What’s with the profile photographs on LinkedIn?


Many years ago, when I worked as a head-hunter, I did several campaigns in the US. One of the differences I noticed immediately was that CVs usually carried photographs of the candidates – something you rarely saw at that time in the UK.

What had us all bemused was that most of the ‘snaps’ were obviously taken many, many years previously. You could tell that immediately – from the fashions to the hairstyles and the backgrounds the pictures were taken against. No way were these images recent.

Roll on to 2018 and I am seeing the same trend with LinkedIn photographs. I have noticed it mainly because I’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately. I try as hard as I can to share the travel burden with candidates – so often organise ‘mid-point’ meetings in hotels or business centres rather than drag people to me.

Often these meetings feel a bit clandestine. Not quite ‘under the station clock, holding a copy of the FT and wearing a pink carnation’ but getting on that way. Often you are in a busy hotel lobby trying to pick your candidate out of the many other people obviously there for interviews or other business meetings.

I also sometimes spot candidates casting an eye around just in case someone they know might catch them being interviewed. Only last week I was mid-discussion with a candidate when an HRD I’ve known for years (an ex-colleague) tapped me on the shoulder. She was in the middle of being interviewed by the MD of a potential employer. I was asked if I wouldn’t mind popping over to her table when I’d finished my meeting to provide an ‘on the spot’ reference. Turning around I immediately recognised the MD too. Small world.

On that note, you only have to walk in to any 3-4* hotel lounge these days to realise that they are hotspots of business. At virtually every table there is a business meeting of some sort happening. I constantly meet recruiters I know in these places – and increasingly clients too. In fact, in some hotels, I suspect a resident would have a real struggle finding a quiet spot to read a book or magazine during business hours.

Amongst all this hive of activity you somehow have to find your guest. And I’d adopted the approach of having LinkedIn photos to hand so that I’d instantly recognise people. Or so I hoped. Instead the US CV trait seems to have struck LinkedIn.

So many candidates looked nothing like their LinkedIn picture. And usually because it was at least 10 years out of date. So why is this?

It might be laziness. However, I doubt it. In most cases people had obviously been updating their profiles continuously. Just not the photograph.

Was it vanity? You know that picture where you weigh a few pounds less or have a slightly newer suit on. Or perhaps you had a decent professional photo taken years ago that was just so good you can’t replace it? Again, I doubt it. Many of the photographs were far from ‘professional’ and some would have been more at home on the likes of Facebook.

The elephant in the room – and it is a very big elephant – is undoubtedly age discrimination. Despite legislation, HR talking about best practice etc etc people still feel the need to make themselves appear younger to potential employers. That becomes even more obvious when you start interviewing them and they start talking about jobs that don’t appear on their CV. The first decade or more of their career being expunged from history to make them appear a more youthful, and fast-tracked, version of themselves.

This whole pantomime tells me we are still miles away from a world that judges people on capability. Many, many people still clearly believe that being older limits your job options – as candidates demonstrate every day by those profile photographs on LinkedIn.

Perhaps LinkedIn should ban all profile pictures on the basis recruiters can use them directly or indirectly to discriminate? Or is it more a case that we should all just be ourselves rather than trying to be Peter Pan? Is pandering to other people’s discriminatory tendencies part of the problem?

I for one have a profile picture that was taken earlier this year. Yes, I look a bit older, However I am also wiser. I’ve learned a huge amount over the last couple of years – and I am better at my job today than I was two or three years ago when the previous picture was taken.

In the spirit of Groucho Marx – ‘I wouldn’t want to be part of a business that would only employ a younger version of me’.

‘Oh no it isn’t: what’s with the profile photographs on LinkedIn?…’ was written by Ian Gooden, CEO Chiumento Group. If you like what you’ve read why not follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter and read all our future advice and musings on the world of work.

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