Is your headshot good for business?


I was invited recently to do a talk at some local Basepoint business centres about the importance of having a professional headshot, and used the opportunity to do bit of market research for my own business.

As an introduction to each talk, I asked everyone in the room about what they thought the role of a headshot was for their business - specifically in the context of LinkedIn, given that they were much more likely to be able to chose an image that they thought represented the ‘real them’ (as opposed, for example, to company team headshots, where the choice is often made on their behalf).

What’s in a picture?

Whilst most people readily acknowledged the importance of having a LinkedIn profile picture to put a face to a name in today’s digital world, and admitted that they very often checked out the profile pictures of potential clients, employers and colleagues alike to try and get a better sense of who they were dealing with, I was surprised by how little thought many had given to the specific picture they were using themselves.

In amongst a smattering of those who had invested in a professional headshot, there was a host of badly-lit-selfies, favourite pictures from the distant past, cut-outs from weddings and various other social occasions and at least a couple with what looked suspiciously like optics in the background (and we’re not talking the Physics variety…)

Whilst I’m obviously a bit biased when it comes to arguing for the importance of having a headshot that’s taken by a professional photographer, and ideally one who specialises in that field, it’s worth considering the implications of a quote taken from a paper published by the Association for Psychological Science:

A series of experiments by Princeton psychologists Jane Willis and Alexander Todorov reveal that all it takes is a 10th of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those impressions.

Whilst in the context of our human interactions, the fact that we make snap judgements about other people is hardly new news, the extent to which we do so, as revealed by Willis & Todorov’s study, is perhaps more surprising, ranging from perceived socio-economic status to a bewildering array of personal attributes including intelligence, competence, trustworthiness and likeability, right through to assumptions about our sexual preferences. All in the 10th of a second.

Which I hope gives you at least some pause for thought about that mug-shot of yours and what assumptions others might be making about you from it, and what implications that might have in a professional context in terms of anything from job prospects to new business opportunities.

But rather than take my word for it, there’s a very addictive app called Photofeeler which you can upload your headshot to, where other users rate your profile according to three key criteria which have been statistically proven to be the most significant determinants of how likely others are to want to do business with us based on first impressions - namely, our perceived Influence, Competence and Likeability.

And if you’re stickler for stats, it also shows you exactly how many people have voted, which gives at least some indication of how robust the findings are.

The good, the bad and the ugly.

I’ve often thought about doing a before and after page on my website to help demonstrate the difference a professional headshot can make to your personal brand image, and whilst I’ve got a few shockers (‘befores’, I should hasten to add) that clients have kindly given me permission to use if I ever do that, I thought it was probably unfair to use them here to demonstrate my point, so I’ve used myself as a guinea pig instead.

You might think that the first example below is a bit extreme, but I can assure you I’ve seen many worse being used on LinkedIn; as I’m sure you can see, it’s a classic selfie, with no thought given to context, outfit or, let’s face it, facial expression (cheese, anyone?). And my peers have made it pretty clear what they think of it - I’m barely Competent, more Lieutenant than Captain of Industry, and although my cheesy grin seems to have taken some people in, I’m obviously still pretty Marmite.


The next image is actually also a selfie but, I hope you’ll agree, with a little bit more thought put into it (and slightly more expensive equipment). In the click of a shutter, I find myself in the top 10% in the Competence stakes of the 60,000 users that make up Photofeeler’s business database (they also have dating ratings, but that’s another story); as for Influence I’m still not quite Richard Branson, but it looks like I could hold my own in a room full of movers and shakers, and it appears that I’m quite fun to be around too.


A sad indication of how superficial we can be, perhaps, but in the uber-competitive world we live in today, we also need all the help we can get.

So why not have a think about how others might be seeing you and give Photofeeler a bash to see whether you think it might be worth investing in getting a headshot that represents ‘the best version of you’. But be warned, it can be brutal!

David Green