Do You Always Have to Use Your Picture on Your LinkedIn Profile?

Putting your picture on your LinkedIn profile makes it more likely that members, including recruiters and hiring managers, will engage with you.

Or does it? What if it makes them discriminate against you instead?

Arguments for a Photo

I think of LinkedIn as the hallway outside the industry conference keynote speech. You wouldn’t go there wearing a mask. Thus, in general, you shouldn’t show up on LinkedIn and hide your face.

In addition, your photo displays on profiles where you write recommendations and endorse skills. Those affirmations carry more weight when you show your face than if you don’t.

The Potential for Discrimination

However, many people worry that using their photo will cause recruiters and hiring managers to discriminate against them.

Their concern might be MSUing (making stuff up), or it might be smart.

People who discriminate do just that, they discriminate. If they don’t like your gender, age, weight, race, etc., a profile photo will certainly help them figure it out quickly.

What to Consider

The calculus here is, if they met you in person, versus in an online photo, would you be able to overcome their prejudice?

The question is important. When discrimination happens, it affects our ability to earn a living.

For all the benefits LinkedIn offers, this is a real concern for many people.

Anecdotal Data 

I originally shared this post in 2013 with a strong bias for including a photo. I’m reissuing it because I have additional information to share:

1. You will see comments (below) where people clearly encountered discrimination with a photo and got better results without a photo.

2. The successful candidates in my last two C-suite searches didn’t have photos on their profiles. I didn’t care.

3. I often get people in my page one search results who don’t have photos. My eye isn’t drawn to them as quickly, but LinkedIn doesn’t appear to be penalizing them in search results.

I still think it’s usually better to show your face than not, but it’s a career myth that you always need a photo on your LinkedIn profile.

What you always need is good judgment about whether or not to use a photo — and maybe a change or “with/without” testing as described in the comments below.

Let’s Connect on LinkedIn

Please don’t hesitate to invite me to connect on LinkedIn here: Donna Svei, Executive Resume Writer.

The more I know about my readers, the better I can make my blog.

I write executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Save time. Look good. Get hired. Email me here for more information.

Image: Fotolia.com/biker3
Updated June 2017

© 2014 – 2019, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 37

  1. I’m with you Donna. Use your picture. Let all the people who are biased against your “gender, age, weight, race, etc.” weed themselves out. That way only people who will actually view you positively will connect with you.

    Biased people will still be biased when they meet you for an interview and find out you belong to some group they are biased against. Why waste your time? You could be meeting with someone who will actually appreciate you and what you bring to the table.

  2. I work at a one stop career center an even our linked in guru says to put your picture up. Make sure it looks professional. I know photographers that are starting to make a living just helping people with their linked in picture.

  3. I agree a photo is essential. The only thing worse than a blank silhouette is a cartoon avatar – come on people LinkedIn is not a game!

  4. I know I am a bit idealistic here. I think LI changes the recruiting game, more than people think. It is very easy for anyone to run a search for people on LI particularly frustrated employers or people who need staff now. So many of the resumes that were previously hidden in a head-hunter’s search are now not. If a third party is screening on the basis of some intentional or unintentional bias, and the employer runs a LI search and people with fabulous profiles pop up, then that’s going to make the person who discriminates look pretty silly.

  5. I know lots of people my age and older (50+) who are concerned that they will face age discrimination if they include a LinkedIn profile photo. I’m returning to work after spending the last 20 years raising a family, and it was definitely a concern of mine. I was hired for a paid internship writing content for the education-related website studentadvisor,com, and my new employer not only encouraged me to include my photo, but also to write about it : ( http://www.studentadvisor.com/articles/adventures-of-a-50-fifty-year-old-intern-linkedin-and-age-discrimination ).
    It doesn’t seem to be something we can avoid if we want to be taken seriously in the job market in this day and age, so we should make sure we “put our best face forward”. My most recent profile pic is black and white – I think it makes it harder to guess my age. Any thoughts?

  6. As a test I removed my photo and the contacts by recruiters dropped off to nearly nothing, this from about one contact every other day in some form or another. I don’t think this has anything to do with what I look like, it’s just that people want a face with a profile.

    Great test! Thank you for sharing your results. Donna

  7. When I was a 3rd party recruiter I sat with a client as he evaluated 5 candidates I submitted for a sales manager requisition. He open LinkedIn then passed over two black candidates, while agreeing to interview three white male candidates. Since he didn’t scroll down the LI profiles I inquired as to what he was doing and he replied that he was ensuring that each candidate looked professional. I terminated our contract on the spot since one of the black candidates had the best experience and most professional LI picture.

    More data for the calculus. Thank you Tony. Donna

  8. @Tony Wade. THANK YOU! As an Black American job candidate, I have been terrified that bias could be the reason for a lack of contact from recruiters/employers. My résumé references my LinkedIn profile, so everyone has an opportunity to view it. That also means that just like with your client, a biased hiring manager may be skipping over me due to my photo, despite my qualifications.

    There are not enough articles that discuss the potential pitfalls when black candidates post their photos on LinkedIn. I don’t have the time to conduct social experiments with my job search, however, I’m quite curious what the response would be if I were to simply replace my photo with one of my white friends.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Michael,

    I share your curiosity. LinkedIn has set employment practices back decades in this regard. I’m surprised there isn’t public pressure on the company about this issue.

    On the upside, for companies that are committed to diversity, your photo could well provide you with an advantage. But you and I both know that not all companies are committed to diversity.

    Kind regards,

    Donna

  9. I am sure that photographs on LinkedIn are used to discriminate on the basis of all sorts of things, but I have always had a photograph on my page which shows my white, undyed hair. My reasoning is that if someone wants to deny me a job because of my age, I would rather have them do it at the beginning of the hiring process and save me a lot of time rather than after multiple interviews. It is very easy to find anyone’s age on the internet anyway, so why give up the benefits of a photograph. I may get fewer inquiries, because of the white-haired photo, but the inquiries I do get are from people who have gotten past the age thing. Besides why would I want to work for someone who discriminates based on age? It wouldn’t last long or be particularly pleasant. You can’t get anywhere trying to be anybody except who you are.

    Thank you Marcia. Your points are well taken. Donna

  10. Why is it that for years, nay, decades, we were all taught, “Do Not Put Your Photograph On Your Resume.” Today, LinkedIn makes it nearly mandatory. Why?
    The main reason given back in the stone age for *no* photo was: Photographs will, way more often than not, get you screened out. Unless you were a movie star/glamour model, photos were no-nos.

    IMHO, LinkedIn is only useful to the Beautiful People who are in management. Galley slaves like me find LI to be a total waste of time.

    In the U.S., photos on resumes are frowned upon because they provide information about an applicant’s likely membership in a protected class. Thus, they expose companies to potential discrimination claims. LinkedIn derives the bulk of its revenue in the U.S. yet gives a wink and a nod to this decades long anti-discrimination practice. It does allow users to check a box that will let it serve up search results without photos. I wonder what percentage of profiles have that box checked?

  11. I speak from experience. When I set privacy controls on my public LinkedIn profile to not display my photo (African American), removed my summary, and displayed just a professional title, I started receiving phone calls and e-mails galore for potential job opportunities.

    Before that, I went months without a call. My profile pic is professional–black suit jacket, light colored shirt, professional background.

    My name is not indicative of my race. It can be assumed that I am German-Irish. It is hurtful that I feel I have to hide my race to even get an opportunity to present my skills and experience in a phone call or interview setting.

    Thank you for sharing this Dell. It does not make sense to issue a blanket recommendation that people put their photo on their LinkedIn profile. Donna

  12. The conundrum is that while people might be discriminated against for their photo, I’ve heard from others who would not accept a LinkedIn invitation from somebody without a photo.

    My impression is that a well-made LinkedIn photo would be more likely to reduce discrimination because it shows there is a real person behind the profile who is a professional in real life as well as on paper (or on a profile). I don’t have any studies to back me up, but the more a person can stand out as an individual, the harder it is to apply an old prejudice to that person. A photo helps turn a profile into a real person. A good photo will make them a professional first; a minority second (or third or fourth).

    Neither a photo nor a magic wand will end discrimination, but discrimination shouldn’t make us afraid to be what we are, either.

    I wish Andy, but some people have real life data points that say “Don’t show all your cards on the first round of bidding.” Thank you, Donna

  13. My goodness some comments are so blasé about real bias and discrimination. People ARE using LinkedIn to discriminate. Companies on LinkedIn have photo after photo after photo of white employees–even in towns and cities known for large, educated minority populations. It’ disgusting that LinkedIn is being misused to discriminate. Also, the way to dismantle discrimination is to be called in for an actual interview, see the shock on their faces upon seeing a visible minority, and make them sit through an interview with the minority who is destroying stereotypes left and right. Kudos to blogger Donna Svei for updating her July 2013 post in March 2014 after learning that photos are causing discrimination. Kudos, indeed.

    Thank you. I have no idea if LinkedIn execs find feedback valuable or annoying, but I continue to be concerned about the erosion of equal opportunity practices in the U.S. and this is a big problem. Kind regards, Donna

  14. As an African-American in business I look at this two ways:

    1) There were studies that showed when a resume had a name that could be construed as belonging to an African American, it was less likely to be selected for further action compared to a resume with a Caucasian name with the same content. In my opinion LinkedIn is likely to have the same bias with names and pictures.

    2) There is merit to the idea that if an employer would pass over you because of your LinkedIn picture then maybe that is not an employer for which you want to work. That said, the decision makers may not have the same bias as the screener.

    It is sad commentary on our society that these issues persist.

    Thank you for your thoughtful commentary Mike. Donna

  15. I think that one way that you could avoid the potential ageism bias would be to opt for a black and white photo. That will avoid any gray hair issues and it can still be quite a tasteful photo that is true to you. Just a thought, as I agree that a photo should be present on each LinkedIn profile.

    That’s worth a try Donna. Plus, B&W pops a little when all the other photos are color! Thank you. Donna

  16. Hi Karalyn,

    Interesting perspective! LinkedIn actually makes it easier for management to check on gatekeepers for discriminatory behavior. I like it!

    Thank you,

    Donna

  17. Coincidence. I was thinking earlier today that LI must be a boon for photographers. Thank you Brian. Donna

  18. I agree Phyllis. I’m reminded of the partner from Arthur Andersen who told the best graduate in my class that public accounting was no place for a woman with children. She was a stay-at-home mom with three kids who had returned to school. Based on that, I passed on the interview. Donna

  19. Linkedin is being used to discriminate even my workforce Linkedin Class teacher said so even through he was pushing Linkedin he said some of the employers would look at the picture and think that person is too old. or too young so that alone says some employers are probably looking at the photos and saying that person is too fat or too black or too hispanic even too white or too pretty or not pretty enough . you can bet some employers when down to picking a woman for a job may pick one because she is prettier or even not as pretty perhaps it all balances out since a employer may be looking for a certain image but then again thats discrimination. What if it is a inside the cubical job and some is very qualified but because they were ugly the employer never gave them a chance for a interview . many of us today skim over the details and focus on the pictures for example if looking at CL classified ads some of us wont even look at ads unless there are photos. Without a doubt Linkedin has opened the door to silent discrimination without giving a person a chance to meet and show their skills and personality in person.

  20. Sadly, I agree that it has opened the door to a multitude of potentially discriminatory decisions.

  21. Possible reasons for not posting a photo from a citizen’s, not a corporation’s perspective:

    1. ID Theft (photo-print-!) which so many have encountered already here in U.S.
    2. Unconscious bias (age, sex, etc) to hire “like” people in an org.
    3. NameTag facial recognition opt-out information is not provided on LinkedIn’s website.
    >>This “partner” is a facial recognition software that is used by LinkedIn and Facebook and many other “social” companies and they do cross reference YOUR posted photo with ANY other photo out there in their network.
    Privacy concerns >> What if you get linked to a WRONG photo/person and end up on some list ? LinkedIn should tell all employees, job seekers and business professionals that you CAN opt out on NameTag’s website.

  22. I’ve been using LinkedIn for several years. I am black, and included my photo at first. When I removed it, the “action” on my profile increased significantly. Anyone would be naïve to think potential employers don’t still discriminate based on race, gender, or age. Companies only hire black candidates because they have to. Most companies would rather pass over a highly qualified black candidate and limp along with a white candidate with a fraction of the experience. I’ve seen and experienced this first-hand, on numerous occasions. And please stop referring to black people as a “protected class”. Try being black during an encounter with a police officer and let me know if you feel “protected” in any way, shape, or form.

  23. I have sent my resume to numerous companies and have received immediate responses from HR for initial phone interviews. All the interviews went great, the HR representatives were ecstatic and immediately forwarded my resume to the hiring managers with recommendations. Later in the day I would receive an email from LinkedIn stating that someone viewed my profile (with photo) in incognito mode. (Hiring manager) Approximately one hour later, I would receive an email from HR saying that the company has decided to pass on my application.
    My resume and my LinkedIn professional summary are exactly the same, so I removed my photo.
    I then sent my resume to another company, and received an immediate response for a telephone interview. Once again, the interview was a success. The HR rep stated that I was a strong candidate and my resume would be forwarded to the sales manager immediately. Three hours later, I receive an email from the HR rep asking me what do I look like? She checked and there’s no photo on my LinkedIn profile. There is only one person in the United States with my name, and that’s me. A quick Internet search and you’ll quickly find out who I am, and that I’m Black. I followed up with the HR lady and she never responded to any emails or phone calls.

  24. I am thinking about creating a movement. An image, of text, that everyone can use that just says something like, “Looks don’t matter.”

  25. I’m a Software Engineer where being a young white male has a well known advantage in finding jobs. If you are young, white and male, one could argue that you should post your photo since profiles with professional photos are more likely to be viewed. If you are old, black or female, show your photo because it is better to be rejected before wasting your time.

    This is flawed logic. If you are young white and male, you have a duty to not have a photo so employers can’t discriminate. This is an act of solidarity with your professional colleagues. If you are old, black or female, also don’t post this so that companies have to look at you in the face when they discriminate. The discrimination in tech won’t end until each and every one of us stand up to bad employer behavior.

    Ask yourself this question… Does your photo have anything to do with your ability to do the job? If not, you have a duty to not help those that discriminate have an easier job. This ugly behavior can only change if each and every tech professional stands up to the damage being done to our profession. The beauty of computers isn’t about making money, it’s that computers don’t care about your age, gender or skin color. One day maybe humans can do the same.

  26. After reviewing these responses, I immediately removed my photo from LinkedIn. Some of these nonchalant responses about discrimination are very disappointing and are the exact reason why discrimination still exists in 2017 because people act like it’s no big deal. Discrimination is not just “oh you hurt my feelings”. These are people’s livelihoods. It effects their opportunities and their capability to feed their kids and pay their bills. The same people who are nonchalant about discrimination will be the same people complaining that black people need to “get a job and get off welfare”. Yet when professional black people are having unfair difficulty in their job search you look the other way and can’t seem to grasp why there is so much income/wealth inequality in the United States. Finding a well paying job is difficult for EVERYONE with so much competition out there but some people have ANOTHER added layer of difficulty because of something they literally can’t control like their skin color or their age. That’s what discrimination is, that’s what inequality is. For some people, posting their photo is a very risky gamble not to be taken lightly especially in harsh economic times. It’s better to not post my photo so I can at least get my foot in the door. And if they don’t like how I look, I can still dazzle them with my personality. That is how people OVERCOME. Be so great that they forget what you look like, but remember who you ARE!

  27. Some posters here are suggesting that you don’t want to waste your time with anyone who will be biased against you. However, good jobs can be hard to come by, and getting past the initial screening on the basis of static appearance in order to have the chance to charm with conversation skills is important. Besides, I care whether the actual decision-makers and future supervisors are biased toward me, not some recruiter or HR person who I might not interact with much after being hired.

    There’s been lots of academic research (e.g. the Implicit Association Test) on the reality and persistence of bias on the basis of race, gender, etc… Importantly some of this is implicit bias on the part of people who don’t realize that they’re biased and don’t really want to be but are not immune to a lifetime of viewing biased media and living in a biased culture. For a popular press article the topic (no university library card needed), see this: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-we-all-racists-deep-inside/

  28. I am not a very photogenic person. The last acceptable-looking photos of me were made when I was about two years old. Maybe I should post one of those.

    If the LinkedIn Profile is to become the new de facto resume, then laws need to be passed to at least remove the blank avatar from profiles that don’t have a picture. It would be better to simply not have photos at all in order to level the playing field.

    Those who would dismiss this as a problem really don’t get it.

  29. Hi Moriah,

    Great question!

    It depends. If black and white is more appropriate to your field, then it’s OK. Otherwise, I’d stick with color.

    Donna

  30. Why is no one talking about the elephant in the room? That is, why do you feel compelled to use LinkedIn?? LinkedIn IS SPAM and it reinforces discriminatory hiring practices (and cronyism). And why do employers ask for a resume (and a cover letter, which will only be read if they like your resume anyway), AND your LinkedIn? It’s redundant.

  31. Hi Jojo,

    It is frustrating.

    97% of recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates. That’s the best reason to be there.

    Donna

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