Professional headshots can be a minefield – especially if you take them too seriously

 
Benedict Spence
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Source: Getty

TAKE a look at that picture of me. No tie or jacket. Not even a shirt for that matter. Hair a little on the louche side. Facing the camera squarely. Chin jutting out a bit, if we’re honest. And pixels. Lots of pixels.


It’s not a professional photo, either in standard or purpose.

But it’s the best photo of me I have – certainly better than the one that graced these pages before it, featuring an unwashed freelance journalist in a 1990s German football jersey, desperately trying to take a passable selfie to send to an impatient editor.

Such are the pitfalls of being without a professional headshot. God forbid you end up somewhere prestigious, like the pages of City A.M. But at least it’s clear to everyone that I belong to a cohort of unkempt people. You’ll judge, but only up to a point. “He’s freelance, poor guy,” you’ll say to yourself. “He probably had to borrow that coat.”

But headshots are a minefield in the professional sphere, regardless of how good they are. In fact, the more professional, the more room there is to err.


You’d think that a suit and tie would be a safe bet. But you’d be wrong. Smart, approachable, professional and friendly? No, just an opportunity for the suit snobs to judge you.

And for everyone else, it shows a lack of originality, and frames your facial expression. You want to hide the fact that your face isn’t symmetrical, you don’t want to draw attention to the double chin or patchy beard. How, exactly, is one meant to achieve this with a crisp collar and razor-sharp lapels?

We’re all vulnerable when trying to look professional, and there is a tendency to over-analyse both ourselves and others.

A raised eyebrow here or a flared nostril there could signal you’re a trouble-maker or a boot-licker.

Too much hair gel? You’re a barbarian who spends Saturday in Wetherspoons drinking Carling and blowing money on accumulators.

Nose stud? You take slam poetry seriously and do all your shopping in vintage stores.

Goodness knows how Generation Z are going to cope. Is a cat snapchat filter meant to betray professional openness, ruthlessness, or that you’re a furry at the weekend?

MPs, of course, have it tougher than most. We’ve all seen the official portraits of Michael Gove with the expression of a man who’s just found a Toblerone in his glove compartment, or Peter Aldous after a close encounter with an electric fence.

But in many ways, the mockery that came with those pictures did them all a favour. Being caught in a slightly off moment can be a good way to show your human side. Not in a “down with the kids” way, not when it’s overly staged – and certainly not when it involves a baseball cap or a bacon sandwich. But not insisting on looking flawless made these MPs seem more approachable, more human.

So many politicians come across as self-important (the House of Commons speaker being the obvious example). It’s a good life lesson not to, as John Bercow may one day realise.

Showing your humanity, your awkwardness, is as important in work as it is in life. It’s tough, but people who show their true selves earn trust, and that trust is rewarded.

Not taking your pictures too seriously, even on your LinkedIn, is a good first step. The City, Westminster, Brexit; life is stressful enough without trying to take the perfect photo.

And unless you’re a professional model or extremely lucky, the more you agonise, the more obvious it will be that you’re trying too hard.

Keep it simple. High resolution if it’s going on paper, clear, with neutral clothing. Try not to look too solemn or silly. No football shirts.

And even if you are a furry, absolutely no cat filters.