Smile You are Hired: Your Profile Headshot


by Debra Wheatman, Careers Done Write

When we visit a person’s social media page, our eyes naturally go to the photo.  If the photo is bad or inappropriate, you can’t undo that first impression. So, what are the elements of an outstanding profile picture?  It should be professionally photographed, aligned with your personal brand, and meet the technical requirements of the social media sites.  Ideally, you should update your photo every year or two and use this photo across all of your social media.  This creates your brand consistency and helps people connect with you.  Think of your head shot as your logo.

Quality Photo

Our goal is a quality photo of your face and shoulders.  By all means, do not take a Web cam shot or self snap photos in your mirror!  The image needs to look professional.  It must be sharp.  Blurry, dark, or low-res images are not acceptable. To achieve this, a tripod and quality camera lens should be used. The most terrific software can’t fix a poorly executed photo.  If you can’t afford a professional photography studio, try a local freelancer, experienced hobbyist, or photography student.  In my area, I have found a photographer to provide digital only photos for less than $200.  This will vary by the amount of hungry talented photographers in your area. 

Comply with Technical Requirements

Check with each site to obtain the technical requirements. Communicate this information to your photographer. If you upload a file that is too big or too small, your photo will not appear optimally. You may follow the format and dimensional guidelines, and the photo may still not look great! Test photos across all of your social media outlets. You may experience some trial and error before you hit gold.


Certain people self-sabotage their photos through unnatural expressions or painful facial contortions.  This may be due to discomfort in front of the camera.  So, relax.  Take deep breaths.  Have your photographer take several photos that “don’t count” so he or she can get you in the rhythm of the shoot.  A straight-on shot is not flattering for all.  A good photographer will direct your position so you look best.  No matter your head position, make direct contact with the camera and smile.  It does not have to be a big pageant smile.  Be natural. Please, avoid flirty, sexy looks. This is not the place for that. 


Photo Background

A natural, textured, or solid color background is ideal.  Anything too busy will be distracting for such a small photo. Bedroom shots are not OK.  Avoid the obvious mistakes, such as alcohol, cigarettes, pets, children, and other people in your photo.  This is not a time to show off the new boat or Porsche.

Appropriate Wardrobe & Make-up

Don’t reveal too much skin, if you want to win an interview.  A display of pecs and cleavage is not appropriate.  A business or business casual top is best.  Under the warm lights, your make-up must be perfect.  If you don’t know how to apply make-up for the camera, consider hiring a professional.  Depending on your location, this can run from $50 to $150 per hour.  If they are on site for the shoot, plan on spending $100 to $150.  The good thing about having a make-up artist on-site is that they can make corrections on the fly, which can save the shoot.

You may be thinking, wow, this branding strategist is really over-thinking a simple headshot! Actually, it’s the other way around – this a branding and marketing exercise! When your career is at stake, you need to invest a bit of money and time to have a photo that fortifies your personal brand and makes a great first impression.

Debra Wheatman is the president of Careers Done Write and an AMA Career Resource Center contributor. Read more from Debra here or follow her on twitter at @DebraWheatman.