Selfies No More: Why Leaders Need Professional Photos As Personal Branding

Elizabeth McQuern says professional headshots can make the difference. Photos by Elizabeth McQuern

Elizabeth McQuern says professional headshots can make the difference. Photos by Elizabeth McQuern

Selfies won’t do.

Professional headshots are not just for actresses and models, of course.

Every person in business whether you are a lawyer, author, journalist, chiropractor, entrepreneur, doctor, dentist, academic, business leader or startup founder needs a photograph that is crisp, personable and professional.

“It is the difference between getting a phone call or not getting a phone call for an interview. A good photo goes a long way in creating a positive impression,” says Elizabeth McQuern, independent artist, photographer and filmmaker, who has photographed hundreds of individuals in five years as owner of Elizabeth McQuern Photography in Chicago.

Many others agree.

“Your professional headshot is one of the single most important images you could have on your company’s website or collateral, and for your own personal brand. Your headshot is a first impression —a snap judgement — that will be viewed by potential clients and prospective employees,” writes Lyndsay Bouchal in CoCommunications.

Professional headshots are not just for actresses and models. Every person in business needs a polished photograph. #womeninbusiness

“This one photo can convey many things, so you should know exactly what you want it to say: Are you friendly and service-oriented? Are you trustworthy and approachable? Are you serious and bottom line-driven? All these questions are answered by your attire, facial expression, and posture,” Bouchall writes.

As an author, journalist, academic and keynote speaker, I have had more than a dozen sessions with different professional photographers for headshots over the past 30 years to appear on my books, publicity posters for events, alongside my byline in media, on company, university and association websites for appearances and my own website, as well as on my social media pages. I update my shots every three to four years because if you don’t, people may say you are trying to pass yourself off as younger than you are.

“If your current LinkedIn headshot is that one of you as an eager new grad 10 years ago, it’s time to upgrade. It should be a fairly natural, friendly solo photo—you don’t want it to look like a passport photo or, worse, a mug shot. Candid photos are fine as long as you look professionally appropriate. If you’re having trouble figuring out if a photo is appropriate, take a look around at other profiles in your field, around your level, and see what people are using,” writes Kate Lopaz in The Job Network.

“Employ every medium,” is Leadership Power Tool #8, according to Gloria Feldt, president and co-founder of Take The Lead. She explains, “Use personal, social, and traditional media every step of the way. Use the medium of your own voice. And think of each of the power tools as a medium to be pressed into the service of your ‘power to’” accomplish something.

Your visual branding is another one of those media tools. As part of your personal branding, a photo of you that communicates your professionalism and approachability improves your messaging. On your website, or on your business cards (yes, we said business cards because people still use them), a headshot of you in business attire smiling and looking approachable can increase your standing and improve your reputation.

As part of your personal #branding, a photo of you that communicates your professionalism and approachability improves your messaging.

No glamour shots and no gimmicky shots that appear posed and artificial.

You want to have professional corporate headshots ready in case your company wants to promote you for a panel, speech or applaud you for a job well-done in internal company communications or externally to local press or networking organizations.  Many companies call in a photographer to shoot everyone in the company separately, she says.

A good headshot can get your hired.

“Profiles are more appealing when you can actually see who you may be hiring. In addition to the appeal factor, most professional jobs require at least some knowledge of social media. Profiles without photos are usually either not very active or out of date,” writes Allison Monahan in The Balance.

“Research shows that if you don’t have a professional headshot that accompanies your bio and LinkedIn profile, you may actually be passed over for business in lieu of someone that does have one,” Monahan writes.

McQuern, who started in comedy 11 years ago before moving into photography and filmmaking, says professional photos are part of personal digital branding to be used in many different ways. Real estate agents, for instance, can have their photographs enlarged on for sale signs in front of homes.

Professional photos are part of personal digital branding to be used in many different ways. #womenleaders

For all of that, she says, “An iPhone selfie is not OK.”

McQuern warns of other common mistakes when choosing photos. “You don’t want one that doesn’t quite telegraph your personality. You don’t want to look tense and uncomfortable. Or have that rigor mortis smile,” McQuern says.

To get her portrait subjects relaxed, she asks in advance what are the three things the person is trying to project in her image. Is it compassion, trust, knowledge?

McQuern suggests you keep it simple with not too much jewelry and try to be comfortable with what you are wearing. “But no Snoopy pajamas,” she suggests. “Dress as you would going to meet this person as a perspective client.”

Prices across the country for headshots can range from $100-$300 for up to 15 different poses, some with different clothing, according to Thumbtack.

Professional photographers can get tips and assistance from sites such as ShootDotEdit, that recently published a guide to starting a photography business

McQuern says before hiring someone, “You should absolutely look through their online portfolio and look through the testimonial section.” If a photo is retouched excessively to correct mistakes a person can look cartoonish, she warns.

A good professional headshot can be “transformative,” McQuern says. “If people see themselves in a new way, it’s a confidence boost and they rethink how they consider themselves. If you show people at their best, they see themselves as their best.”

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About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project.