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Make yourself more likable, trustworthy, confident, successful, and influential — backed by science.

Readtime: 2.5 minutes

In just one tenth of a second…

We make dozens of judgements about a stranger’s face.

…how attractive, likable, approachable, trustworthy, confident, competent, successful, influential, and dominant the person is.

Psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov from Princeton did a series of experiments in 2006 to figure this out.

They also found that looking at a face for longer doesn’t significantly change our impressions.

Other studies have found that various things influence how people see us — our expressions, eyes, jawline, posture, angle, lighting, and clothing.

(Source links are at the bottom.)

Let’s look at some of the findings:

I’ve condensed a bunch of findings for you:


Big natural laugh or smile showing your teeth
→ more likable and approachable

Smiling eyes (i.e. a natural smile; the Duchenne smile)
→ more sincere and trustworthy

Squint your eyes slightly
→ more confident and comfortable (wide eyes show fear)

Define your jawline with a shadow under it
→ more likable and competent

Head-and-shoulders or head-to-waist photo
→ more competent and influential

Wear nice clothes (especially dark suit and light button shirt)
→ more influential with a higher status

Make your photo asymmetrical (e.g. looking away, rule of thirds)
→ more interesting and memorable

Look where you want people to look
→ points the viewer’s eye (e.g. to a headline or button)


Obscure your eyes with sunglasses
→ less likable

Obscure your eyes with hair, glare, shadow, etc.
→ less competent and influential

Zoom in for a close-up of your face
→ less likable

Zoom out to show your full body
→ less competent and influential

Interesting note: Black and white photos didn’t have any significant effect — positive or negative.

Of course, it all depends on YOU…

Who’s your audience?

What’s your personality?

Maybe the teeth-smiling suit-wearing head-and-shoulder thing just isn’t for you!

…and that’s totally fine.

Your picture has to be consistent with your brand.

From my own experience in positioning and identity…

  • Presenting yourself differently from everyone else makes you more noticeable and memorable.

Now, let’s look at some excellent examples in the wild…

Excellent Profile Pic Examples

→ Amy Cuddy
Social psychologist, author, and speaker

  • Eyes at the camera, slightly squinting

  • Natural smile with teeth

  • Nice clothing, styled hair, red lipstick, earrings,

  • Relaxed posture, leaning forward and to the side a bit

  • Simple background; colour compliments hair and skin tone

→ Bill Gardner
Graphic designer, speaker, and author

  • Eyes at the camera,

  • Playful and reassuring expression

  • Great colourful shirt; top button open

  • Distinctive hairstyle (love the coif, Bill 😉)

  • Relaxed posture; head at an angle

  • Simple background; colour compliments hair and skin tone

→ Jessie van Breugel
Brand strategist and copywriter

  • Natural laugh and smiling eyes

  • Relaxed posture; slightly leaning to the side

  • Dark shirt

  • Simple brand colour background

→ Ross Simmonds
Marketer, speaker, SaaS & B2B tech investor, writer

  • Unique expression that shows personality

  • Relaxed posture; slightly leaning to the side

  • Great lighting and depth of field (i.e. face is sharp but shoulders aren’t)

  • Dark shirt on dark background, but still has enough contrast

Want some feedback on your profile pic?

I’ll give you my honest feedback.

🤖 Robert

P.S. OK Cupid found that men may actually benefit from looking away from camera — I wonder if it makes them seem less dominant and more approachable 🤷‍♂️

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