On an application form, the request for a headshot can send your stomach plummeting. It feels like one more step, one more hoop to jump through in the whole employment circus. Do they really need to know what you look like? Couldn’t they just judge you on your merits? Isn’t that why you wrestled with that resume and cover letter in the first place?
The truth of the matter is, even if you don’t submit a photo, in this digital age you can be sure a hiring manager is going to research you. While your resume shows how qualified you are for the job, a picture can give a sense of what kind of person you are.
We can debate the ethics of this practice all day long (yes, your mother was right—it’s what’s on the inside that counts), but it will help if you start to think of a headshot as an opportunity. This is your chance to show the hiring managers who they’d be working with. This is your chance to show how you could fit into the industry and their office.
If taken right, a professional headshot will show elements of your personality, your professionalism, and your confidence. To get recommendations on what sets a good one apart, look no further.
While we all have cameras and camera phones these days, a good headshot isn’t as instant and carefree as a selfie you post on social media. It’s hard to focus on projecting confidence if you’re worried about cropping your closet (or extended arm) out of the picture.
Working with a photographer who knows what they’re doing takes the hassle out of taking a perfect photo. They will know the best tricks for posing, will handle all of the equipment, and ensure you have the best lighting. They’ll even tell you how to choose fabrics that will photograph well.
Check on post if you live on/near a base… sometimes photographers offer their services via the USO or other organizations. If you can’t hire a professional, take the next steps to heart when taking your photo, and make sure you enlist the help of a friend to take the actual shot.
When it comes to a headshot, your wardrobe should reflect your chosen profession (or the one you’re trying to enter). If you’re going into business, wear something that aligns with a job interview, be it a nice sweater, a blouse, or a collared shirt with a suit jacket (and be mindful of how low a neckline might look on camera). If you’re entering a more creative field, it helps to go online and look at people who are in the jobs you want to have. LinkedIn® profiles and “About me” sections of a website can be very helpful.
No matter the profession you’re trying to impress, as a general rule, the goal is not to distract from your face. You’re trying to build a sense of familiarity and connection.
Wear colors that flatter your skin tone, be aware that too much black can look stark (I like wearing a colorful top under a black blazer), and remember that busy patterns tend to look better in person than on film. You want to look like yourself, but an edited version… so if you tend toward an abundance of jewelry or make-up, think about highlighting one feature rather than two or three.
Be confident in the person you are, and it will come through in the photo, I promise!
I’m with you. Posing is tricky—you want it to be flattering, you need to project confidence, and you still need to appear approachable. If you’re working with a photographer, they’ll be sure to tell you how to pose to your best advantage. However, here are a few tips I’ve learned:
- Angle your body 45 degrees instead of facing the camera head-on. It will make you look lean, and keep you from looking boxy.
- Consider whether crossing your arms makes you look confident… or closed-off and angry. Some people can pull it off, some can’t. Approach this pose with caution.
- When it comes to your arms, your best bet is to make sure they aren’t just resting against your body. Angling them off your hips or resting your hands near your pockets gives your upper body more dimension.
- Relax your face. You can smile broadly, you can give a half-smile, whatever is most flattering for you. Move your face around between shots, try to think of something that makes you feel happy inside—it will come through.
- Always, always double-check yourself halfway through. How are your clothes sitting? Did you miss lipstick on your teeth (or spinach in your teeth)? Is your hair staying put? Is someone walking through the shots? Better to catch this now than later.
Personally, I love outdoor headshots—as long as the backdrop doesn’t compete with your face (having a photographer who knows how to focus a lens or use the portrait feature on their phone makes a difference here).
With that being said, a studio backdrop can look great as well, and gives you more reliable lighting conditions. Whatever you decide, just remember—you want your face to come through, that’s the star.
When you’re assessing your headshot, it can be hard to stay picky… especially when you’re itching to cross something off your list. However, it helps to remember that this picture is an investment—you want to get it right now so you don’t have to do it again next week.
Always check to make sure:
- Is the picture in focus (and are you the primary focal point)?
- Does your photo look pixelated? A high-resolution photo will stand up to resizing… one with more limited pixels will only work in small, thumbprint settings.
- Is your photo underexposed (everything looks too dark) or overexposed (everything looks bleached out)?
When you find a photo you can believe in, update your LinkedIn and any other profiles your potential employers could check.
Here’s to you, and here’s to putting your best face forward!
Story by Zaneta Padilla