You Get One Chance to Make a Great First Impression

A Wired Magazine article (First Impressions: The Science of Meeting People) refers to research that determined people respond most positively to someone who comes across as trustworthy. It turns out that when we meet someone for the first time, we primarily evaluate two characteristics: trustworthiness and competence. 

Other studies have determined over 93% of recruiters and 85% of potential customers will check your professional profiles before contacting you.

So, a good first impression really does matter. And more often than not your first impression will be made online

Did you know it only takes one tenth of a second to arrive at a conclusion about how we feel about someone?

No one is immune to these snap decisions. We all do it. We can’t help it. It’s built into our DNA. It’s what’s kept us alive for hundreds of thousands of years. And because of it, we are usually not in control of our thoughts as much as we think we are.

Our amygdala—some people refer to it as the reptilian brain—has been making decisions for us since the days of avoiding sabre tooth tigers. We may process thoughts cognitively with our cerebrum, but the reality is we make decisions emotionally and then justify them later with logic.

It’s this reptilian brain we’re using when we look at your professional profile for the first time. You may not like hearing this, but having a great profile photo can mean the difference between someone contacting you, or your competitor.

I recently read another study where strangers were asked to evaluate over 100 headshots based on how competent, likeable, and influential they thought each of the people were. The only information that was provided in addition to the photo was the person’s job title.

Here are eight recommendations based on the results of the study:

1.    Never choose your own photo without testing. The number one thing we’ve learned is that you’re not the best judge of what is a great profile photo of yourself. Way too often the pictures people chose for themselves were different than the pictures deemed most flattering by strangers.

It’s totally normal. There are scores of scientific papers on this topic that explain why we view ourselves much differently than the rest of the world does. And when you choose your profile photo without testing it, you leave yourself vulnerable to selecting the wrong one. 

One way of avoiding this is by using a service like that has strangers vote on your photos. (Note: there is a nominal cost for this service.) Friends and family already have a context of who you are. Since most viewers will be strangers it’s better to see how random strangers respond to your profile photo.

2.    Never use a selfie. It’s almost impossible to get a good angle from a selfie and the wrong angle can dramatically impact how you look. Hire a professional headshot photographer. It’s worth it. A professional photographer will know how to capture your best angle.
Another important note about selfies is it’s almost impossible to really leverage great lighting. The right lighting on your face makes all the difference. Lighting can also change the mood of your photo and in turn, how you’re perceived.
A good photographer knows how to make the best use of lighting.

3.    Framing is key. Never be too far away or too close in the frame. Ideally, your face should take up about 60% of the frame.

4.    Your smile matters. People can spot a fake smile a mile away so be sure yours is authentic. It’s in the eyes. A real smile shows in your eyes because you’ll have a slight squint and some of your laugh lines will show, so smile with your eyes and not your teeth.

This article explains why we like people more who are smiling. 

Fun fact: Studies have found that people who smile in their social media photos are more likely to be happy later in life. So keep on smiling.

5.    Avoid busy backgrounds. Don’t crop yourself from another photo. No holding your favourite furry friend. Don’t be showing off your baby. No photos of you playing your favourite sports or hobbies. And PLEASE! …please don’t be wearing sunglasses or sitting on your Lamborghini!
Here’s what to do and what not to

6.    Avoid candid photos. The problem with candid profile photos is people are not looking at the lens of the camera. Just as when someone you’re talking to isn’t looking at you appears disconnected, you need to appear to be looking at the viewer of your profile photo. To accomplish that, look directly at the camera when having your photo taken.

7.    Avoid too much makeup. Make-up and hair are very subjective, but the recommendation is that less is more for your photoshoot. A competent photographer know how to use lighting to capture the best of you.
It’s also much easier to retouch a person’s photo if their makeup is subtle. If you have a blemish the day of your photo session, don’t cover it with heavy concealer. It’ll be fixed in post-production. 
Also, too much makeup runs the risk of you looking like a mannequin or wax museum doll. We want to see laugh lines and some imperfections because that’s what makes you look authentically human. 
Ladies, here’s a great tutorial on the “no makeup makeup look.” Men, don’t get your haircut on the day of the shoot because you rarely look like that.

8. Your body language tells the world more about you than you realize. If you have 20 minutes, here’s a great TedTalk that discusses body language. 
If you don’t have time to watch the video, here’s the gist: don’t cross your arms or pose at weird angles. Stand up straight and square to the camera and have your arms up to show you are open and friendly.

The bottom line: professional profile photos are important and worth the investment if you’re serious about advancing your career or business.

The experts say you should update your profile at least every two years or anytime you make a major style change. For example, if you had a beard but have recently shaved it, update your headshot. A lot of women decided to let their grey hair grow out during the pandemic. If that’s you, it’s time to update your headshot.

If you aren’t sure who to hire for your professional profile headshot, there are suggestions in another one of my blogs

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