How a Bad Profile Photo Can Kill Your Career. Seriously.

Last Updated Dec 10, 2010 3:00 PM EST

I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but in the business world, appearances are everything. And if your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social-network profile photo looks unprofessional, well, so do you.

I'm basing this on an e-mail pitch I just received from a PR flack. Because I installed the awesome Outlook Social Connector a while back, I now see each sender's Facebook or LinkedIn profile photo just below their e-mail.

The flack was writing to pitch a new VoIP service, which normally would be of some interest. But his profile photo -- unshaven, reclining on a couch, wearing a ratty t-shirt -- made him look so unprofessional, I had a hard time taking the pitch seriously.

The thing is, he probably didn't know his Facebook pic would show up in my inbox -- but that's his mistake.

Don't let it be yours. Always assume that any social-network photo of you can and will be viewed by your potential employer, your current employer, your clients, the blogger you're pitching, and so on. You probably dress like a million bucks for work, so don't look like a slob on the Internet.

Recipe for the perfect profile photo: a simple, well-lit headshot of you wearing a smile and something dressy. Anything else and you could jeopardize a sale, a promotion, or even a job.

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    Rick Broida, a technology writer for more than 20 years, is the author of more than a dozen books. In addition to writing CNET's The Cheapskate blog, he contributes to CNET's iPhone Atlas.