Wednesday, July 8, 2015

LinkedIn photo rant

My LinkedIn usage goes in bursts. I usually take a quick look in the morning to see if there are any interesting articles. Every now and then I'll get some connection activity, then I'll scroll down the list looking for people to connect to.

My long time readers will not be surprised I have a policy for social media:

  • LinkedIn: I have to have worked with the person, or interacted with them on a professional level. So I'm linked to some triathlon coaching people, my massage therapist, the guy that did the energy evaluation on my house, and some others. However I'm not linked to some family members because I've never dealt with them on a job level. I made a few connections before I was on Facebook but I won't delete them now. 
  • Facebook: I'm dialing back on Facebook time because it's becoming unreliable at showing me what my friends are saying. Generally I'll only friend someone now if I know them personally and want to keep in touch.
  • Twitter: I'll follow anyone that looks interesting. I will not follow back someone just because they followed me. (Hint, you can follow me too! Look for the button on the right of my blog.)
Today I was looking through the 'People You May Know' section. If you don't use LinkedIn, you see a grid of fairly good sized photos 4 across, with a name in bold under it, and a little blurb under that, usually a title and a company name. If the person hasn't provided a photo, you just see a head and shoulders outline.

The whole point of LinkedIn is professional networking. I am appalled at what people consider a suitable photo. Here's what's on my bad photo list, in the order I saw them as I scrolled through tonight:

  • No photo at all. Come on people, if you're going to do this at all, provide a photo.
  • A face that is only a small fraction of the photo, or a photo filling only a part of the available space.
  • A face so large you can't see ears or hair.
  • A weird angled photo with the person at 45 degrees, or worse.
  • Multiple people in the photo. You might know which you are, but I don't.
  • An icon or avatar. This isn't a game.
  • People have varying degrees of attractiveness, and the camera loves some people more than others, but still, if the photo is not flattering to you, don't use it. Like you have friends that tell you what you look like from behind in those pants, have them look at the photo you're thinking of using.
  • Too dark, or too bright to make out any detail.
  • The photo has been resized so the proportions are all wrong, too wide or tall.
  • Taken at a party.
  • A magazine cover.
  • What looks like a mug shot, lacking only the board with numbers on it.
  • What looks to be the head of those CPR training dummies.
  • Hat that totally shades the face.
  • Seeing only the back of the person. Really!
  • Seeing only half the face. Their right half, if you were wondering. Several have the top trimmed off.
  • A welding stamp.
  • Flowers.
  • A solar panel providing power to something portable.
  • A landscape with a lightning stroke in the back ground.
  • A set of railroad tracks illustrating the laws of perspective.
  • An art wall. I think. It could be an out of focus rack of shoes at MEC. I can't quite tell.
  • Pets.
  • A messy office.
  • A poor sketch, though this is more nuanced. See below.

I could go on. That list took less than 10 minutes to compile. Scroll, write, scroll, write, repeat. It didn't take much scroll. Come on people, you can do better than this. Maybe you fear bland and inoffensive, but this is worse.

Let us review. What is the purpose of a photo? It's the first and best chance to make a good impression. We make judgements of people based on their faces. It's wired into our brains to look and make an instant assessment, friend or foe? The eyes are the window of the soul. Let them see your eyes. What can the photo do for, or to you?

  • At the very best it's an up check, with your viewer thinking they like the look of you. 
  • In most cases it's neutral, and that's fine. The viewer is thinking, yes, this is the person I just interviewed, not someone else with the same name. Thoughts like, owns a suit, is presentable, nice smile, or it looks like the lights are on, are all good things. 
  • At the worst, it will turn people off. There's already enough reasons in your life for people to say no to you, and you want to defer that as long as possible.

So, how does your photo make the best impression? The first question is, what is your profession? I'm a business analyst. What do they wear? At the most formal, they wear a suit and tie, and women wear the business equivalent. They are generally well groomed because they interact with all kinds of people at all levels of an organization. Just for the record, here's my photo, taken at least 5 years ago.

I'm not one of the people that camera loves. I went to a professional and paid for this photo. It isn't the best one of me but it could be much, much worse. Depending on display settings my complexion sometimes looks a little ruddy, but it does in life too. Nobody seeing this photo, and then meeting me is going to be surprised. I can count on the fingers of two hands the number of times I've actually worn a suit to Penn West and Talisman, my two most recent gigs. Most places don't expect you to wear one now, but still, better to dress up than down.

Were my brother to create a profile, it's appropriate he wear his airline uniform, showing the captain's stripes. For an oil and gas field worker, a hard hat or nomex coveralls (both clean!). If you're a hunting and fishing guide, then something outdoors in the appropriate clothing is good. A chef wearing the white jacket and a chef's hat. You want to show that you fit into the expectations of your profession.

What makes a good photo? Here's my list:

  • A professional head and shoulders photo, with you doing no further 'improvement' to it. Tell them what you want, and you'll get the right thing. It can be reused in many places, such as industry conferences, professional papers, and your current companies who's who web site, if they do photos. 
  • The more comfortable in your skin you look, the better. 
  • The more of your body that shows, the more careful you have to be of what you're wearing, your posture, and your background. The composition of the photo becomes much more important. It's much easier to do wrong than right.
  • Usually a neutral background. You are the object of interest, not the background.
  • If you have a nice smile, show it, but don't go all toothy crazy.
  • Show your eyes. Some of my photos have manic eyes. You may have unfortunate wrinkles, or hair, or other issues. The photographer should be able to minimize these to get a good shot.
  • The clothing seen in the photo should be profession appropriate.
  • If your profession requires the use of breathing apparatus, be clean shaven.
  • Look at the camera. This isn't an arty 70's experimental rock group album cover.
  • Artistic professions have a bit more leeway. In an ideal world the photo should give a hint of the profession, but it's a tricky balance.
If it's not a photo you are walking a tightrope on a windy day. I've seen a couple of really good sketches. They follow most of the rules of a photo, but can add a little extra. Or subtract a lot. These are not doodles. I suspect they are done by professional artists.

Here's a nice drawing of me done several years ago during a Stampede breakfast. It looks like me, gives a hint of my sunny personality, and might be ok as Facebook profile photo (hmmmm), but I wouldn't dream of using it on LinkedIn unless I became a fitness instructor.

Some of you will have seen this one of me as a Facebook profile. I would totally use this as the author photo when I publish. It's the rare selfie that is a good shot, has not been retouched in any way, and it was all totally by accident. I couldn't do it again in a decade of trying.

Lastly, look at what else LinkedIn shows beside your photo. Name, professional designation, title, and company is perfect. Your philosophy of life, however admirable, is not appropriate here.

It used to be that if you became an employee you were there for life. About the only place that's still true is the City and other governmental organizations, but that's passing. People leave organizations much more often now, and there are only two ways for it to happen. One is by your choice, on your schedule, for your reasons. The other is for the company to tell you to go away. This can be traumatic. The company doesn't care if you just bought a house, or had a baby, or anything else. The only thing they care about is their bottom line and will spit you onto the sidewalk like used chewing gum in support of that.

So now we have to be out selling ourselves all the time. Contract people know this in their bones. They want to make it easy for recruiters and other job providers to find and hire them. Employees might not know it, but they have the same need. Even retired people might need or want to get back in the workforce again for some reason. A LinkedIn profile is just one of the tools, and a photo is a big part of it. Look at yours. Fix it if necessary.

Lastly, on a related topic. All this is closely related to networking, which is something I suck at doing. To change that I'm going to start going through my connections, and trying to meet up with local people for coffee and a catch up chat. Just today at breakfast I ran into a guy that I worked with at Skystone, EOS, and Talisman. Lots to chat about. What about you? Are you one of my LinkedIn connections? Are you a blog reader in Calgary that wants to meet up? Comment and let me know that. We'll work something out.

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