Your LINKEDIN photo can ruin your career: An Idiot-proof Guide to the Right Impression

Anyone who knows me knows that I have very strong feelings about LinkedIn in general and specifically about LinkedIn photos.  I have ruined dinner parties by analyzing some of the guests LinkedIn profile.  Some shrinks need you to talk to them for years before they can figure out your issues.  I, on the other hand, can take one look at your LinkedIn photo and determine all types of things about you that you would prefer I don’t know.  I don’t mean to scare anyone, but, listen people, this picture is insanely important! I have shared my in depth thoughts on the topic before, but this is the perfect time of the year to bring up the subject again.  Everyone is feeling good in the new year and sometimes that means exploring options--even if you end up staying put.  So, yes, an update to my Workplace Guru LinkedIn rules seems to be in order.  

First, as I intimated before, it is absolutely vital to create or find the perfect LinkedIn photo.  This means two things, first and foremost: 1) your picture looks like you and 2) you are dressed for the job you’re seeking or doing.  If you work in Silicon Valley, you should look like you work in Silicon Valley, not on Wall St.; if you are an architect or designer, you should look like an architect or a designer, not a barista or a lawyer. Now, even within specific professions there are varying looks.  For example, a pharmaceutical sales rep dresses very differently than a textiles sales rep does (just ask the doctors), and A&D reps look different from everyone else.  Look the part you want.  It seems like common sense, but a shocking number of people can’t catch on.  I’ve thought about making shirts with these rules, but, luckily, I know how to separate my passions from my business.

 On the topic of obviously bad ideas, let’s consider the insanity of having your LinkedIn picture include your partner.  For the life of me I cannot fathom what makes people think this is a good decision, and every HR director I have spoken to about this agrees with me.  The vast majority of men who have pictures with their partners tell me that those partners suggested  they be in the picture.  A number of women tell me the same.  In some cases, people are just lazy and choose to use any photo they have that they feel looks good, but most times it’s some weird and destructive territorial garbage, like a dog peeing on its owner so all the other dogs know to stay away.  Your spouse may think people are trolling LinkedIn looking for a date or that you might have co-workers to whom they’d like to send a clear message.  Give me a break!  I mean this next bit seriously.  If your partner wants to be in your LinkedIn photo you guys have a lot of stuff to workout.  In fact, I’d dump them on the spot.

 The bottom line is that couple pictures of any kind on LinkedIn send a bad impression.  Maybe you have a great marriage and you chose the photo because it was convenient.  But to someone on the outside, it can give off the impression that you have an overly possessive or jealous spouse or other baggage in your personal life.  Nobody wants to hire someone with baggage.  I am a little shocked that I still have to explain to people the difference between Facebook and LinkedIn, but here I am, once again, shouting into the abyss.  Facebook is for casual photos; you can post your personal things there.  Have a great picture of you and your partner?  Put it on Facebook!  That is entirely appropriate and what it is for.  Mind you, many HR people will look at your Facebook profile if your account is not private, but no one is rejecting your job application because you have a picture of your wife on your Facebook page.  LinkedIn, on the other hand, is a social media site made expressly for the purposes of professional connections.  You don’t bring your spouse to work on a random Tuesday, so don’t bring them into your LinkedIn picture.

 Beyond this lunacy, I do understand that there are tricky bits to finding the right photo, so I’m going to make it easy for you.  Follow these rules, and you should be good to go:

The picture MUST look like you.  Even if you really want it to look like George Clooney, you’re stuck with yourself.
Dress for the job you want.
No sunglasses, ever.  Unless you are applying to Top Gun flight school or you are Joe Biden.
No body shots, no matter how good you look.
No bottles or wine glasses in hand (again, I am amazed that I need to include this one, but I do).
No vacation photos.
No tuxedo pictures, unless you are a waiter or limo driver.
Avoid the selfie at all costs.  This is not Tinder.
Don’t pick a photo because you look good; pick it because you look professional--whatever professional might mean for the job you want.

 Simply put, a good LinkedIn photo is a frame that captures just below the shoulders to the top of your head.  Your head and body should both be slightly angled, and you should have a small smile. If you are getting it done professionally and the photographer knows what they are doing, they will take it from a slightly elevated angle.  Chances are, you paid to have your resume created, why not pay to get a professional headshot taken?  Yes, a picture really is worth a thousand words, and it can determine whether or not you get an interview and, ultimately, the job.  And, of course, as important as the picture is, the content of your LinkedIn page is obviously just as important.  Remember that your profile needs to match your resume exactly.  So your homework is to get your wife out of the photo, take a new picture, and be sure the content is up to date.  Then, your LinkedIn page will be Viscusi-approved!

​Stephen Viscusi is the CEO of The Viscusi Group, a global executive search practice specializing in the interior furnishings industry located in New York City. Viscusi is the author of the HarperCollins book "Bulletproof Your Job". . Viscusi is the author of the HarperCollins book "Bulletproof Your Job". You can visit his website at or follow him on twitter at @Stephenviscusi, Instagram at Stephenviscusi and Facebook  Write him at