Who Has the Best (and Worst) LinkedIn Profile Photos?

Results of the largest analysis of LinkedIn photo quality ever undertaken

In the age of ‘personal branding’, headshots aren’t just for actors anymore. A quick spin through LinkedIn proves that professional-grade profile photos are cropping up everywhere, from the corner office to the cube farm.

Savvy people have gotten the message: first impressions are important, and in a digital world, many develop new contacts through networking sites like LinkedIn. But not everyone has modernized their digital image, and we wanted to know who has caught on and who is lagging behind.

We have the data that can answer this question. At Snappr, we’ve studied how photo attributes inform viewer perceptions and developed a Photo Analyzer that tells users whether their LinkedIn photo is making a positive impression in a professional context. Our Analyzer is powered by artificial intelligence that evaluates portraits for things like expression (e.g. smile and jawline), composition (e.g. zoom and background), and photo quality (e.g. saturation and sharpness). These attributes are graded individually and incorporated into an overall photo quality score.

Our database contains tens of thousands of Photo Analyzer results and anonymized information from the LinkedIn profiles they’re attached to. We mined that database to identify the groups with the best-scoring photos.

According to our data, the best headshots should belong to newly hired (but well-connected) Chilean lawyers.

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Do some countries take better photos than others? We first grouped our sample based on nationality, filtered our list to countries that contributed at least 50 scores, and ranked them based on average overall photo score.

According to our Photo Analyzer, Chileans take the best profile pictures. A look at their individual attribute scores revealed that they earned the top spot by taking photos that were technically strong, with great saturation and brightness and neutral backgrounds.

Developed, politically stable nations make up the bulk of this ranking, but developing countries like Brazil and India show up too, demonstrating how accessible decent photography equipment is these days.

This ranking doesn’t bear a strong resemblance to rankings of physical attractiveness by country, but that makes sense: our analyzer calculates scores based only on features the subject has some control over.

We next asked whether photo quality varies with industry. We thought photos might be stronger for employees in people-oriented fields like sales and human resources, or among aesthetically-oriented creatives. We grouped our sample based on industry, calculated the average overall photo score for each group, and rank the top and bottom 10 below.

Workers with high-paying prestige positions in law, consulting, and investment banking take the best photos, according to our Photo Analyzer. They are joined, perhaps not surprisingly, by workers in broadcast media and people-oriented staffing and recruiting industries.

What is surprising is the ‘worst’ ranking, as photographers find themselves with the lowest average photo quality score. When shooting and editing their photos, these aesthetes may take creative liberties that don’t jibe with the science of what makes a good professional photo.

Photographers are joined in this ranking by other creatives - architects, fashion designers, and media producers - as well as professionals in behind-the-scenes industries like information services, machinery, and computer networking.

We associate some of the professions on the ‘best’ list with large firms that grant their employees access to a broad network, and that led us to wonder whether network size is correlated with photo quality. We grouped our sample based on the user’s number of LinkedIn connections and charted the average overall photo score for each group.

The more connected you are, the better your LinkedIn photo is likely to be. This doesn’t necessarily mean upgrading your photo will net you more friends, though. It’s likely that individuals with access to a wide network also have access to top-notch photography services. If they work at a large enough company, their employer may even arrange a headshot for them.

This ranking suggested that people with more seniority - who have been around longer to develop a wider network - might also have better profile photos, as determined by our Photo Analyzer. We explored this possibility by grouping our sample based on how long users had been in their current position and charted the average overall photo score for each group.

People with more seniority in their current positions actually have worse photos, on average, than newer employees. This makes some sense - technology has advanced since these veterans had reason to update their profile pictures. By the same token, recent hires will have been job-hunting recently, and had an incentive to invest in a high-quality photo.

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Keep in mind, our Photo Analyzer is a technical tool, not the final word on photographic artistry. Your portrait may very well deserve a space at the Met, but if it doesn’t follow the rule of thirds, have a neutral background, or showcase your dazzling smile, it won’t receive a high score. Research has shown that these attributes inspire positive impressions in viewers, and our Analyzer is designed to measure them.

But limitations aside, what did we find? We saw that professionals in law and management tend to have better photos than workers in creative or behind-the-scenes roles. Network size is positively correlated with photo quality, whereas length of tenure with present employer is correlated negatively.

So how does your photo stack up against the rest? Use our Photo Analyzer to find out.

Matt Schiller

Co-founder, Head of Product & Strategy