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Career Advice

How To Take the Perfect Professional Headshot

Posted by Heather Huhman

August 17, 2016

Flash back to picture day in high school. You wake up with a pimple smack dab in the middle of your forehead, breakfast in your braces when you arrive at school, and the uncontrollable cow-lick in your hair has never been more stubborn.

Now, you're taking professional headshots and all of these awkward anxieties come rushing back. Calm down. Throw on a cleansing face mask, brush your teeth the morning of, and take 15 extra minutes on your 'do, then follow these guidelines to achieving the perfect headshot:

What Not to Wear

Dressing up in a three-piece suit for a headshot isn’t necessary, but that doesn’t mean wearing your favorite yoga pants and a concert t-shirt.

“Consider the position you’re applying for and what a typical day on the job would be like,” suggests Tim Cannon, the vice president of product management and marketing at “What would you wear to work? If you were going to a networking event, what are outfits you would definitely keep out of the lineup, and what are a few you would consider? An inappropriate outfit could wreak havoc on an employer’s first impression of you and your work ethic. Be sure your clothing choice is speaking of confidence and professionalism.”


Get to your closet and pick an outfit that makes you feel like you run the world.

[Related: How To Dress For An Interview]

What’s Your Background?

Resume writing 101 teaches not to clutter up the page with information about your credentials but instead to keep things looking neat, succinct, and tidy. The same goes for your headshot.

Josh Tolan, CEO of video interviewing company Spark Hire, advises, “Filling the background with too many distractions takes the employer’s eyes away from your face. Find an uncomplicated background that identifies with your personality and interests.”

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that first impressions, such as trustworthiness, are perceived in faces. Keeping the focus on your face will help employers quickly be able to read your social traits.

However, there is a way to show your personality through the background of a photo without taking too much away from your trustworthy smile. Show an adventurous side by having a few trees or buildings in the background. This will add a simplistic, yet colorful and fun aspect to your headshot.

[Related: 4 Things Employers Look For When They Google You]

Consider a Couple Options

“Keeping a couple headshots in your back pocket is a great way to switch up your profile every now and again. Having a slightly different smile, experimenting with different colored backgrounds, or finding a new angle with different lighting can catch the eyes of different employers,” says Cannon.

Giving yourself a few choices gives you a chance to decide on which picture portrays the strong, confident, and talented individual you are.

[Related: Browse The Photos of Employees at the Best Companies to Work]

Size it Up

You’ve got the best headshot, it’s exactly what you wanted, and now the file won’t upload or your head is cut out of the thumbnail view.

“Getting a picture to the correct size can be frustrating, but it is possible. Sites do have different size preferences, but Twitter, Linkedin, and Gmail all use 400 x 400. If you’re unsure of how to achieve the correct image size, consult in a friend who has gone through the same process,” says Tolan.

Make sure the photo is wide enough to leave room for cropping. If the original photo is cut off directly around your bust, there is no room to crop out a square-shaped photo and you may end up losing an arm, or worse, your head.

No Selfie Sticks

In 2014, Psychological Science found that first impressions based off of facial appearance have rapidly proliferated in the past decade. Thank you, Facebook. But please, detach your phone from the selfie stick and step away. Yes, employers will notice if your headshot was screenshot from your Snapchat. Hire a reasonably priced professional (try Thumbtack!) or even ask a trusted friend to help capture the best you.

“Eyes can be one of the most expressive features on our face, so don’t hide them behind dark sunglasses,” offers Cannon. “Think about the first thing you do when being introduced in an interview. You shake hands and look the employer in the eye as you say hello. This works the same way for a headshot, except you don’t have the chance to stick around and chat.”

That serious look on your face does look stoic, but does it provide a true glimpse into the person you want employers to see? Employers are looking for someone who will not only fit into a job description but also fit into their culture.

Mirror practice is an awkward but perfect way to see what others perceive from your many expressions. Flashing yourself a few looks before the shoot may help ease your nerves about the outcome of the photos. Above all, give a smile that shows you’re kind and easy to work with.