Why is this interesting? - The Profile Photo Edition

On social media, profiles, and politics of LinkedIn photos

Perry Hewitt (PH) brings modern marketing and digital product practices to mission-led organizations. Previously CDO at Harvard University, she now consults to organizations including Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Rockefeller Foundation. 

Perry here. More than 660 million people around the world use LinkedIn, with two new users signing on every second. And when you create a profile for the first time, the platform urges you to upload a profile picture. According to LinkedIn, having a picture will garner you 21 times more profile views, which presumably then translate into a broader network of connections and more professional opportunities. LinkedIn wants you to make the right choice; they provide helpful tips for choosing the right photo, including:

  • Pick a photo that looks like you—a surprisingly elusive task in an era rife with overuse of Photoshop and FaceTune.

  • Ensure your face takes up >60% of the frame, and that you’re the only one in the picture.

  • Choose the right expression: Not too gleeful and not too somber. 

Conventional wisdom reinforces the importance of a LinkedIn photo, with conferences offering free LinkedIn photoshoots and consultants selling profile optimization—including the selection of the right “on brand” picture. There are even tools like Photofeeler, which crowdsource opinions of your photo and then apply some “groundbreaking AI technology” to help you make the right choice. 

Why is this interesting? 

This seemingly minor, one-off decision (LinkedIn doesn’t seem to pester me to update my profile photo as much as Facebook does) may have outsized importance. For many hiring managers, a LinkedIn profile is a handy complement to your conventionally-submitted resume, an additional proof point of your professional identity and background. Some companies won’t even consider candidates without a LinkedIn profile, since its absence may signal disconnection from others in the field or an inability to use common technology. And for candidates, a photo is an opportunity to stage a positive presentation of self before any face-to-face interaction takes place.

But the LinkedIn photo introduces a host of issues. Immediately, employers observe all kinds of attributes: From race to age to weight to gender presentation. And you can’t unring the bell: Once the photo has been viewed, assumptions and bias enter the process. LinkedIn is aware of the risk. In its Recruiter product for companies, profile photos are hidden by default unless the company affirmatively turns the photos back on. No such setting exists for individual LinkedIn users, but at least one Chrome extension disables profile photos in your browser.

So is it better to buck all the conventional “personal brand” wisdom and omit a photo entirely? In Europe and Asia where photos are commonly submitted during the application process, a LinkedIn photo poses less of a dilemma. But in the US, people must decide whether the ability to seed an image projecting competence and confidence outweighs the cost of potential bias. Profile photos are far from the only risk of bias on the LinkedIn platform—ever wonder who sees which job listings, and why?—but it’s a default pushed by the platform that might merit more consideration beyond finding the most flattering angle. (PH)

Chart of the Day: 

US toy sales by type. Weaponry for goods is big business: “Hasbro does not break out Nerf sales. But they brought in a record $645m for the company in 2017, BMO Capital estimates. That works out to 12 per cent of total Hasbro revenue that year.” (NRB)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Perry (PH)

PS - Colin here. Think of this section as a community board of sorts. Via friend of WITI Herb Thompson I recently met Esther Kim, a former Army Officer and one of the first women to serve in combat arms. In addition to being a tank commander, she’s a Fordham grad and is actively transitioning out of the military, seeking jobs in NYC in project management in the advertising or marketing realms. Read about her amazing story here, and check out her LinkedIn if you need to add someone awesome to your team. (CJN)


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