Personal Branding: Using a Headshot to Portray a Professional Image to Employers


Graduation day - or perhaps the decision to go for a mid-career change - has finally come. After years of effort, hopes are high that you will land that dream job!! Yet there are questions too.

What can you do to project a professional image?

How do you make a good first impression?

How do you set yourself apart from the crowd so you're more likely to be hired?

To land that dream job successfully, you need answers to these crucial questions, so Focal Flame Photography (FFP) asked long-time Career Services Professional, Jill Wesley, for some advice.

Focal Flame Photography:  With electronic media becoming crucial in the job search, how important is a professional career portrait to compliment the work experience, qualifications, and skills one presents to a potential employer?

Jill Wesley: “By the time the employer meets you, they have already checked your LinkedIn profile and searched  other online sources (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) to learn about you. The image you project online is very important and professional photography is part of that image.”

FFP: What do you tell grads just entering the workforce about making a great first impression?

JW: “Understand the norms of your industry and dress for the environment you will be working in. Check out websites for your field and view the LinkedIn profiles of people in your target industry to see how they present themselves and match it.”

Jill went on to provide these tips for dressing for success.

Business majors, looking to land a job in the financial, consulting, legal, or hospitality industries, should expect to wear full business attire. Anything else will be viewed by a potential employer as overly casual and thus unacceptable. This means:

For men:  A suit, tie, and shined shoes; clean shaven or neatly trimmed facial hair.

For women:  A skirt, closed toe shoes with a low heel, and hose. Jewelry should be compact and simple.

Both sexes: Cover tattoos and remove piercings, with the exception of one pair of earrings for women.

In more creative fields, such as music, computer programming, advertising, PR, and marketing, industry norms might be a little more relaxed. Prospective employers are likely looking for a little personality in the image your present; they want to detect some of the creativity you might bring to the work place.

Be careful not to be too casually, though. There may be more leeway to dress wild, yet in most cases, it is better to tone it down and go conservative to make a better first impression. Business casual is more appropriate for an interview.

Jill adds, " You want to present a professional image but not be too stuffy. . Put in the effort to check the norms for your industry and cultivate that image. If you have any doubts about what is appropriate to wear, dress up a little."

FFP: Is a professional portrait important to set one apart from the crowd?

JW: "It used to be that only upper level professionals had to have professional headshots. Now prospective employers will view your LinkedIn profile and your blog if you have one, so it is important for everyone to have a headshot...You will notice a BIG difference in the image projected by a professional headshot and a random party shot."

FFP: What are some of the common mistakes you see job applicants make?

JW: "Presenting too casual an image...You can always dress down by taking off a jacket or tie; it's harder to dress up if do not have what you need with you."  Closely related is taking the whole job hunt process too casually.

Jill concluded the interview by adding that "a professional portrait would be a great gift for a college graduate." It is an investment in their career future — one that would "set them apart from other graduates that might not realize the importance of a professional image."

Focal Flame Photography is currently booking professional headshot sessions. What's included?

  • A consultation with our photographer where we discuss the purpose and intended use of your portrait
  • One hour of Madison photographer Clint Thayer's undivided time and attention, in a location of your choosing, indoors or out
  • Web-ready digital images of up to two different poses capturing your desired professional image

 For more information, to purchase a gift certificate, or to schedule a session, call 608-772-0048 or e-mail us

Need tips on what to wear to your portrait session? Click here for ideas! Watch this Blog space for information about how to portray yourself at different stages of your career, and learn more about professional headshot sessions.