Janna Kefalas is a Los Angeles-based Certified Professional Career Coach and founder of ForwardThink Careers. In this Q&A, I speak with Janna about the importance of head shots in relation to job searching and professional online profiles. Photo of Janna by Joanna DeGeneres.
Q: Welcome Janna, tell us who you work with and how you help them.
A: I mainly work with early to mid-career professionals, helping them find a job they love. Some of the areas we focus on are: career assessment and personal branding; resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn improvements; networking strategies; and interview prep.
My background is in HR and recruiting, so I spent time on the other side of the hiring table — reviewing resumes, sourcing candidates on LinkedIn, conducting interviews, and making offers. It quickly became clear why certain candidates really stood out and others didn’t fair as well. Through this experience, I was motivated to work one-on-one with job seekers and help them be more successful in their job search.
Q: How do head shots factor in when considering a job candidate?
A: When it comes to LinkedIn, your profile photo is the first thing recruiters and hiring managers see. In fact, profiles with photos are 11 times more likely to be viewed than ones without. And if you have a personal website, your photo is probably front and center. So, it’s really about making the right first impression. And remember, recruiters and hiring managers are likely to google you before bringing you in for an interview. So your profile photo on Facebook, Twitter and other social media matters as well. When you’re actively doing a job search, you want to make sure it communicates the right thing and doesn’t work against you.
Q: Have you ever been biased against a candidate or completely ruled out a candidate based on their professional profile image? If so, why?
A: I don’t know if I ever completely ruled out a candidate based solely on a photo, but it can definitely sway things in one direction or the other. Serious job seekers tend to have all their ducks in a row — a solid LinkedIn profile with a professional-looking photo, a well-written resume and cover letter, etc. Conversely, if I see a LinkedIn profile with a poor photo or no photo, it’s often an indicator that their marketing materials are lacking as well. Employers are obviously seeking candidates who put their best foot forward in all respects.
Q: On the other hand, have you ever been biased toward or drawn to a candidate based on their professional profile image? If so, why?
A: Yes absolutely. As a recruiter, when I was sourcing candidates on LinkedIn, I was naturally drawn to candidates who had a clear, professional photo that conveyed warmth and confidence. Don’t worry, recruiters and hiring managers aren’t judging you on your looks or fashion sense! It’s really about appearing competent and approachable. Just like when you walk into an interview, you want to look polished and professional — your photo should communicate the same vibe.
Q: What are your top “red flags” when it comes to profile image presentation?
A: I would say my top red flag is no photo — you’d be surprised how many LinkedIn profiles lack one. But aside from that, silly, crazy, or “party” photos are a big no-no, for obvious reasons. Make sure you’re not using a photo where you’ve cropped out other people (but a stray arm around your shoulder remains). Photos that are too distant, fuzzy, poorly lit, or have distracting backgrounds can also work against you. Additionally, watch overly serious or odd facial expressions. And of course attire matters, so stay away from casual clothing like T-shirts, tank tops, strapless tops, etc.
Q: What characteristics represent a solid professional profile image?
A: I always advise my clients to take a photo from the shoulders up, facing the camera, and smiling. As I mentioned, you want to convey warmth and confidence. You don’t have to wear a three-piece suit, but business or business casual attire is recommended (based on your industry). Employers want to envision you in “work mode.” I would also make sure your photo is well-lit, with a simple background.
Q: Have you ever advised your own clients to replace their profile image? Has it ever been a main detractor?
A: Yes, I have an several occasions. It’s really about making that positive, first impression and demonstrating that you’re a serious candidate. And once again, during your job search, I think it’s good to have either the same or a similar profile photo across all your social media platforms, so your branding is consistent.
Q: What do you think holds people back from investing in quality head shots?
A: I think people think they aren’t necessary and/or are too expensive. But I beg to differ. Head shots don’t have to be super pricey, and if they help you land a better-paying job quicker, they’re worth every penny. Launching an effective job search means rising above the competition and standing out as a solid candidate. A professional profile photo can demonstrate to potential employers that you take your career seriously.
Find Janna’s professional coaching services at forwardthinkcareers.com, where she offers the free guide: The 7 Job Search Mistakes You Might Be Making…And What To Do Instead.
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