You’ve been hearing the same, age-old saying for years: First impressions are everything. This used to mean making eye contact and having a firm handshake. But now, in a world dominated by websites and social media profiles, first impressions are more complicated. You don’t even know when you’re making a first impression, let alone if you’re making one that stands out in a positive way.
But don’t worry. You can still take control of the situation. In addition to culling your LinkedIn profile and other online bios to reflect you and your mission, you also need a high-quality headshot — a professional-looking photo of your head and shoulders. And not just a decent headshot, but one that you’d feel comfortable seeing in a conference program or newspaper article.
Your headshot should be high-resolution (not blurry), and it must truly like you, not the decade-younger version of yourself. Upload the best one to LinkedIn and your corporate website, if you didn’t already have one there. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram also require a profile photo, but you can go more casual with those if you choose.
Why go through the trouble of having a nice headshot?
- It projects confidence and approachability. First impressions are formed within the first tenth of a second of meeting you. Or, in this case, viewing you. In a psychological research study conducted by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov of Princeton, it takes a stranger about one tenth of a second to establish an impression of you, and a longer period of time of exposure doesn’t really change this impression. Your headshot is the first thing people will see when they look for you online, so don’t waste the opportunity to make it a good reflection of who you are.
- You never know what the media is going to use, or when the media is going to use it. Let’s say that a reporter decides to write about you or your company entirely out of the blue. Or you’ve recently released some news, and instead of contacting your communications representative, said reporter decides to pull your picture from LinkedIn (or whichever photo they see first after doing a quick Google search). Take a look at this example, highlighting CNN’s use of this awkward, candid picture of Federal Judge Robart, who was recently in the news unexpectedly. Don’t let this be you.
- Help people match your face to your name. No matter what title you currently hold, you’re going to have to meet with someone you’ve never met with before. This person is going to want a face to go with the name—and a face that actually represents the name it belongs to. It paves the way for a better connection, even if you’re just speaking on the phone. So, when you update your headshot for the first time since that one you took in 1997, you’ll avoid that awkward is-that-really-her-or-just-someone-that-looks-like-her-LinkedIn-picture-in-twenty-years moment.
As you might expect, we believe that a good headshot is worth paying for. So if you don’t have a willing friend with a nice camera, hire a photographer. (But if you do decide to go the low-budget route, head to The Muse to read their advice on how to conduct your own headshot photoshoot for free.)