By now you are no doubt aware of the fact that the internet contains photographs of people all over the world. As you look at pictures of other people, and in particular people you do not know, you nonetheless undergo a rapid evaluation process. In a fraction of a few seconds your brain does an amazing job of filtering all your life experiences with people in your past who resemble this person you are looking at. Some of those experiences will be real life in-person interactions, and some will be ones you’ve only experienced in the third person through the movies or television. Your brain will even gather information from what you’ve viewed in a newspaper, a sports cast or the news.
The brain then takes all this objective data and then it produces an equally quick summary and you either find the person in the photograph safe or not. This is actually the brains way of keeping the body secure by sending us immediate cues advising whether we should steer clear of a person or giving us the all clear resulting in us lowering our caution. It can also trigger a pleasurable reaction, suggesting we are likely to have a positive experience with a person. And even though all you have to go on is a photo showing their physical body, you will find yourself attributing traits to people which may or may not actually fit with the person were you to get to know them. So they now appear friendly, warm, distant, cold, aggressive, intimidating, weak, shy.
Would you agree with the above? This is why so many dating sites have pictures of their clients included. As people, we infer and make assumptions about what a person is like often using the photograph as a starting point.
And it is because of this brain filtering process that it becomes imperative to think carefully about what your own photo communicates to most other people about your own qualities. Everything in your chosen photograph, from your smile or lack of one, grooming, choice of clothing, the background, your direct eye contact etc.; it all should be carefully considered to ensure that the feelings you provoke in others who view it will send the message you intend on communicating.
This process is a branding exercise if you go to the extent where you carefully craft your photo to fit with what you anticipate are the qualities and traits an employer is likely to find attractive in the people they hire. So if you are looking for an executive position with a large organization located in a prestigious location in the financial district, you can do some homework and watch the people who hold similar positions now. You can see their photographs in publications, on the walls of their offices, and on the internet. If you decide to dress like them, groom like them, pose like them, you make it easier for them to see you as one of them.
A friend of mine who is a suit and tie guy was on a business trip and the company he and his team were visiting said, “Come casual”. Casual for him was hard to determine. So the team all showed up wearing suits with ties. They met Executives at that company who were in jeans, shirts and no ties. All they could do at that point was remove their jackets, loosen their ties and unbutton their shirts. They were trying to ‘fit’ with the Executives they were meeting so it would be easier to conduct business. They were in short trying to assimilate.
So this brings me to your LinkedIn photo. Many people have no photograph at all, or they choose to use a design as their avatar, or a picture of an animal or object. In those cases, it is impossible to size up a person and get a read on them from the photo, but nonetheless people will make guesses based on their own experiences up to that point in their lives. So they may think the person evasive, has something to hide, weak or at the very best evokes no response one way or the other. While the person who is behind the non-photograph may if given the chance have a great explanation for the lack of a photo, they may never get a chance to explain this if they are passed over.
Here’s an exercise you may have already done yourself. Browse connections on LinkedIn and see if you find some people friendly, approachable or the opposite. When you see a blank avatar do you get any reaction one way or the other? Probably not because you’re not feeding your brain any data to work with to come up with an emotional response.
Another thing to consider is not only your grooming and the setting, but the quality of the image itself you are using. Some photos actually look aged and yellow, others are crisp. Consider too your posture whether standing or sitting. Are you holding a cat or baby in the photo? Why choose that one? What are you saying? While you may craft an image with your LinkedIn photo, look at what you post on other media. Employers have been checking out Facebook photos and the like for years to see you in your natural state.
Like it or not, agree or not, your photo will promote your attributes or provoke a poor response.
Written By Kelly Mitchell