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Posing the Question – Getting Profile Photos Right in Recruitment

By May 13, 20102 Comments

“A picture is worth a thousand words”. 

So said Napoleon Bonaparte back in the early 19th century and, two centuries on, this still rings true today.  The life of a modern recruiter is all about ability to quickly assimilate information, digest, interpret and act accordingly.  Over the course of one day you may well be bombarded with several CVs, phone calls, business cards, Linked In status updates, Facebook friend requests, Tweets, news bulletin updates, newspaper adverts and untold numbers of e-mails (ranging from critical importance to junk and spam).  In the modern business world we have created for ourselves it is very easy to completely tie yourself up in knots with all of this information and find that you have actually got nothing done and achieved little of the day’s initial goals.  The successful modern recruiter knows how to harness this information, to control it, to make it dance to his or her tune, rather than be enslaved by it.

This skill requires the ability to digest large amounts of information and quickly discard irrelevant or unimportant data and quickly zone in on activities that will generate revenue, positive outcomes, results.  This is why pictures, or more accurately in the modern age, photos, are making increasing appearances in the way people interact with each other.  They are a way to stand out from the crowd, to not only identify yourself, but to differentiate yourself, to give the viewer the ability to quickly assess and understand where the person is coming from and what message they are trying to get across.

Just before the launch of my website last month I decided to get some professional photos done for use in marketing material such as the ‘About Us’ section, as well as my Linked In profile and Twitter profile too.  Some of you may have spotted me wandering around town just before Easter, posing around Shortland Street, the PWC Tower and the Vero Centre!  Thank you Kim Neville for you patience and professionalism.  I suppose I was looking to portray an image that was true to myself, but reflected me, my personality, and my values to people who hadn’t met me before, or haven’t met me yet.  I know that my main target audience of HR and recruitment professionals receive a barrage of information all day, every day, so I wanted to make it easier for them to assess me and decide whether to connect and do business with me.  I hope you feel they work.

But it is also very easy to get it wrong.

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made is the CV photo.  In the past I have tended to believe that you just shouldn’t do this.  There are very few jobs where a hiring decision, or even decision to grant an interview, would be based on your physical appearance, so why do it?  I have seen some shockers in my time.  The demure, over-the-shoulder glance.  The strategically positioned camera angle accentuating certain parts of the anatomy.  The grainy photo clearly from the 1980’s.  But then what is a CV if not a marketing tool?  The intention of a CV is to give the reader enough information to entice them towards granting an interview, and it is at interview stage where you sell yourself upon your skills, experience, and presentation.

But then, I am willing to have my mind changed on this, and perhaps photos should start appearing more frequently on CVs.  Within the fast-evolving world of social media and web 2.0 the photograph is of critical importance, so should it really be ok for one form of marketing and not for another (and let’s face it, whether it’s Linked In, Twitter or Facebook, it is all about marketing yourself or your company in some way or other).

Linked In profiles should all have a photo.  Social media relationships can frequently be quite ‘thin’ at the best of times, but with a photo you can add some depth to your profile, something of substance that will catch the eye, form an opinion, differentiate you and more firmly lodge you in the consciousness of one of your ‘connections’.  But choose your photo wisely.  I am not personally a fan of the photo of you steering a speedboat or holding your baby, unless you are an adventure tourism operator or an early childhood teacher.  I think it needs to accurately reflect what you do, your personality and your values.  Save the more ‘personal’ images for your Facebook profile photo.  Twitter is an interesting one too.  Seeing as it has only been in existence since 2006 the etiquette of Twitter is still evolving.  I think Twitter is a medium less formal than Linked In and profile photos should reflect this.  It really depends on what you are trying to get out of Twitter and what you are trying to give back to your Followers.  If you are tweeting as a whole company then your company logo is quite appropriate (for example Air New Zealand or Trade Me Jobs), but if you are a solo voice tweeting from within a company then an image of you personally is best.  By all means go ahead and put your profile image as a potato with a face drawn on it if you want to, but make sure your online branding strategy is set up for Twitter to be no more than an ‘amusing aside’ rather than a serious marketing tool (which in the fullness of time may prove to be the best use for it…)

I would like to finish by discussing the use of photos on business cards.  As already mentioned, it is becoming increasingly important to use photos strategically and effectively to stand out from the crowd in this age of information-overload.  For me, the business card photo is taking it just a little too far and verges on the cheesy, but I can accept the merit if it is done well.  From personal experience, photos on business cards always remind me of the time my wife and I decided to buy a house and shackle ourselves to a mortgage.  I hadn’t seen it much before, but as soon as I entered this new world of estate agents, mortgage advisors, personal bankers and land lawyers, every business card always seemed to have a photo.  The world of real estate seems to have taken the use of profile photos to new highs, beyond the business cards, the For Sale signage and the Property Press adverts, I even saw one on the spare tyre cover on the back of a 4WD once.  But then it is necessary to stand out in a competitive environment, which is exactly what the recruitment industry is these days.  Make no mistake, when you hand your business card to that client, it is not the key to unlocking untold riches of job orders and fee billings, it is the very first step on the long road to forming a solid and long-lasting business relationship.  Your card will probably end up in a pile in a top drawer, or possibly in a business card folder if you are lucky.  It is not going to be carried around by the recipient, just waiting for the time when they suddenly need a recruiter, to be retrieved for immediate contact information.  So perhaps a photo could be of benefit, but really if your client needs reminding of what you look like then I would suggest you could also benefit from organizing more face to face meetings.

The same rule applies here as with your Linked In profile photo, so make sure it is getting the right kind of message across.  I know the Director of one recruitment firm who has two sets of business cards, because he had two different pictures that he just could not decide between.  He asked the opinion of a wide group of friends, family and business associates, and still the opinion was split.  But he did find an interesting trend in that it was quite gender-specific.  The men liked the photo portraying him as relaxed, friendly, easy-going, and open and the women generally opted for the more formal, professional, upright image.  I’m sure there’s an interesting psychological study in there somewhere, but the upshot was that he had both sets made up and he gives out the card according to the message he wants to get across and the nature of the card’s recipient.

Photos are playing an increasingly vital role in helping personal and online brands cut through the deluge of information and get into the consciousness of the target market.  But it is essential that you get it right, or you can have the complete opposite effect, and at best cause some amusement, or at worst completely turn off your target market and discredit your entire service offering.

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Hi John
    A well written, interesting article. I am new to Twitter and have been undecided as to how to use the site, business or pleasure and the topic of photo is very important. I like the picture you have choosen, it portrays you professionally, yet relaxed. I’m off to get a better shot of myself.
    Richard (Chalky)

    • nzrecruiter says:

      Hi Chalky
      Thanks for the comment. I think in the fullness of time Twitter will become much more of a marketing tool than a method of communicating with your social circle, so I would set your account up to reflect your business side.
      I would imagine that in real estate it could be useful to build up a group of followers who are house-hunters and property investors, and you could Tweet as soon as you have listed a new property and started marketing it, plus send out reminders for Auction dates or open home times – that kind of thing.
      If you did decide to take that tack then you’d want a profile photo reflecting an image that would appeal to those types of followers.