The Best LinkedIn Profile Photos Are "Slightly Happy," And Here Are 5 More Tips To Get The Most Out Of The Site

Have you ever wondered how your LinkedIn profile picture affects your job prospects? What makes for the best LinkedIn photo? A new study from New York University found the secret to attaining success on the professional networking site — and it turns out that your profile photo should appear to be "slightly" happy. I know we've all agonized over what picture will make us look responsible, hirable, approachable, and professional, a balance which can be hard to strike in just one image. That's why it's particularly interesting that the best results come through when you appear to be slightly happy — but not too happy. Apparently we're allowed to be friendly, but only up to a point.

The experiments conducted by NYU researchers found that those who were giving a huge grin or laughing in their photos were perceived negatively, thus drawing the line between just happy enough and happy in a way that hurts your prospects. Likewise, appearing to be stern or cold also led to negative perceptions, which probably seems obvious. So, the best way to give a good first impression is to appear positive with an "upward curving" expression — think of what a natural smile looks like and you'll be on the right track. If you have to lean towards one extreme over the other, though, it's better to appear too positive that is to appear too ridged; those with super serious expressions scored the least in reliability in this study.

The researchers also wanted to see how profile pictures would influence those in different potential job roles. They asked participants to assign two different individuals to the job of financial advisor and weightlifter based on their LinkedIn profile pictures. Participants chose the happier looking people to be financial advisors and those with sterner expressions to lift weights. 

The bad news here is that there is only so much you can do to change the way you appear in pictures, since much of this process is done by facial recognition. Unless you're planning on getting a new face, you're going to have to work with what you've got. So, assuming you're not going to go under the knife for a brand new face, here are a few other tips for good LinkedIn profile photos. 

1. Look Like Yourself

Don't choose a photo taken more than two years ago or one that doesn't include any obvious changes that would be apparent to those who see you in person. It's best to take the route of apparentness so that your potential employer won't do a double take when they meet you in real life. Come to think of it, the same thing applies for online dating photos, too — it's always a shock to meet someone who doesn't look at all like their profile photo.

2. Wear Professional Attire

LinkedIn itself stresses the importance of choosing a photo that features you in clothing you would wear to the office in a post on its blog. That means your picture shouldn't be one you took on the beach or laying in bed — you want to show that you're professional! That means dressing to the standards of your field. But, if you're, say, a construction worker or performer, wearing specialized gear you'd wear on site or on stage isn't off limits.

3. Use Professionally Done Photos

You want your photos to be high quality, not like you used a cell phone camera from 2009 to take it. You might want to consider hiring a photographer to take professional headshots of you — or at the very least commissioning a friend or family member to take the photo in good lighting.

4. Have A Neutral Photo Background 

Make sure your photo background is neutral and not distracting; you want someone to see you and not wonder what you're standing in front of. Put the focus on yourself by using a solid colored background in your profile picture.

5. Be Consistent

Since we live in a digital world, having consistent brand messaging is important. So, try to use the same photo across all of your social media and online platforms in order to create consistency and also let others immediately recognize you on your other profiles. Just make sure to keep all of your content professional  save any embarrassing photos for completely private accounts.

Images: Scarborough/Flickr; Getty Images (3); Giphy (2)

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