Your Work Pic, Optimized by the Crowd

You’ll obsess over the angle at which your head tilts, but it’ll be worth it.

“Someone rated me incompetent!” my friend Jodi said.

My wife and I were out to dinner with friends when Jodi’s comment turned the conversation to PhotoFeeler, a site where she had collected anonymous feedback on her LinkedIn pic. (I have no relationship to PhotoFeeler.)

Jodi passed her iPhone around the table. She’s one of the most competent people you’ll ever meet, but yeah, there was something about her pic that didn’t convey that.

“It’s the way you tilt your head,” my wife said, and everyone agreed.

Collecting hard data about the story that your pics are telling

At home that night, I went straight to PhotoFeeler, uploaded my LinkedIn profile pic, and waited for feedback to roll in.

As I’ve written before, images convey your strategic story. Whether you’re showing your head shot in your startup’s investor deck or displaying it on LinkedIn or AngelList, it’s incredibly valuable to know how people perceive you.

I originally selected this photo as my profile pic because (I thought) it looked friendly and professional. Here’s what I learned from people who rated it on PhotoFeeler:

Photo credit: Francis Baker

While I was pleased to be seen as competent (PhotoFeeler defines that as “smart, capable”) and influential (“leading, in charge”), I was dismayed to discover that, as portrayed here, I am not super likable (“friendly, kind”).

In fact, 3 of 40 people rated this photo as “Not likable” and 20 rated it only “Somewhat likable.” One person was kind enough to leave a comment explaining why: “Smile please!”

Can You Boost Your Likability?

Sitting for photographs is really hard for me — and, I suspect, for a lot of people. I don’t easily smile on cue, and I’m always worrying about how old I’m going to appear versus the image of myself (circa 2002) that lives in my head.

Luckily, I had options. Bay Area photographer Francis Baker had taken my profile pic, and he had more photos from the same shoot. Scanning them, I found what might pass for a smile:

Sure enough, this one boosted my likability. But it didn’t score nearly as well on competency and influence.

I wondered: Do people like you less if they see you as competent/influential? But when I showed the picture to my mother-in-law, she had a different theory.

“I think it’s the shirt,” she said. “Not doing you any favors.”

How about a blue-shirt photo where I was (kind of) smiling?

My mother-in-law asked if I had any pics with a smile and the blue shirt, and this was the best one we found. I had originally discounted it as smirky, and because my head droops to the left:

Photo credit: Francis Baker

To my surprise, this one scored off-the-charts on competency, and it received significantly better likability marks than my original photo.

Still, there was that head droop. Could I maintain competency/influence — while boosting likability — with a slight rotation? (Welcome to the obsessive thinking that PhotoFeeler engenders. Now I get why Jodi was talking about her scores over dinner.)

To see if I could boost my rankings, I expanded the crop region and rotated the photo clockwise about 3 degrees:

Photo credit: Francis Baker

This version scored highest on likability, but not nearly as well as the previous one on competency.

Choosing Between Finalists:
Likability vs. Competency

For all the data PhotoFeeler hands you, the choice can ultimately come down to a very human decision: Do you care more about being seen as likable or as competent?

Here are my two finalists. Again, these are the exact same photo, but with different crops and rotations:

Photo credit: Francis Baker

For now, I’m using the one on the right for my LinkedIn profile. It’s likable enough and it can’t hurt to appear competent there.

On Medium and Twitter, however, I’m using the one on the left, on the tenuous assumption that likability is more important in those networks.

Neither is perfect. But if people who use PhotoFeeler are anything close to a statistically representative sample, get ready to like me just a little bit more.