The power of the profile picture: How to make a great first impression online



Looking to snag a job, project, or client? You’ve got the skills and experience, but that alone might not be enough to turn heads. Trying to direct attention to your skills, especially in a digital-first environment, can feel like shouting into the void.

No matter how you slice it, today’s job market is pretty rough. Although many jobs are available, the labor market isn’t very hospitable for job seekers right now. Candidates only get an average of four callbacks for every 30 applications they submit, making it tougher than ever to find a job.

You need every advantage possible, and that’s where a professional profile picture comes in. Whether you’re a solopreneur, small business owner, or individual creative looking for work, how you present yourself can sometimes make the difference between landing an interview or getting the dreaded post-application radio silence. Digital technology — such as AI, professional social media, online application platforms, and more — only ups the ante in the current job market. In fact, 54% of employers have rejected candidates based solely on their social media profiles. Yikes.

While your resume and interview skills still matter, looking the part is vital to scoring more interviews in a competitive candidate pool and (hopefully) getting the job of your dreams. Since more employers are hiring in a virtual-only environment, something as small as your business profile picture could make a big difference.

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of business profile pictures, explain why they’re still important, and share research-backed ingredients for creating job-landing profile pictures.

The pros and cons of profile pictures

Who’s going to trust a generic profile icon? Nobody. If you’re applying for jobs and opt out of sharing pictures of yourself online, hiring managers will likely pass you up. Whether or not that opinion is fair, failing to add a profile picture renders your professional persona incomplete. If a hiring manager spots another red flag elsewhere in your application, you’ve pretty much written your own rejection letter.

Profiles with photos can receive up to 21 times more views than those without profile photos. Additionally, in the brief time they spend on your profile, 19% of recruiters' time is spent glancing at your profile photo.

The content of your photo can work for you, too. Looking the part confirms recruiters’ subtle biases and tells them you’re the right candidate. For example, if they’re hiring for a director-level position and you’re dressed to the nines in a suit, your profile photo subconsciously positions you as a solid candidate. It’s the same reason why posting a pic of yourself in more casual garb will hurt your chances of securing a high-level position.

As effective as profile pictures can be for candidates, too much tinkering can have a negative effect on your professional intentions. Without limiting your edits — such as how you use filters — your image can fail to represent your authentic self. It’s important to keep yourself looking your best, but your profile picture also needs to remain a true representation of who you are.

It also takes one-tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger just from their face. To make a world-class impression on hiring managers, you have to acknowledge imperfect brains and societal biases and show awareness of playing by the rules. Bottom line, hiring managers expect to see high-quality profile pictures of their top candidates, and delivering on that expectation is the best way to boost your chances of getting a job interview.

The importance of a good profile picture

Recruiters and clients expect to see professional photos of you on LinkedIn, your website, or your application — but not just any profile picture will do.

You may be tempted to snap a quick car selfie and use it as your LinkedIn profile photo, but that might not get the results you want. The Halo Effect is a phenomenon where we let one trait influence our overall judgment of a person. Since even something as minor as the placement and angle of your eyebrows can affect recruiters’ opinion of you, investing in a good profile photo will make you stand out for all the right reasons. It’s just one more way to convince potential employers that you look the part of the person they envision for the role they’re trying to fill.

Dressing the part is essential, but things like facial expressions also influence how much people trust you. Don’t feel weird practicing your “model face” in the mirror — nailing the right facial expression could get you a job.

What makes a good profile photo?

A breakroom selfie might be good enough for Snapchat, but you’ll need to do better than “good enough” to really wow potential employers. Try these research-backed profile picture ideas to rework your profile picture and watch the LinkedIn requests and profile views roll in.

Watch your proportions

Do all of your profile photos feature full-body shots? Change perspective and focus just on your head and shoulders. Full-body shots aren’t necessary in the business world.

Once you’ve zoomed in a bit, follow the rule of thirds. Turn on the grid lines in your phone’s camera app and angle it so the grids intersect across your face. If you do this right, you’ll be offset slightly to the right or left of the frame. This asymmetry is naturally more eye-catching and comes across as less forward than a direct, centered shot.

Use portrait mode

Did you know most smartphones include a portrait mode? A profile picture is definitely a portrait, so switch to this mode before snapping a few pics of yourself. This setting gives your photo a depth-of-field effect that blurs the background and sharpens your features. The result is a stunningly professional-looking photo that pops.

Invest in the right equipment

You don’t need to buy a bunch of light tents or professional lighting equipment for your profile picture session. However, some low-cost equipment will definitely make the process more enjoyable.

Use your smartwatch (if you have one) or get a Bluetooth phone camera remote to take pictures. This way, you don’t have to hold your phone while snapping photos, so you can keep your arm from angling out of frame and find the right angle easily.

Speaking of angles, get a tripod to hold your phone. Ring lights are a popular option that combines a tripod and lighting rig. Best of all, the locking tripod ensures you get a consistent angle every time.

Dress professionally

Unless casual t-shirts are the standard in your industry, dress up for your business profile picture. Some of the best profile photos show people wearing dark-colored suits and light-colored collared shirts underneath for contrast, and better-rated men’s photos usually include a tie. Although dressing up a little is expected, make sure your outfit still matches your usual appearance so you’re remaining both authentic and professional.

Practice looking approachable

Practicing your smile in front of the mirror may sound like silly advice, but this guideline has a lot of wisdom. Smiles that show teeth make you seem more approachable and friendly. Now isn’t the time to pull Zoolander’s famous Blue Steel look, but you don’t want to laugh, either, which could make you look unserious and less competent. When in doubt, a toothy smile is the way to go.

Your eyes also matter. Squinch your eyes when you smile to make you appear more genuine and authentic. The eyes are the gateway to the soul, after all, so make sure your eyes aren’t covered by hair, a hat, a scarf, or shadows.

Go with simple backgrounds

You can’t go wrong with a plain white wall as your profile picture background, but jazz things up a little. Posing in front of your office or even a nice park could elevate your profile picture. The key is to choose a background that doesn’t take away from the photo’s subject: You.

Fortunately, you don’t have to throw out a profile picture if you don’t like the background. Use tools like Adobe Express to crop out the background and put something better in its place. Or you can use the Blur tool if you just need to tone down the background.

Diffuse lighting

You can always edit lighting afterward, but thinking about lighting conditions will save you a lot of hassle during the editing process. Avoid harsh LED or fluorescent lights — go for natural, diffused lighting when possible by posing in front of a window. Use a curtain to diffuse the light just enough to minimize harsh shadows.

Always edit before you post

If you manage to take a perfect profile picture without any editing, we salute you. But most pictures need a little zhuzhing before posting. Your business profile picture could be the tie-breaker for landing an interview, so spending three minutes fine-tuning the picture before posting can’t hurt, right?

Use free tools from Adobe Express to get your photos just right before adding them online. Customize a free template to automatically format photos and turn heads for all the right reasons. Blur or remove backgrounds, convert image files, and even add effects like animation. Use the image enhancer to remove shadows, change the color balance, and improve details on any photo.

Post your best profile picture with Adobe Express

In a time when more than half of employers reject candidates based on social media — and spend a good bit of time staring at your LinkedIn profile picture — consciously managing your online image is more important than ever.

Your profile picture is more than an afterthought. Whether you’re a job seeker or a self-employed entrepreneur, your profile picture is an important part of your professional identity that affects your overall online presence. Rework your profile picture to see what clicks with recruiters and clients. You’ll still need to sell your skills and experience, but leveraging the Halo Effect with a solid profile picture will start you off on the right foot with hiring managers.

Some people hire professional photographers or use pricey software to create profile pictures that are like works of art. Fortunately, you don’t need photography chops to create the perfect profile picture. Adobe Express makes it a cinch to animate photos, arrange pictures with customizable templates, edit images in a few taps, and a lot more.

Don’t retake your photos — edit them with Adobe Express and put yourself on the fast lane to success. Did we mention it’s free? Create your profile picture now in Adobe Express.

Try Adobe Express today