1/11/12 - An Old Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

Probably 18 months ago, U.S. professionals far and near accepted the premise that if they used LinkedIn with any regularity, it was time to put their photos on their profiles.  I caved myself about 15 months ago or so, when I resolved to make a career change.

I remember the "old days" with LinkedIn, say between 2003 and 2009, when it was used widely but few profiles included photos.  Full disclosure:  I'm not sure when LinkedIn added the photo on the profile twist, and I'm sure it wasn't there back in 2003.

But the point is for quite some time people chose not to put their photos on LinkedIn, and a certain day came and that changed.  Today you will notice in your LinkedIn network the rare profile (symbolized with a plain grey square where a photo would otherwise be) without a photo attached. 

Everywhere else you'll see an array of photos:  glamour shots, pictures of people with their kids, professional head shots, pictures people took of themselves, and plenty of grainy, weird photos that you're not quite sure how to interpret.

And then, of course, there are the people you know a little or a lot, those who you see often or just now and then, but people you know well enough to know that their photos are simply not current.  I'm talking about photos people choose of themselves that are 10 years old, 20 years old, even older.

You know what I'm talking about.  They're out there, and generally they are the most flattering photos possible.  I can think of a few from friends of mine, whose photos are simply not in line with their current appearance.  It's not bad and it's not sad, but it's a little unfortunate (to me) those old photos linger.  They inevitably include people when they're younger, thinner -- maybe happier.  It would be the equivalent of me, having been thoroughly bald since my mid-20's, slamming a photo on LinkedIn of myself with a full head of hair.  It would be a bit of a shame. 

What brought this about?  Was it pressure from Facebook?  Was it the pressure people felt to look their best?  Was it the immediate gratification of social media?  Was it a belief that without a picture, their profiles (resumes) wouldn't line them up with their next great job?

My theory is it's just more piling on.  The use of photos on profiles hit that critical mass at which people began thinking they had to do it.  If you loved Seinfeld like I did, you will remember the episode when George copies someone he sees eating a Snickers candy bar with a knife and a fork, and by the end of that episode, he's got about 12 other colleagues doing it.

One thing I know, when I meet people based on an assumption on their appearance from a LinkedIn profile, I often don't recognize them.  I'm looking for someone who's no longer present, and so I usually have to have them tap me on the shoulder and say hello. 

I know it's a tad morbid, but I'm reminded of the obituary photos in the newspaper that people select for their final profile before they set sail for what comes next.  They're almost always younger, thinner, more confident, in what we'd all agree was probably the prime of their lives.  As if we move on from all things still wanting to look our best.

Posted by Jack Williams at 08:21


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