by Skyler Fike
It was my first year of high school—circa 2001—and as a course requirement the freshmen were obliged to take a class on leadership development. Mrs. Carpenter taught us all the essentials for making a good first impression. Shake hands this way. Say this. Don’t say that. Smile big. Look ‘em in the eye. Remember his or her name, etc. All things paving the path to employability. But her curriculum lacked the foresight to predict the biggest game-changer in the 21st century job hunt: the headshot.
Think back to a world where selfies didn’t exist. At the turn of the century, digital portraits didn’t matter all that much because the technology it took to produce them was either remarkably expensive or the hardware needed to support them wasn’t easily accessible. During this time—if you even had a cell phone—you were probably using one of those little Nokia flip phones. Or if you were cool and your parents were rich, you had a Razr (side note: if you want to make something techy sound cool, take out the “e” before the “r”. It seems like both Razr and Grindr are really onto something here, Tinder missed out on the fun.). The newly integrated back-of-the-phone (i.e. not front-facing) cameras were just being integrated into mobile technology. Those crummy, low-resolution images of your thumb covering the lens are hard to forget.
Beyond that, DSLR cameras were just becoming a thing. And it wasn’t even until the mid 90’s that the first Canon Digital SLR was released, and at a nearly $14,000 price point (which in 2015 dollars would be about $22,000). But then, in the mid-2000’s, the insane surge of tech into our simple world blasted into shreds the analog methodologies of many of the workforce’s professionals. This digital shake-up forever changed how employers hire and how they view potential employees themselves. It also changed the way photographers produced, distributed, and shared their work.
In other words, sweet Mrs. Carpenter could not have really known to tell us the importance of getting a headshot because:
- LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and avatars in general did not exist.
- It was neither affordable nor easily accessible.
- The demand for headshots was filled primarily by actors and musicians, and this was typically for print, not digital.
- There just wasn’t a reason as a professional to get one. Your printed resume containing proof of your education, merit, and experience, were, besides a face-to-face interview, the factors determining not just employability, but desirability.
But in a culture where image is everything, the digital shift launched employability to a new and daunting starting place: your face.
Yes, your face. Your headshot is now the handshake before the handshake. And thanks to technology and the web it has likely become the handshake before your resume is even reviewed.
But why? And why now?
Getting a headshot can say a number of key things about you. First and foremost, it says that you care. Shallow as it may seem in our deviation from the “what you know” professional culture, your headshot—like your handshake, will tell whoever sees it everything they need to know to make their next move.
Secondly, it says something about your status. Throughout history, people with money were the ones getting fancy pictures taken. Just like people with money flew in the air before every-man options like Southwest Airlines existed. Fortunately, the status aspect having a great portrait taken hasn’t changed much, but the price aspect to achieve it has, and for the better. The only thing that you now have to watch out for in our oversaturated landscape of photographers is quality, cost, and the relationship between the two.
And why all this now? Because now it matters. I want you to imagine your next potential employer visiting your LinkedIn profile and seeing a photo that you screenshotted from the last wedding you attended. Yep, the one of you on the dance floor, cropped just around the outer perimeter of your face to cover up everyone else’s champagne glasses in the frame. It’s like Tinder for the job force – you’re only one swipe away from being exiled into the fired-before-you’re-hired zone. Can you hear that self-destructive left swipe? Swish. “NOPE.”
Look, you need a headshot to make it in the professional world—period. It’s more than just a marketing tool, it’s a powerful representation of who you are. Unless you’ve reduced your digital footprint down to the size of Ron Swanson’s, I promise, they will find you. Expense and time are no longer viable excuses nor is that snapshot from your friend’s wedding.
So do yourself a favor: Put down your resume, get off your ass, and go get a headshot. Your future self will thank you. And Mrs. Carpenter will be proud.