With a great outfit and good positioning, this professional has a winning headshot.

11 Headshot Tips for Job Seekers

How to Take a Professional Headshot as a Candidate

Whether it’s meant for LinkedIn, your website, or another social media platform, it pays to have a great business photo of yourself. These headshot tips for job seekers will be useful even after you’ve landed your dream job, but it’s especially important for everyone trying to find a new position to understand how to take a professional headshot.


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Like your resume or cover letter, this photograph may prove crucial to getting hired. The good news is that unlike a cover letter, you don’t need to have a different headshot for every role you apply to and can utilize a single version that truly represents your best professional self. For a photo like this, appearing too casual is more hazardous than appearing too formal so these professional headshot tips will be conservatively inclined.


A friendly photographer gets ready to snap a great headshot


1. Selfies Are Poison

If you learn nothing else about how to take a professional headshot, understand this: selfies don’t cut it. If you’re holding the camera and concerned about keeping it steady, you can’t focus on smiling naturally, maintaining a decent posture, or staying relaxed. Selfies also lack the benefit of an outside perspective. Have someone else take the photo. You can always speak with your photographer and tell them what you want, but at least you won’t be snapping the picture.


2. Dress with Finesse

What to wear for a professional headshot is as important of a topic as your interview attire – in many cases, these two will be the same. Again, it’s safer to be more conservative. Even among casual companies, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll make a negative impression by having a headshot of yourself in a suit. If you’re unsure about what to wear, have an alternate outfit available so you can pick your favorite after you see yourself sporting each in 2D.


3. Think About Background

The best background may depend on your hair and outfit. Make sure you don’t blend in with your environment. For example, unless your lighting and contrast are just right, it’s risky to use a black background if you have black hair. The same logic applies to your clothes. The backdrop must not be distracting, but it also needs to be distinct from your person.

You’ve selected a good location if people who look at your photo don’t even think about where you were when you took it. A simple taupe or eggshell wall can work well. Depending on your career goals or industry, a more “scenic” background that includes green trees or red brick might work but be careful to avoid anything that could draw attention away from you.

Woman looks at clothes as she decides on the outfit best suited for her backdrop


4. No Other Distractions

Your professional headshot isn’t meant to show off your hobbies or where you’ve traveled. It’s about showing what you look like in a more business-friendly context, clearly and plainly. Avoid props, gimmicks, or pets, and never include another person in the photograph.


5. Frame It Appropriately

This shouldn’t be a full-body image – you want to focus on your face. (Hence, “headshot.”). A simple square frame is well-suited for most platforms. On LinkedIn, your profile picture works best at 400 x 400 pixels. There’s some disagreement over what constitutes the ideal camera angle, but a safe choice is to keep the lens near eye-level.


6. Make Eye Contact and Smile Naturally

Although angling your shoulders or face can make for a better picture, this isn’t a “slice of life” photo. A professional headshot requires eye contact between the subject and camera. Also, remember that professional doesn’t mean grim. A warm, subtle smile evokes positive feelings in the audience, and that’s how you want potential employers to feel about you. A big cheesy grin may have the wrong effect, but you should let your eyes relax and narrow slightly the way they do when you think about a close friend or after you’ve just finished laughing. This is related to what has been called smizing, and you may find that it helps a warm, natural smile develop.


7. No Mugshots Allowed

Asymmetry is your friend here. If both your torso and face are squarely facing the camera, it’s nearly impossible to avoid looking like the subject of a passport or driver’s license. There’s some room to play with posture, but a subtly off-center angle of your shoulders and face is best. Sitting on a stool is great for some while others prefer standing, but keep your shoulders relaxed and your lower back straight either way.


This professional understands that it's about framing the head.


8. Light up the Room

Of all the headshot tips for job seekers, getting the lighting right is often the most difficult. A well-lit interior room with sunlight coming through a nearby window can strike the right balance. You know you’ve got your lighting down when there are: A) no dramatic shadows B) no dark areas C) no glare or washout. Although an outside shoot will provide with an abundance of natural light, there is still the hazard of distracting glare or background elements appearing, so use caution if you opt for the great outdoors.


9. Groom Your Hair 

Shape and style your hair the way you would for a job interview. Like with apparel, lean toward the conservative side. Unless you have absolute faith in your stylist, it’s best to avoid experimenting with a new haircut right before you have the picture taken. Go with what’s tried-and-true for you.


10. Increase the Image Quality

Get your hands on the highest-quality camera available. If you must use your phone, use the back camera since it’s usually better and make sure you’ve dialed up the picture quality settings to their peak. Ramp up the resolution to its max, even if you’re forced to free up some room on your phone or get an extra micro SD card to store larger image files. You can also check if your phone has nifty features like a burst mode that tries to “guess” which photo in the burst was the most flattering for your face.


Man considers image file quality as he edits on his computer


11. Consult Your Candid Friend

You know that friend you have that gets in trouble for being too brutally honest? Get their advice on everything from what to wear for a professional headshot to how much to angle your torso or shoulders. If necessary, bring them to the shoot or even use them as your photographer. A strong personality will direct you toward success – just make sure this blunt friend also has impeccable taste.


These professional headshot tips are well understood by photographers who specialize in business photos, but not everyone can afford to go to a studio or hire a paid photographer. Now that you know how to take a professional headshot, you’re ready to showcase your best self. Remember to check out our other great articles and career resources to help you find your dream job.

By Michael Weaver, iHire | October 24, 2019
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