4 ways your LinkedIn photo is an impostor


How my guilt over being an impostor forced me to change my photo.

Will the real John Smith stand up? You’ve probably seen it before. You see someone’s photo on LinkedIn, you meet him in public, and notice that he barely resembles his photo. A bit older. Somewhat heavier. He’s an impostor.

Portrait, young business man

We’ve all been there. People look significantly different than they’re portrayed on their LinkedIn profile, almost to the point where we don’t recognize them in a crowd of people (one reason to have a photo is to be recognizable). You feel like you’ve been duped…hoodwinked.

An Impostor I met

I tell a story to my LinkedIn workshop attendees about a time when I met the real John Smith (not his real name). Weeks before meeting him I saw his photo on LinkedIn. I thought that the man portrayed on LinkedIn was young and muscular, but when I saw him in person he was older and thin.

Whether out of spite or because it just popped out of my mind, I said, “John, you don’t look anything like your LinkedIn profile.” Shortly after, I noticed that his photo changed to one that was more recent.

The Impostor I am

I experienced the other end of the Impostor Syndrome when I was leading an Advanced LinkedIn workshop. I showed them my profile pointing out that I have a photo, and one attendee told me I look older in person than I do in the photo. Ouch.

I passed off being an Impostor by telling the group I hadn’t had the time, nor resources to get a professional photo taken. It still stung when I was told I look younger in my photo. Maybe it’s because my current photo is at least four years old.

What makes one an Impostor?

Four possible thoughts cross my mind when I encounter an Impostor.

  • He is vain. This is the worst kind in my mind. Pride is listed as one of the 7 deadly sins. Vanity is a form of pride. As my father said, “We enter this world naked and we leave it naked.” As Popeye said, “I Yam What I Yam.” Why should we pretend to be someone different?
  • He doesn’t realize that eventually he’ll be outed (as in my story). I’ve entered many a room where someone says, “Hi Bob.” Not caring much about etiquette, I respond by asking who they are. I learn that they’ve seen me on LinkedIn. It’s flattering, while at the same time a little creepy. People do recognize you on social media, so you will be outed, if you don’t update your profile.
  • He doesn’t realize that honesty is the basis for networking. One point I make in my Advanced LinkedIn workshop is that those who don’t have a photo on their profile will not be trusted as those who do. To gain complete trust, don’t put up a photo of you in college when you’re 20 years beyond those golden years. What does this say about your trustworthiness?
  • He isn’t concerned about branding himself. Your photo is a way to brand yourself in a positive light. It can tell people about your personality; it really can. My photo, old and new, I’ve always felt it tells people that I’m caring and nurturing, and, hopefully, wise. Others can brand people as authoritative, creative, serious, intelligent, etc.

Lately I’ve been struggling with the Impostor Syndrome. You see, I have a photo that is at least four years old. Since getting it taken, I’ve added some wrinkles and gained white facial hair. Oh, I’ve also gained some weight (gulp).

I’m no longer an Impostor


I’d like to say that I haven’t gotten my photo retaking because of financial reasons, but who am I kidding? I haven’t gotten it retaking because I’m vain. I don’t like how I look and don’t want my ugly self being part of my branding—I mean everyone looks so great.

So recently I had a colleague take the photo of the real me. He took it with his own camera in plentiful lighting, and he even blurred the background. I appreciate his willingness to do this, as well as his encouragement, but I’m not too fond of my true image.

Here’s why: the faults I mentioned above show brilliantly clear. His camera is of great quality. He has a steady hand. Basically there’s no excuse for why I look like I do. I guess I’m vain. One of the seven deadly sins. I’m doomed.

So what do I do? Do I continue to go with the older me, or do I present the real me (the photo included)?

If you care to weigh in, I would appreciate it.

First Photo: Flickr, Kathy Tarochione

Photo: Tim O’Connor


22 thoughts on “4 ways your LinkedIn photo is an impostor

  1. Kathy Worgul

    Bob, I love all of your posts. You have great ideas and very practical help; those are the real you. Imposters can’t deliver the goods, but your ongoing history of excellent advice are proof that the photo doesn’t matter. What counts is the consistency of your honest and valuable guidance for those who depend on it. I am as delighted with this article as I have been with all the others. Those who are swayed by the outer realities just don’t have their priorities in the right place…and, fyi, I’ve been wrestling with this myself. Just today I looked at my photo with the same critical eye. But I think now I rest my case.


    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Thanks, Kathy. I try to keep the advice real to the best of my knowledge. As far as your profile goes, I encourage you to go all out. If you’re the Kathy Worgul with the photo, it’s a nice photo that shows you’re affable and kind. It’s a good image of you, but you must wonder if the background is too busy, as I wonder the same about mine.


  2. sandraclark100390066

    I’d rather see the “real” you. I tell my clients they should look like themselves on a good day but not their best day (e.g. not their wedding day or their kids’ wedding day) and that someone who’d seen them on LinkedIn could easily approach them, knowing who they are. On at least 2 occasions I’ve gone to an event and met the speaker before the meeting began and had no idea I was talking to the presenter as they looked nothing like their photo in the promotional material.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. vlbrown

      I would agree that this is the real test. Not “you look younger / older / thinner / fatter” in your photo, but “Could I find you in a coffee shop where we were meant to meet, based on your photo?”


  3. Shawn Oliver

    Hi Bob, I absolutely believe that we should see the real you. Vain or not, you are not alone in the way you are thinking; and I don’t mean your picture. I think many of us feel the same way about our pictures. It seems that pictures used to only be for school and now they are everywhere and need to be professionally taken. Is there a guideline of how often you should update your picture?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kathy Worgul

    Bob, I’ve been following you for years, and you have consistently provided excellent advice and help to your readers. This, I believe, is the litmus test to being the real deal, not any photo or image of the outer covering. I was wrestling with this very thing today, and after reading your post, I’m resting my case for myself as well. Keep providing the quality of practical job search advice you’re known for and I see “no worries” ahead, no matter the look.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nancy A. Locke

    Love the new pic! You’re right, of course and getting a new headshot (pro, this time) is now on my list of to-dos. Vanity has less to do with it than a profound aversion to cameras since … forever. I’m the “gone fishing” gal in the yearbook, the (very short) shorty standing just behind the biggest and the broadest, the one just begging to take the picture even if I lack the necessary skills.


  6. Things Career Related Post author

    Thanks, Nancy. My brother was like you, in that he didn’t want his picture taking. It drove my father nuts. The whole family would be standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, and Michael would be walking in the other direction.


    1. vlbrown

      In my family, growing up, we had three kinds of pictures:
      – posed pictures of the daughters (or visiting cousins, etc)
      – unposed casual shots that contained family members (e.g. birthdays)
      – pictures of where we were (a park, a landmark, etc) which did NOT contain people.

      Your brother would have fit right in.


  7. Linda

    Pics are always tough for me, too.
    But honestly, now that I’m older and everyone knows it,
    I don’t worry about it the way I used to. I like your
    natural, casual look. It makes you very approachable!


  8. vlbrown

    One thing you didn’t mention, that a lot of people don;t know, is that LinkedIn has specific guidelines and conditions for profile photos! They don’t require that your photo be this year’s picture, but they do specify that your photo is to help people recognize you!

    “We provide you with the opportunity to add a photograph to your profile to help others recognize you. Your photo can be removed by LinkedIn if your profile image doesn’t include your likeness or a headshot photo.” https://www.linkedin.com/help/linkedin/answer/430/profile-photo-guidelines-and-conditions

    My previous company had similar conditions for our online company directory and, constituting a smaller overall population than LI, people often found this out the hard way when their photos of dogs, babies, cartoons, or themselves from a distance or in a ski mask were summarily removed and replaced with their corporate badge photo.


    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Vicki, I remember the rule stating that nothing other than one’s head shot or as close to is allowed. In fact, I had an image of a soccer ball until LinkedIn took it down. Why doesn’t LinkedIn do the same with company logos.


  9. vlbrown

    In all social media platforms _except_ LinkedIn, my avatar is either a cat, a cartoon of me, or a cartoon of me with cats. Only LI uses an actual photo. (I also don’t take selfies.)


  10. DarleneO25

    Hey Bob! You are great no matter which photo you go with. I have always been a bit shy about photos. My candid shots always turn out better then posed ones. I am horrified that we live in the age of the selfie!
    I am a cheerleader for reality. A photo is a snapshot of a moment in time. If it is posed I feel that is a bit untruthful. A cheat of the real occurrence. I know I am in the minority on this as proven by the popularity of Instagram and YouTube. With me – what you see is what you get and I will always lean toward that.


  11. Pingback: 10 LinkedIn New Year resolutions I know I WILL achieve — Things Career Related | JOB Houston

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