Not “That” Profile Picture

Most of us can remember back to the days of well thought-out and pre-planned MySpace profile pictures (even if we don’t want to). However, as we enter an age where we are forced to transform our once creative and self-reflecting profiles into cautionary depictions of our personal lives, how do we know what an appropriate profile picture really is?

No longer are we posting pictures to achieve the maximum number of ‘likes’ we are posting pictures that make us look like the responsible, hardworking, and determined young people that we are…75% of the time. According to Business Insider, there are 8 simple rules every professional should follow when choosing a profile picture:

  1. Always use a photo…thank you for that brilliant piece of advice Business Insider
  2. Use a recent photo of yourself…does my #tbt from last week count?
  3. You should be the only subject in the photo…but what about my new puppy?
  4. Your face should be in focus…well that’s unfortunate for my eyebrows.
  5. Wear appropriate professional or business casual attire…or your favorite baseball T.
  6. Keep your head straight and upright…what is this, senior glamour shots?
  7. Use a pleasant facial expression…so not my resting bi**h…(you know where I’m going with this).
  8. Don’t use your company’s product or logo as a photo…no worries, I’m unemployed.

If you couldn’t already tell, I’m less than pleased with Business Insider’s menial advice. While all of their tips seem and obvious and true, I question whether I actually want to work for a company who cares if my profile picture fits this criteria. Of course I want a job after graduation and I want to give off the right message about who I am, but at what point does it sacrifice my personality entirely? Their tips yield us to strip the profiles we have spent years building, and enter the next 40 or so years of our lives pretending that the last 20 never happened.

I still have a solid three months left of college. Three months that I admittedly, am going to do all of the things that I may not have time for after graduation. I am going to go out and have a good time with my friends, and I am going to document my experience. So what if my profile picture is of me hugging my two best friends, wearing yoga pants, with my hair in a messy bun? I find it hard to believe that my lack of business casual attire would jeopardize a future job opportunity.

All I’m saying is that if I want to display myself like the responsible, hardworking, and determined young person I am, 75% of the time, I don’t think I should be forced to hide who I am the other 25% of the time, as long as these pictures remain within the realm of appropriateness.

Below are four images, two profile pictures, and two non-profile pictures that could be found elsewhere on your page.

Example 1:

1       2

The photo on the left is my LinkedIn profile picture, and the photo on the right is what came up when I searched “professional profile photos” on Google. Sure, my picture doesn’t follow all 8 rules laid out by Business Insider, but I’ve got dozens of contacts on LinkedIn and work at UPMC, which has a reputation for upholding their values and appearance to the outside world, and I achieved all of this without the staged, awkward, and try-hard efforts of the photo on the right. Proof that you can BE YOURSELF. I’ve just decided I’m making that rule number 9.

Example 2:

3      4

The photo on the left is my current Facebook cover photo, and the photo on the right is what I imagine someone at Business Insider would choose as his or her Facebook cover photo. My point here is that I like cats, I particularly like cats wearing booties, because, why not? I shouldn’t have to pretend to not like things that are funny or cute, or refrain from posting them, just because it doesn’t scream professional. Hence, rule number 9.

So yes, you should use your best judgment and not choose a profile picture of you raging on spring break; however, don’t go through your profiles and delete every picture where you aren’t wearing business casual and demurely posing against a tree. In the end, I think all of us would be a lot happier to have a boss or work for a company that lets us be ourselves, than constantly pretending to be the inaccurate depiction of ourselves we displayed on Facebook.

Written By: Sarah Cinski


Business Insider Rules:

Example profile picture:

Example cover photo:


10 thoughts on “Not “That” Profile Picture

  1. Sarah,

    I really like your final tip for choosing a profile picture. It’s an important addition to the 8 previous steps because any social media profile should show who you are, not just who you should be. I also found your article helpful because I’ve been struggling with the type of LinkedIn profile picture I should choose. Now that I’ve seen your example of a professional, yet individualized, profile picture, I have a better idea of the profile picture I should be choosing.




  2. Hey Sarah,

    After reading your blog I feel that I have a better idea of what the “profile picture” should like like. I definitely remember the days of getting ready for a selfie, but now that we are getting older, our pictures, no matter what the platform may be, need to be more professional. Like you, I will be graduating in three months and cleaning out my social media isn’t easy. I feel that we should be permitted to have some photos that show our personality, like your cat and booties wallpaper. I think it shows character and that the Business Insider should be a little more considerate to what makes us individuals. Anyways, your post was definitely insightful and a huge help to see what employers are actually searching for.



  3. Hi Sarah,

    You bring up a great discussion about profile pictures. I have recently been struggling to find an “appropriate” picture. I looked through all my pictures on my computer and on Facebook, but none of them seemed professional. I decided to put on some makeup, wash my hair, and dress in neutral clothing to take a worthy photo. None of my roommates were around, so I took a selfie. That is professional right? With Tyra Bank’s rules to take a perfect selfie* running through my head, I ran around my apartment looking for the right lighting and neutral background to set the scene of my professional photo. I seemed to conquer the impossible when I found it in my South Oakland apartment. Then, I had to make the right facial expression. I tried to make a “pleasant facial expression,” but when I smiled it seemed cheesy. When I had a serious face, I looked sad or angry. I finally settled on a closed-mouth smile. I hope my picture has that professionalism vibe, but still stays true to my personality.




  4. Sarah,
    Last year I went to a professional media forum sponsored through the University (I forget exactly what it was called) but it was last Spring. Anyway, the panel was asked about what exactly they are looking for when they look at someone’s profile and the most useful reply came from a middle-aged executive who said that he wanted to see personality when he was looking at a potential employee’s profile. He said specifically that he didn’t want to see keg stands, but he did want to see that applicants were interested in activities and were social — it not only shows time management, but also communication skills!

    Marketing oneself is hard because what we think might portray us as a socialite with diverse interests could make us look like an applicant that is less career-oriented than someone else.

    I really like your advice to just be yourself!
    Taylor Thomas


  5. Hey Sarah,

    I totally agree that we shouldn’t have to feel like we have to create an image of ourselves as Facebook profile pictures to get a job. How many people in college have profile pictures of them in business casual? I don’t think many. Plus, as was discussed in our panel, many companies like to see you have a personality and use that to see what kind of person you are or to get to know you a little more. Our social media as young professionals entering the workforce should be able to show who we are. I also think LinkedIn is definitely the place to be the most professional you can be. I agree with what you said that we should not only be able to show our personality, but that we should want to work for a company that wants us to be individuals and whose employees are also able to be individuals and be themselves. I thought your input was so helpful! I think that our generation is a lot more focused on being able to be ourselves and work for companies that care about us and that we feel comfortable working for.


  6. Hey Sarah,

    I agree with everything you just wrote. I feel because we are graduating soon we need to start creating a professional image of ourselves for future employers yet our Facebook pages show our personal lives. Personally, I am not going to delete every post or picture that is deemed unprofessional by society or employers. It would take away who I am and I feel that some employers look to see who you are on social media. If you are only sharing professional you aren’t really showing who you are.



  7. Sarah,
    I really appreciate your take on the profile picture being more personal. If everyone has a professional portrait in a suit, how are you supposed to stand out? My older sister who deleted her Facebook has a story that she once went into a job interview and the interviewer brought up the fact that she didn’t have a Facebook and how it actually gave him a negative opinion of her. Luckily, my sister is pretty charming so she got her way through it, but it brings up an interesting conflict our generation is facing. If we don’t have a Facebook, there’s something wrong with us. If we do, we better make sure it’s totally appropriate. Is Facebook even for us and our friends anymore? I think everyone should take your stance on profile pictures/cover photos. If we all kept our pages as snippets into our personalities instead of what we think employers want, maybe using Facebook as a social tool won’t become millions of profiles that look the exact same.


  8. Sarah,

    I really enjoyed your post this week on the class blog. I am right there with you when it comes to the internal struggle of what is appropriate/inappropriate to have on any of my social media platforms. While I realize social media does have a professional outlet, I do still enjoy using the various platforms for entertainment with friends. I want my future employers to look at my social media platforms and recognize my personality in the pictures that are displayed of me compared to who I am in the interview and not judge what they think they see. Social media needs to stop being misunderstood by employers or completely removed from the decision-making process.


  9. The beginning of this post made me self-conscious about the fact that I still try way too hard to make elaborate and clever Twitter avis. In all seriousness, I think you make a very good point. Business Insider’s idea for professional use of social seems to advocate for being as boring as possible and then maybe employers will pick your profile out of a hat of thousands of other boring profiles. Adding your personality to your social media accounts provide you a unique angle into the job market and allows for employers to know what type of employee you will be. However, there still needs to be some sort of filter. Much like their are parts of our personal lives that we wouldn’t bring into the workplace, there are things we say/do that probably should stay in the physical world.



  10. Sarah-

    I come across the same problems you describe here in my job searches every single day. And quite frankly, I’m very close to deleting all of my social networks because there is barely anything left of them. This brings me to two unfortunately contradicting points.

    1) You hit it dead on that we should be able to “be ourselves” to some extent in our profiles. If we’re not, why do we have them? Are we just supposed to go through life pretending to be these drab, boring people that we’re not? My cover photo on Facebook is of my two kittens, and if someone were to tell me that’s unacceptable, I would probably dub them as awful human beings.

    2) Apparently, everything I said in my first point doesn’t matter to the professional world. I had a job recruiter tell me to go have a head shot taken for my LinkedIn profile picture, which is a completely appropriate and acceptable picture to begin with. Even though I have an internship like you, many employers are much more strict about the “professionalism”- and so, the picture on the left wouldn’t hit the mark. Even if you want to show your personality in pictures, which I personally think is how it SHOULD be, it’s a better idea to stick to the status quo and follow what they’re telling us to do. We’re the low men on the totem pole right now, and until that changes, we’ll just have to stick to hanging our cat pictures on the refrigerator.



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