When was the last time you updated your Facebook profile picture? You might want to take a look at it to make sure that it is an attractive and smiling likeness of you. New research shows that not only do employers look you up on Facebook, but their decision about whether or not to interview you can be directly influenced by your profile picture.

Academics from Ghent University studied whether employers actually used Facebook in their initial candidate screening. For this research, they sent fake applications in to actual job ads. They also created Facebook accounts for their fictitious applicants that only had their profile pictures publicly visible.

These pictures had been chosen after being rated by a committee of 200 people for their levels of attractiveness and personality traits. For example, a photo of a smiling man against the background of a blue sky was rated as the most attractive, while a picture of a man who wasn’t smiling and had his arms folded across his chest was deemed to be the least attractive.

The resumes associated with the fake applications all had the exact same credentials. The only information available about the candidates online was their Facebook profile pictures.

“The candidate with the most favorable Facebook profile picture received approximately 21% more positive responses to his application in comparison to the candidate with the least favorable profile picture,”

    • said Professor Stijn Baert of Ghent University.

“The difference in the chance to be immediately invited to a job interview even amounted to almost 40%.”


The study also found that more highly-educated people are more likely to be screened online than those with less education. That could be connected to the fact that for more senior roles personality and cultural fit play a greater importance in hiring choices. However, contrary to what the researchers had been expecting, employers didn’t look more often on Facebook for jobs that involved a great deal of customer interactions.

While you can’t change what you actually look like, especially if you’re looking for a new job, you can choose your public social media profile pictures carefully. Put down the beer or the bong. Being fully clothed is important, as is smiling and projecting positive body language.

Here at Workopolis we actually passed over a potential candidate once because he was wearing only a sock (not on his foot) in his profile pic. As I said at the time, it’s not that we care what you do on your own time. It’s that you’re so unsavvy about media and marketing as to make it your public image while looking for a job.

My colleague Elizabeth has created an infographic on how to choose a profile picture (and some common blunders to avoid).

She also wrote a piece on how to take a good selfie, for which she photographed herself like 100 times that day. She thinks about this stuff a lot.


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