believing that you are a well-groomed professional, the perfect candidate for any challenge that might come your way. It's not a far stretch. You are that person, and you can rise to any challenge. It's just that you have to clear the pesky hurdle of the LinkedIn profile picture in order to look the part and nail that first impression. People can get to know and appreciate you for your lovable misfit ways later on.

LinkedIn is here to stay, and so I'm here to share the dirty secrets of crafting the most flattering LinkedIn profile picture possible:

  1. The first step is admitting you have a problem. Take a look at your current LinkedIn profile picture. Was it taken over 5 years ago? Is this a personal picture of yours that you've re-purposed for LinkedIn? Are your kids, buddies, or other loved ones in it (or have you unsubtly cropped them out)? Are you holding a can of Miller High Life? Does this picture give away anything about your personal life that you'd rather employers not know? If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, then it's time to make a change. You want a fairly simple, professional-looking headshot that features your simple, professional-looking head.
  2. When in doubt, go pro. Some people are blessed with the innate ability to take the most flattering selfies possible against effortlessly appropriate backdrops. And other people are forced to admit defeat after scrolling through thousands of blurry, lopsided pictures of their own asymmetrical faces. If you're like me and have no faith in your ability to capture a decent selfie, then it may be a worthy investment of your time and money to visit a professional photographer to take some decent headshots. But not just any professional photographer...
  3. If you go pro, don't go to that place in the mall. I made this mistake recently. Turns out you should not trust the oppressed teenagers who work at the mall place to care enough to shepherd you into flattering poses that you'd feel good about putting out there to your professional network. My mall headshots came out so laughably bad that I was considering slapping one of them into this article to illustrate my point. I decided against it because I like having jobs. You want to find a professional photographer who cares enough to work with you and take pictures you both can be proud of. Let your existing network be your guide here; don't be afraid to ping that nearby connection of yours who has an amazing profile pic and ask for help or a referral to a great photographer.
  4. If you choose to DIY, get ready to take many, many selfies. Another common and perfectly sound strategy is the time-honored Taking of the Selfies. You get your hair and makeup done--or trim your nose hair, or whatever other facial action items you prefer--and you prepare yourself for the most intense solo photo session ever. Play around with lighting and different backgrounds. If you're like me, you locate the one patch of well-lit wall in your house that your kids haven't visibly crayoned. 
  5. Use a decent camera. Borrow a friend's if you have to. Then, borrow your friend. You're classy; you want quality. Nicer non-phone cameras are not built with selfies in mind, so your photo buddy comes in handy here. Find your spot(s) and snap away with wild abandon. Know this: Even if you take 999 terrible pictures out of 1000, that still leaves you with one picture that gives you pause, and you figure, eh, that one might not actually be so bad. One decent picture is all you need.
  6. Your most flattering angle is from above. Whether you choose to take your picture from the left, from the right, or from straight ahead, or whether you're having someone else photograph you, the golden rule of selfies stands: Take the picture from above--very slightly. This is everyone's best angle. I don't care who you are. Work that angle like it's American Pharaoh and you're going for the triple crown.
  7. Your photo editing software or app is a great ally. Once you have a picture you're happy with, you'll want to consider playing around with various filters and doing any number of visual touch-ups. One easy trick, courtesy of my good friend Alecia Morgan, is to go black and white. With the right photo, this can add an instant layer of sophistication to an otherwise unremarkable pose.
  8. Your most brutally honest friend is an even better ally. You know who he or she is. Get these pictures in front of this person and have them go all Simon Cowell on them. Do not take this personally.

Next time you're scrolling through your LinkedIn connections list and admiring all the flawless, fierce headshots smiling competently back at you, you may find yourself grinning in solidarity. After all, this is everyone's rodeo, and many of us have the smartphone galleries full of failed selfies to prove it.

Published on: Nov 30, 2015