I overthink my LinkedIn profile photo. I don’t know if it’s a woman-thing or a me-thing, but I’m always feeling I should somehow find a better one. I guess I could just stick my hand out and take a selfie on a day when I’m wearing makeup and my hair doesn’t look too limp or too wiry. Or I could pay someone to take one for me. But even if I outsourced, I’d still need to find the photographer, schedule the session, primp and figure out what to wear… and pay for it… without knowing with any certainty that the session will produce the perfect LinkedIn headshot. And seeing that LinkedIn profiles with a photo get 21x more views than those without, a good photo is a must-have.
So what even is a good LinkedIn photo?
Given the nature of the platform, you’d think the main objective would be to look professional. Okay, so no cleavage. But what else? Should we smile broadly to emanate warmth and friendliness? Or would a fainter grin make us look more knowledgeable and authoritative? Should we look straight at the camera or select a more artsy angled shot? Do we go for a bright lip color to make a statement or keep our makeup more understated and natural with the hope of seeming more approachable?
The best look for you likely depends on your industry, the role you’re in (or in the case of job seekers, the role you’re aspiring to), and perhaps your personal style or brand. An investment banker will dress and pose differently from an engineer, a school teacher, or the head of a creative studio, for example.
Across all professions, a smile will make you appear more friendly and measurably bump up your likability factor. And if you’re on the hunt for a new opportunity, hiring managers — perhaps subconsciously — could be more likely to reach out to someone who seems pleasant to work with. Of course, if you promote yourself as an artist or brooding deep thinker (whether a writer, sculptor, musician, actor, or a tenured academic), you may choose to forego the smile to reinforce your personal brand.
Regardless of your facial expression, keep your background plain — a white wall works just fine, as does a background remover app after the fact. Use natural light if possible. And a selfie taken with the camera slightly higher than your face is usually more flattering than shots taken from below.
If that weren’t enough to remember, research has shown that as women in the workplace, it behooves us to look attractive, yet not too attractive. And we definitely don’t want to look too old. Ageism is real.
Creating the perfect LinkedIn headshot certainly takes some thought and intention. Which easily explains why I think about upgrading my headshot, and never do so.
But there’s actually another way to go about this. Recent advances in generative artificial intelligence have sprung a multitude of headshot apps. You submit snapshots of yourself from your phone’s photo roll, and anywhere from an hour to a couple days later, you’ll receive a portfolio of AI-generated headshots to choose from. Compared to the price of a 1:1 photo session, it’s extremely affordable too, especially considering that you don’t need to have your hair done or buy a power suit. Some women are lucky enough to score a shot or two they’re really happy with — that look like a better, more polished version of themselves. The perfect hairdo, as if they’d just stepped out of the salon. The perfect blouse + blazer combo — decidedly unstuffy, with a little flair. The perfect smile that inspires confidence. You get the idea.
And others have giggled uncontrollably at images returned with zero resemblance. Sporting a disjointed limb, or extra ones. And oftentimes, larger, perkier breasts. (Although $39.99 is a great price for a boob job, you can’t ignore the many manifestations of gender bias in AI.)
I can’t help but wonder, though. What happens if your AI-produced photo is perfect — but doesn’t look like you? If the runway look and chiseled features that the AI graciously bestows on you aren’t at all realistic? Will new acquaintances be baffled or even disappointed when you appear on Zoom — or in person! — looking a lot like… yourself?
Privacy is another consideration, and the various apps have different policies. It seems that most do use your AI likeness to train their learning models. This is what helps the service continually improve over time. But you can usually delete both your original photos as well as your AI-produced images at any time.
Even with these caveats, there’s one fabulous reason to give it a whirl — the hours you can save by NOT having to plan and prepare to capture a professional-looking photo.
If you’d like to try it, whether for your LinkedIn profile or just a good laugh, here are a few mom-tested apps to consider:
Try It On AI. You submit 10-20 good quality cellphone selfies and a few hours later, receive 100 headshots to choose from. Like most AI image generators, you may notice extra limbs, fingers or teeth, though most users do score a few usable gems. $17, no refunds.
Aragon AI. Upload 14 photos to receive images with multiple backgrounds and poses in less than an hour. Privacy-friendly. $29.99 for 40 headshots and $39.99 for 80. They do grant refunds if you don’t find anything you like.
Secta Labs. Submit 25-35 photos of yourself to get 300 headshots a few hours later. The price includes two retries and some slick editing/retouching tools you can use to perfect your photos. If even that doesn’t yield a headshot you like, they’ll refund you. $49.
Dreamwave AI. Upload just 8 images and get 120 headshots two hours later, with both formal and casual poses and a nice variety of backgrounds. Privacy friendly. No refunds. $39.
StudioShot AI. Upload 10-20 images, and 2 days later, you’ll receive 50 hand-retouched photos for $29.25. They don’t offer refunds, but they do offer to manually touch up your photos again and again until you’re happy with the result.
A few general AI headshot hints:
- The better the photos that you submit, the better the result. This does not mean that you need to look picture-perfect. It means that you should be plainly visible and in sharp focus.
- The AI will do best if you submit shots in different outfits, lighting, angles, and locations.
- As a precaution, you may want to avoid wearing a hat in the photos you submit.
- You’ll notice that each app requires a different number of photos and has its own instructions for selecting photos to submit. For best results, follow the app’s rules, and when a range is given for the number of photos required, upload more than the minimum number.
Whether you’re choosing between selfies, a photographer’s photos, AI headshots, or a mix, you can use a photo tester site like https://www.photofeeler.com/ for feedback. Or better yet, go with your gut and upload the one that you feel best represents your fabulous professional self. (Just don’t forget to crop out any extra body parts first.)