AIU Blog

The AIU blog shares ideas, information and tips aimed at helping you get ahead personally and professionally, with topics ranging from online learning success to career development.



Put Your Best Face Forward: 5 Steps to a Professional Profile Photo

Image: taking a professional image

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but is your professional image expressing what you’d like it to say?

Your professional image (or headshot) can speak volumes about your competence. Many hiring managers and recruiters will begin doing research on LinkedIn and other online profiles – what does your current image say about you? Moreover, some industries — such as real estate, finance or healthcare — may require you to have your image displayed on a company website, within the building or even on your business card.  If your headshot is bad, you may be seen as an amateur, so the way you present yourself in your picture is everything. 

While not everyone can afford a professional photographer, there are five steps you can take to make sure you have a professional headshot that you can be proud of:

Step 1: Do wear neutral colors – black, gray or navy blue photograph best for a professional image. Also, make sure there are no logos or words on your clothing.

Why neutral colors?

According to CareerBuilder,1 a survey of human resource professionals and hiring managers found that particular colors convey certain attributes. Clothing from a more conservative palette—black, blue, gray and brown—appears professional, while red conveys power, and people wearing blue appear as team players.

When asked to advise job seekers on the best color to wear to a job interview, employers most often recommended blue (23 percent) and black (15 percent). Orange topped the list for the worst color (cited by 25 percent of employers) and was the color most likely to be associated with someone who is unprofessional.

What about white?
White suits and white shirts without a suit jacket can be overpowering in a photo. This is especially true if your background is white—you don’t want to appear as if your head is floating in the photo because your white shirt is camouflaged in the background!

Step 2: Do not call in the glam squad. A little makeup is fine, but your professional photo should look like you, so skip the looks that require a full hair & makeup team to execute.

Why should I avoid going overboard on the makeup? Shouldn’t I want to look my best?
The most important rule of taking a headshot is to make sure your photo looks you — and also like a fit for the culture of the companies to which you apply. There is nothing worse than someone seeing your headshot first and then not being able to identify you in person. If you’re not consistently wearing a lot of makeup in real life, don't go crazy with the makeup for your photo shoot. Above all, make sure to look professional.

What about for men?
Men should make sure they looked well-groomed for their headshot by placing the emphasis on facial hair (don’t forget your eyebrows!) and the hair on their head. While men don’t have to feel compelled to wear makeup, they should be sure to moisturize their skin and remove any oil from their forehead and nose before taking the photo.

Step 3: Do enlist a friend to take your photo. Nix the selfies - these are great for capturing personal memories but won’ help you put your best foot forward as a professional. A friend can also help make sure your photo is centered properly and that there is nothing distracting captured in the background.  

Can I use a smartphone camera for a headshot?
Of course! Make sure you find a room at home or at work that gets a lot of natural light. Next, there are three things you need to take into account for the ideal headshot: height, angle and distance.

Height – You can stand or sit in your headshot, but either way, make sure your friend holds the camera at about your chin level.

Angle – Ask you friend to hold the camera facing directly at your face (no tilt up or down) and take a few test shots. Also, be sure to hold your head directly toward the camera. Then, experiment with moving the camera to have a slight tilt facing up or down to see what looks most flattering for you. Be careful not to have any horizontal tilt when taking your photos.

Distance – Some of the best headshots are taken from about 2-3 feet away. Anything too close may distort your face.

Step 4: Do not crop an existing photo. You may sacrifice the quality of the image, which can cause your face to appear blurry or fuzzy. Making sure your camera is set to the highest resolution possible will help, too. (If you are using a smartphone camera, your resolution should already be set.) Also, use photos of you alone—no matter how much you try to do a strong cropping job, it’s typically obvious to those viewing the end product.

Step 5: Do remember to smile! A natural smile is best; people can tell when a smile looks forced or less than authentic.

Interested in additional career-focused tips? Check out more Career Development resources here.

1. “New CareerBuilder Study Looks at Best and Worst Colors to Wear in a Job Interview”. Retrieved from http://www.careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?sd=11/21/2013&id=pr791&ed=12/31/2013 (Visited 10/10/2016).


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