Can Your Face Hurt You?

linkedin photosStep One to every LinkedIn profile is adding a photo of yourself. Since LinkedIn is a business site, the photo should be as serious as possible – a straightforward headshot, with no goat horns, family members, or weird makeup. So says conventional wisdom.

After all, you want potential employers to know that you have serious job cred, right? You know how to get a headshot (and a better one than you’d get done at a passport photo agency or photo machine at the penny arcade). You know how to dress for every occasion, including a headshot. Participants in a recent discussion on LinkedIn mostly agreed that if you didn’t post your photo, you were untrustworthy. “I would never do business with someone who doesn’t have their photo on their LinkedIn profile,” stated one participant.

But what if there is something obvious in your headshot that would prejudice someone against doing business with you?

A National Bureau of Economic Research 2003 study on name discrimination tested employers’ responses to resumes and found that a white-sounding name yields as many return phone calls as eight additional years of experience.

Using your photo on your LinkedIn profile tells the world your race right away. It also makes your sex perfectly clear (no “Androgynous Pat” on LinkedIn) and gives a rough idea of your age.

Discussions about damaging information on social media accounts tend to focus on the casual sites where you might be apt to tweet “My boss looks like a plucked rooster” or post a photo of yourself drinking your fifth fuzzy navel. LinkedIn is where you put your best foot forward, seeking to create and enhance business relationships and often job opportunities. We don’t think of LinkedIn as a place that can damage one’s career — you always put your best foot forward and even get to approve or reject recommendations you’ve requested.

Has human nature changed substantially since 2003? What should you do if you’re black, or middle-aged like me, or if your name is Lakisha or Jamal? Can these basic bits of information damage you?

The LinkedIn discussion I read suggests that you’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t.

One of my favorite refrigerator-magnet sayings is “Drink coffee–do stupid things faster with more energy.” Similarly, social media can magnify injustice. Instead of being a great equalizer, it allows people who form opinions for the wrong reasons to do so faster.

What do you think? Does using the gray blob on your LinkedIn profile automatically make you seem sneaky?

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