Even if your resume is perfect, your references are in tip-top and your job skills are up to date, new research suggests employers and others could still find reasons to dislike you.
Last month, Seoyeon Hong, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, released a study about user perception of Facebook profile pictures. The study, originally published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, evaluated the influence of user comments and internal "social cues" and found they had a significant impact on perceptions of physical, social and professional attractiveness.
Active Pictures Are Better Liked
According to the author, “People tend to rely more on other-generated information than self-generated information when forming impressions." In short, most people want to be told what to think. You can start the ball rolling with "social cues" that give a peek into the outrageously interesting person you are – maybe a picture of yourself with a guitar or a surfboard.
Bait the hook, and users will bite. According to the report, the author "found that people with Facebook profile photos that include social cues were perceived as more physically and socially attractive than people with profile photos that were plain headshots." I do things, therefore you will like me. Bam.
Positive Comments Will Make Strangers Like You
But don't stop there. There's safety in numbers, so to get the herd mentality working in your favor, you'll want to conscript legions of friends into your positive-comment gang. "No matter what the profile owner does to tailor their Facebook page, comments left on their page from other users should be monitored as well. Positive comments are very helpful, but negative remarks can be very damaging, even if they are silly or sarcastic." So yes on the "OMG Luv the Hair!" but nix the snarky comments from your frat brothers.
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Beyond the pruning the obvious offenders (like deleting inflammatory posts from crazy exes), should any of this matter to you? Do you really need to cultivate a comment network and turn every Facebook photo into your own private Yelp?
Will It Keep You From Getting The Job?
To find out, I showed the report to an human resources director with more than 20 years of recruiting experience - who asked not to be named. Her reaction was fairly dismissive:
I think that the recruiter/hiring manager could certainly not help but get an impression from the profile photo (or other photos of the candidate), but I would not expect 'comments on profile photos' to be any strong special determining factor. It just seems really hard to generalize, and I don't doubt those Missouri people were able to get the results they got in a test lab setting, but I wonder about how significant their findings are for the real world.
It seems the comments angle might be overblown, and recruiters, at least, ought to be able to resist peer pressure.
Be True To Yourself
But what about the internal social cues? Could semi-subliminal messaging really work? Let's say you do decide to roll the dice and tweak your profile pics, just in case. Here's a tip from a PR pro: don't try too hard or you'll let people down.
According to Diane Schreiber, Senior Managing Director at Sparkpr, "In today's social world, it is best to provide a true perception of you. If you try to PR your profile photo and it doesn't reflect who you are, its just going to be a disappointment in the end."
So, assuming you actually like rock-climbing – a shot of you at the climbing gym might make you seem athletic. But that picture of you BASE jumping with a beer in your hand? That just makes you look like a tool.