What specialists say
Jitske Schols, photographer
"Profile photos for LinkedIn *sigh ... They provide an immediate judgment and it leads to parochialism. In which booth do you fit? I recently read somewhere that while looking at a photo of someones face, in less then a split second you create an idea of how that person is. Whether that’s true or not. That’s why everyone plays it safe and you get pretty much the most boring portrait gallery in the world. All pictures are alike. Only when your profession permits (or should I say requires) creativity, we sometimes see positive exceptions.
As a portrait photographer, I would choose a photo that stands out and stimulates the imagination. One that does not immediately (appear to) reveal everything, but mainly evokes the curiosity of the viewer. That’s not necessarily a facial photo, but it might as well be. My advice? Guard the world (or at least LinkedIn) from uniformity and be creative!"
Dr. Tim Theeboom, psychologist
"Human beings are hardwired to look at other people’s faces. Babies are able to discriminate between faces and other visual stimuli only nine minutes after they have come into this world. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense. Our ‘facial-filters’ help us to recognize and interpret facial characteristics and expressions and provide us with an important early means of communication and survival. We use these facial-filters to distinguish our friends from our enemies and to make split second decisions about who we can trust. Unfortunately, we tend to over-rely on them a bit later in life. Research shows that pictures of job applicants can have both positive and negative effects. It depends on both your facial characteristics as well as on the one who sees and interprets these characteristics. If you have an average face, belong to the same (e.g. ethnic) group as – for instance – a recruiter or you have a beard (yeah!): good for you. If however, you are seen as an outgroup-member or your face has ‘untrustworthy’ characteristics your chances of being invited for an interview tend to drop significantly. Moreover - as faces are often used as a first screening-device – pictures sometimes lead us to ignore characteristics that are truly predictive of success such as intelligence and our track-record. As such, I believe that the use of traditional profile pictures on social and professional networking sites is a convention worth breaking and applaud the brave individuals who live a faceless life."
Vincent Mispelblom Beyer, headhunter
"How people present themselves through LinkedIn profile pictures is an interesting phenomenon. You'll find people choosing an older picture of themselves just to look more youthful and younger for instance. So when they end up in my office I often feel they sent their mother or father. Then there are those profile pictures with a person holding a microphone. What's up with that? Is everything they say so important that it needs to be amplified through a microphone so everyone can hear it? And what to think about those bikini and swimming trunks! I could go on and on about the weird profile pictures I encounter. But what's the use of profile pictures? Nothing to be honest. It definitely shouldn't be a selection criterion. And it surely isn't the most important part of a LinkedIn profile in my opinion. And only until somebody decides to pose in their bikini or with a microphone it might tell something about that person. But in those cases you can ask yourself whether that is a good thing..."
Dr. Sarah van der Land, researcher
"Why do the vast majority of people on LinkedIn present themselves in a similar way? According to the Optimal Distinctiveness Theory, people are struggling with two fundamental human needs. On the one hand, people wish to belong to a group, and are afraid to stand out. The reason for this is that from an evolutionary perspective, belonging to a group increases chances of survival and offers great health benefits such as reducing the risk of severe depression. On the other hand, however, most people have a certain need to feel unique and special in this world. The project Faceless particularly pays homage to those who feel this need to be “unique”.
Faceless can also bee seen as a virtual equivalent of “Dating in the Dark”. It can create mystery and curiosity about who the person in the dark (or behind the online mask) actually is. It may also contain “hope” for the sender that a potential boy/girl friend or a recruiter is able to look further than the cues displayed by form (such as a pretty face/attire/name) and focus on content: ones “inner beauty”. So how should you present yourself on LinkedIn considering that the options online are limitless? My advice as an online personal branding expert is to ask yourself the following question: What do you wish to achieve, and do the associations triggered by your profile picture fit your desired brand?
If you wish to achieve that people may recognize your face at the next “borrel” or think that you are smart and attractive based on the first impressions of your profile picture, make sure that you smile on your profile picture and wear glasses that create symmetry in your face. In this case, having an unidentifiable, artistic picture (e.g. of an Apple) may not be your best option. However, if your personal brand permits to intrigue mystery, go ahead, embrace your creativity, and contribute to making LinkedIn a less dull place!"