Yup, Without Even Knowing You're Doing It

Why is it you still breathe when you're sleeping? I know, an odd question to ask. Well when I was younger, these kinds of questions popped up now and then. I've always been interested in why we do the things we do. Better yet, why do we do things without even thinking about it all the time.

Enter The Reptilian Brain

The subconscious, also known as the unconscious mind as labeled by Freud, is pretty powerful. Its roots stem in part from our genes but mostly by our experiences as we were growing up. These experiences as we grow, determine how we see the world and our place in it. These preconceived ideas dictate how we react to situations and it happens faster than the blink of an eye. Some call it a knee-jerk reaction.

The unconscious, however, can be primed to react certain ways. Take for example a study performed at Yale University where students were manipulated by a stranger prior to answering a question. On route to the study, students were bumped into by a laboratory assistant who was holding textbooks and a coffee. Some were holding a piping hot coffee, others were holding a cold iced coffee. The student was asked to hold the cup of coffee while the assistant picked up the books from the floor. Later in the study, the students were asked to describe a hypothetical person they simply read about. Interestingly enough, the students that held the iced coffee described the hypothetical person as being "colder, less social and more selfish" than the students that had momentarily held the hot cup of coffee.

So how does this all apply to headshots you ask?

The first thing you need to understand is your headshot isn't actually for you. It's for the viewer of it. So you need to create your headshot with the viewer in mind. Have you heard of the term "bitch face"? Have you ever walked down the street, a person walks past and You jump to the side and think, "whoa, she's not having a good day!" or, "Geez, I'd hate to bump into him in a dark alley!" These are all examples of your brain's unconscious kicking in and applying an emotion or feeling to what you are looking at. With headshots, we want to take advantage of that knee-jerk reaction but instead, evoke a specific reaction that positions you to your favor.

Here's The Best Part

That reaction is a fine balance of emotions where you appear both confident and approachable at the same time. If you are too skewed towards confidence, they'll sense a bad attitude. If you are too skewed towards approachability, they'll sense inexperience. All without speaking or meeting you in person yet.

Before I go, do yourself a favor and take a look at your headshot. Show it to friends and family and ask them to describe the emotion they feel from it. Really get them to think about it, "it's a nice picture" isn't going to cut it. Ask them for an honest emotion. A single word will do.

If you'd like to read more about the unconscious mind and how amazing it is, go check out this short article.

I've had a lot of time thinking about what makes a headshot work and the experience to solidify all the little pieces that go into building what I like to call, a successful headshot. But first, let's talk about what the big deal is about headshots. I mean, do you really need one? Is it really that important that you pay someone to take a picture of you? Let's look there first.

Do me a favor and go grab any magazine that's close by. I'll wait. Got one? Good. First, turn to an ad in the page that has a picture of a person. Got one? OK, great. Look at that picture for a minute or two and think about where that picture came from. Now, let's ask the question. Do you think that someone popped out their iPhone and snapped a pic of that person? Do you think the company that is being advertised just told their marketing department to go grab any old picture of a person and make it a full page ad in the such and such magazine? I seriously doubt it.

No, here's what most likely went on there:

All these people were involved in making that advertisement. For what? To get you interested in what they have to offer you.

Let's take another look in that magazine. Flip through and find an interview article. Got one? OK, great. Now, that first page of the article, the picture of the person the article is on, let's look at that picture for a minute. Now ask yourself, was it a picture of that person at their cousin's wedding last summer - with their significant others arm draped on their shoulder - but he's not in the shot - because he's been cropped out - because he’s, as it were, “not in the picture anymore”? No, no, no! It's most likely an amazing shot of them in a cool studio somewhere looking fantastic, right? Again, it wasn't just a picture of the person snapped at some random moment. It was a carefully planned photo shoot designed to present that person in a way that makes you want to read the article. It was designed to evoke a certain feeling in the viewer. A feeling that might make you want to get to know that person more or even, silly as it sounds, be that person.

So, now let's chat about your headshot, and if you really need one. Let's see, your current headshot, is it a snapshot taken at a family or friend's wedding? Is it a picture of you when you were on holiday in Greece last year? Ok, I know, it's a picture of you at graduation five years ago. Am I right?

Here's the tie-in. You don't have to be in a magazine in order to be considered marketing yourself. You're marketing yourself all the time. If you're part of the corporate crowd, you most definitely have a profile up on LinkedIn. That profile is going to have a picture of you up there. That job you applied for a week ago, yeah, they looked at your LinkedIn profile, and what popped right up the hiring managers face? Your profile picture, that's what! Did you know that hiring managers and talent scouts take 20% of the time reviewing a LinkedIn profile looking entirely at the profile picture? Considering it's only seconds that are spent reading a profile, 20% is a lot of time and attention taken away from reading your skill set. It's become more commonplace these days to hire someone based on the personality of a person and how they would work in a team, not necessarily their skill set. You can gather a lot more information on someone's personality from their headshot than you can from a list of skills.

Bottom line, when it comes to your online presence, understand that you are always marketing yourself. You need a headshot that presents you in a positive way. While any headshot photographer can take a picture of you, just any old picture won't do. There needs to be a certain quality to the shot. One that is hard to put into words, but you'll know it when you see it. I've seen a lot of headshots in my time, and many of them are just plain terrible. Yeah, the person may be smiling and their makeup is done. But is there life to the shot? I've seen so many headshots that look like there's nobody home! Maybe an example might help illustrate what I'm talking about.

Nobody's Home!Now There's Character!

It's a subtle difference, but it's a difference that makes a huge impact. Most people discount it because they don't realize. It's all subconscious. But that's a whole other article that I'm working on. Til then, check your social and professional profiles and look at the headshots you have up there. They could be sabotaging your successes.


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