When you’re building a professional presence online, of course you want to look competent (i.e. smart and capable, like you can get the job done).
But how can you do it? Does it come down to luck: my face either looks competent or it doesn’t? In a word: no. While there are societal stereotypes out of our control, there are many more factors we have control over.
This is why it always seems so silly to us when someone tests one photo that gets a low competent score — say, a 10% — and then acts as if their fate is sealed. It’s not.
*That photo* elicited a 10%, not you as a person. The next one could just as well hit 90%!
Knowing the key differences between photos of the same person with low and high competent ratings, here’s our best tips for anyone looking to increase their perceived smarts.
1. Avoid funny faces or gestures
All images used with explicit permission.
Silly expressions and gestures are increasingly common in business profile photos. It’s not unheard of to see a real estate agent giving thumbs-up in front of a “sold” sign or a fun-loving career coach making a “rock on” gesture with her tongue out.
But as much as I admire the human element in choices like these, our data advises against them. That’s because of the harm they can do to the individual’s perceived competence.
It should go without saying that a happy, fun person can also be smart, capable, and responsible. But a single photo can only present one very narrow view of a person.
If you lead with “goofy,” the viewer is likely to overestimate how goofy you actually are while underestimating other traits.
2. Make eye contact
There is a trend in LinkedIn photos which we like to call “the intellectual side gaze,” where the individual appears to be staring off into the distance. It’s so common, we think, because people think it makes them look intellectual.
However, as far as business photos are concerned, our data contradicts this. In fact, research has been done at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to find that people who maintain eye contact are consistently judged as having a higher IQ than people who do not.
Now, knowing that eye contact increases your perceived IQ, it’s worth splitting hairs about what does and does not constitute eye contact. Note that there’s a noticeable difference between a person who’s making eye contact with the camera lens and someone who’s looking slightly off (looking instead at the picture-taker or at their camera screen). In other words: better make friends with the lens.
3. Stand up straight
Another common mistake that can put a damper on one’s perceived competence is a head tilt or lean.
It’s natural to tilt your head when you’re talking to someone interesting or as a way to show kindness to someone who’s speaking. However, in photos, this can mean looking less competent.
If you find yourself always tilting your head in photos, consider rotating the picture slightly in a photo editor to straighten up your posture.
4. Use a tripod to avoid “selfie signals”
I’ll just come out with it: selfies are the easiest kind of photo to take, but they project too casual an impression for LinkedIn. While your selfie may be stellar for social use (the example above would sparkle on Facebook, methinks), it just won’t cut it on LinkedIn.
Also, you can’t really “get away with” using a selfie without anyone noticing. Sadly, people always know it’s a selfie.
We see a lot photos where people try use a selfie for business use by cropping out the photo-taking arm. But even these pictures still have the slightest bit of facial distortion (a slightly disproportionate forehead or nose, for instance, caused by taking the picture so close-up) which tip the viewer off.
This doesn’t mean you can’t take your own pictures for business use; you just need to get smarter about how to do it! This involves using a tripod to hold your smartphone camera.
5. Show an understanding of business-appropriate attire and setting
People draw many conclusions about you from a picture, both from what they can and can’t see.
Wearing a ballcap in your picture, for instance, leads people to believe you don’t understand professional norms, which lowers your perceived competence. It also dashes your chance at communicating what business-related qualities you do have to offer.
If you use a vacation picture for business, you’re presenting yourself as “vacation guy.” From this, people can reasonably assume you’re a fun person, good at drinking tequila and laying out in the sun. What you’re not communicating is that you have the intelligence, responsibility, and know-how to put on a buttondown shirt, find a plain backdrop, and pull together a real business picture.
The same goes for wedding pictures. It’s a common mistake to try to pass a wedding photo as a business photo since the attire is formal, but unfortunately most people easily recognise them as wedding photos rather than professional ones. As a result, the impression they get is more “partier” than “worker.”
Bonus: Wear glasses
Finally, if you’re having trouble raising your competent ratings, you just might benefit from the four-eyed look. Yes, it’s so horribly cliche. But the data says it actually works!
And that concludes our tips for appearing more competent in your professional pictures. If you need coaching to pose for your Headshot, feel free to drop us a mail at email@example.com
If you want to test how competent you look, upload a Headshot to www.photofeeler.com and test the responses…