Since launching full-steam into my freelance business, I’ve found myself paying an inordinate amount of attention not only to my own social presence but to the social presence of others. The primary target of that attention these days? LinkedIn.

In most cases, the searches I run against LinkedIn show me companies which might benefit from the particular types of services I offer. But, in other cases, I search for writers; sometimes for possible collaboration but other searches are run simply for competitive analysis. I find myself routinely asking: If my profile came up in a search with 20 other writers, whose would stand out? Whose would get clicked? Whose would get dismissed without a second thought?

I have to tell you – I like my odds.

For everything that it’s worth, it is disheartening to see most people, both those that come up in my searches and those that LinkedIn suggests as people I may know, still treating LinkedIn like the red-headed stepchild of their online social presence.

When used properly, LinkedIn provides an amazing opportunity in that it is the online representation of your professional existence. Other sites exist for sharing vacation photos and your musings on this week’s episode of Why, In the Name of All That is Holy, Am I Watching This?

But, jobs can be won and, in some cases, careers can be built off of having an effective LinkedIn strategy and profile. Yet, for all of the talk you hear about how useful it can be, most people’s use of LinkedIn borders on the atrocious – and I’m not even talking about the writing.

Now, don’t get me wrong; a lot of it is bad. And, as a writer, I’m supposed to tell you about the importance of well-constructed sentences, the absence of typos, and a demonstration of an ability to present yourself, and your attributes, in clear and concise ways. I might even throw in a line about my abilities with writing LinkedIn profiles in exchange for some of your hard-earned dollars.

But I’d venture a guess that many of you don’t even get past the results list. And there is no reason for that to be the case.

be specific in your ad when trying to hire a freelancer on odesk or elanceYour LinkedIn Photo is Killing You

We live in a time where the acquisition of a reasonably high-quality (actually, let’s set the bar even lower….how about just decent) photograph is as easy as pulling your phone or a consumer-grade camera out of your pocket. You can put on something semi-professional, go find a nice setting, and have a friend shoot a few hundred pictures of you. Statistics dictate that one of those pictures will be usable as a LinkedIn photograph. Trust me, I say this as a former professional photographer.

Why some people feel compelled, then, to use the same pictures they’re using on Facebook or other social networks as their LinkedIn pictures, I will never know. In searches on LinkedIn I have found profile photos including:

  • photos obviously intended as wedding portraits (the fact that you’re in a tux doesn’t make this a picture of you in a suit and now I have to wonder if you even own one)
  • pictures of people’s pets (I’m not hiring your cat. And now I’m not hiring you either.)
  • family portraits – of the entire family (which one of you actually wants to connect with me?)
  • pictures obviously shot at a bar (at least I’ll know what you look like at happy hour)
  • pictures obviously shot after a night at said bar (at least I know that you can’t hold your alcohol)
  • pictures of the person that are obviously cropped (just have someone take a picture of you – did you really think I wouldn’t notice the arm around you or the 3 other shoulders in the picture?)
  • pictures of an American flag (well, at least your I9 shouldn’t be an issue)

Now, is my LinkedIn profile photo perfect? No. Far from it. Those of you who choose to connect with me on LinkedIn will notice that the lighting is a touch harsh, my facial expression is a bit less than ideal, and, overall, its really not the most flattering picture ever taken of someone.

Truth be told, I acquired it for free at a conference I attended. It’s not great, but it meets my requirements:

  • it is obviously a headshot
  • there is no one else in the picture – either in full or in part
  • it is well lit
  • the background is out of focus
  • posting it in a professional context does not embarrass me

Can you say the same thing about yours?

If you have a profile on LinkedIn, regardless of whether you’re spending any time on the site, you at least want people to read what you’ve accomplished. Stop making your profile photo be the thing that prevents that from happening.

We’ll work on the writing for it later.