Whether we are walking through town late at night, catching a train or queuing at the supermarket checkout, we make assumptions about people we don’t know: sometimes positive, sometimes negative.
When delivering my employability seminars, I often show a number of images of me. I ask the audience to shout out words they would associate with each picture. I never have to wait longer than a few seconds before people start throwing all kinds of descriptions at me.
A few years ago I presented a TV show that had a business element to it. The professional photos I had taken were black and white; I wore a power suit and was asked to look directly into the camera (without even a hint of a smile).
Well, they were professional shots, so I thought little about it and just used them on my LinkedIn profile.
A few months later, a fantastic company was looking to recruit. The hiring manager asked around for recommendations and a lovely lady, who had worked with me previously, very kindly recommend he contact me.
He searched me on LinkedIn, saw my image and felt like I was the last person he wanted to work with. He thought I looked hard nosed, arrogant and a little scary. It was only when our mutual contact persuaded him that I was none of those things that he eventually called.
We have since become good friends and luckily he told me how my LinkedIn image made him feel. After we had a giggle, I obviously changed it straight away.
I was extremely grateful for his feedback, but saddened to think about how many other people may not have contacted me because they felt the way he did.
I don’t believe those words define my personal brand; it was just a poorly chosen photograph. I had failed to recognise the way the photographer wanted to portray me, was not actually who I was. You may not like me, but you definitely won’t think I’m ‘scary’.
The reason I want to expose my mistake so publicly is to encourage people to think about their own LinkedIn image. I would advise you do the following:
- Choose three words you want your personal brand to be. Describe the way you want employers and potential business partners to perceive you.
- Choose a few images that you feel are suitable.
- Choose three people who you believe will tell you the truth and place the images in front of them. Ask them to pretend they don’t know you and to list words that describe the person in the picture.
- If their description doesn’t match your words, then you may need to choose a new image.
This may sound simple, but how many of us actually do this? What we think is suitable isn’t always the case. That picture of you leaning against a Ferrari may scream successful businessman to you, but is it screaming arrogant show-off to others? It may be, it may not, but how do we know if we don’t ask.
You may not care what people think. You may have had a similar experience to me. You may have given some constructive feedback to a business contact yourself. As always I would love to hear your thoughts – please leave them in the comments below.