7 signs you have a bad LinkedIn profile picture

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Your LinkedIn profile picture is no exception. As much as people try not to be judgmental, it’s hard not to draw conclusions in a place like LinkedIn, where the expectation is that people are showing the very best of themselves in the hopes of advancing their career.

Here are some examples of how people get their LinkedIn profile pictures horribly wrong:

1. You use a repurposed picture

This is a common mistake. You don’t have a great “business looking” photo so you use one from a graduation, wedding, prom, or a screenshot of yourself in a photo that you like. None of these should be your LinkedIn profile picture. It shows that you don’t have the time to take a real headshot.

Assumption: If you don’t care about your headshot quality, maybe you’re just phoning in your career.

2. You’re eternally young

Unless you're Keanu Reeves, that picture of you from the ’90s isn’t what you look like anymore. If your headshot is more than five years old, get a new one.  

Assumption: You’re in denial about the fact that you’re older now. If you can’t accept this, what other realities can’t you accept?

Note: If you are eternally ageless, then at least grow a beard now and then so the rest of us don’t feel so bad.

3. Your outfit has its own agenda

Sweatpants, a hoodie, that sexy dress, scuba gear — they all have a time and place, but unless your work directly requires this kind of attire LinkedIn isn’t the best place to wear it.

Assumption: You enjoy special privilege. Having fun or being really comfortable is more important to you than dressing like everyone else at work. 

4. You’re clearly somewhere else

Like your outfit, the background location in your photo shouldn’t be sending the wrong signals. A hotel room, the swimming pool, the beach, a raging party — unless that’s where you actually work, these locations shouldn’t be in the background of your LinkedIn picture.

Assumption: You’d rather be anywhere than at the office, even when you’re supposed to be at the office.

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5. Your expression isn’t you

Authenticity is the name of the game. However you normally look when you first meet someone at work, a conference, or a mixer is how you should try and look in your picture. If you’re known for being “serious” in person but you’re laughing wildly in your LinkedIn profile photo, there will be a disconnect when people see you on LinkedIn. If you’re cheerful in real life but in your picture you can’t manage a smile, people will wonder what’s wrong.

Assumption: You’ve got two very different personalities and you can’t exhibit the proper emotion when the job calls for it.

6. The picture is just crappy

You know a bad picture when you see it. Maybe it’s a selfie or a poorly lit headshot. It’s out of focus. It’s clearly cropping out someone else. You’ve got a fake background that you obviously photoshopped in. Whatever it is, do yourself a favor and take a new headshot.

Assumption: If you don’t notice that your picture looks horrible, what other obvious things don’t you notice?

7. You’ve got a prop

Unless you’re a vet, a puppeteer, or a volleyball coach, you shouldn’t have a cat, a puppet, a ball, or any other prop visibly in your possession in your profile photo. This goes for hairstyle and accessories, as well. Visually surprising things don’t work in your LinkedIn profile picture. You should look how you do in real life.

Assumption: You’re compensating for something by trying to distract me with something unrelated to your career. Maybe you have something to hide.

The bottom line

Depending on who you are and what you do there are exceptions to each of these, but whatever you do be authentic to who your “professional self” is in your LinkedIn profile picture. Don’t let your first impression be off-putting.

Jennifer L. Jacobson is a PR consultant who helps brands find their voice. Her clients have been TIME’s best site of the year, and graced the likes of Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Popular Science, Scientific American, USA Today, The Atlantic, and thousands more. She is the founder of Jacobson Communication, a PR and marketing firm.

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