For the vast majority of LinkedIn users, the “right” choice for a LinkedIn profile photo is the traditional business headshot, reflective of the “face” we wear to work every day. Even more important is avoiding the “wrong” choice: a photo of yourself on vacation, playing a sport, or with your spouse–unless those activities are somehow related to your work. It’s worth remembering that just because a profile photo is right for Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, that doesn’t necessarily make it right for LinkedIn.
There’s a problem with this “rule,” however: if we’re all using traditional business headshots, it’s hard to stand out in a constructive way. Many people who wish to stand out, of course, ignore the word “constructive” and choose photos that inhibit the degree to which they’re taken seriously (to say nothing of what it does for their job prospects).
There’s an alternative, however, what if you did something a little different while also letting a bit of your personality peek through?
That’s the approach taken by my coworker, Caity Rose. Her LinkedIn photo includes her dog, Gigi. Is this something I’d typically recommend? Nope. But then I read Caity’s LinkedIn summary, which says, in part:
A professor told me that once in class and I immediately knew he was referring to my LinkedIn profile picture. I understood that he was hinting that my headshot with a pet is not professional and that I should probably change it, but before you agree with him, let me explain why I haven’t changed it.
The dog, Gigi, has been with me for over thirteen years and is the most intelligent, loyal and demanding dog I know. Everything I aspire to be.
The point, of course, is that the dog in the photo isn’t just a dog: it’s a metaphor related to Caity’s career aspirations, skills, and talent. The photo doesn’t just grab your attention and stop there: it’s the introduction of a story that the summary completes.
If I can get all English major-y for a second, the key is to remember Chekhov’s gun:
If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.
In other words, if your LinkedIn profile starts with a photo of you and your dog, you’d better explain why by the end of the summary.
Now, I want to be clear that this approach isn’t for everyone, and it won’t resonate with everyone, either. I recently shared this example with a college career services friend whom I respect, and she thought it was a bad choice. “What if someone never reads her summary?” my friend asked. And that’s a question worth considering.
But here’s the thing about Caity’s choice: it worked. Before seeing her LinkedIn profile, I would have agreed with my career services friend. However, once I saw the photo, I was curious to learn more. Which made me go to Caity’s profile. Which impressed me and which–along with a killer resume and a great attitude–led to my company hiring Caity even before she completed her degree.
So, does this mean you should include your dog in your LinkedIn photo? Probably not. But the answer isn’t “definitely, positively, not,” either. Like so many things on LinkedIn, there are the “rules,” and then there are the effective ways to break the rules. Or as the old saying goes, “you can teach an old dog new tricks.”