Yesterday I posted a simple question on Facebook:
“Help me friends! Time to pick a professional headshot: 1 or 2?”
I’m amused and embarrassed that this post got so much attention — 134 people answered. I actually had to make a decision quite quickly, and gave my answer to the photographer after receiving the first ~30 responses (the whole point of the shoot was to get materials ready for Sonation’s next PR push). But as people continued to vote and comment, I started looking for patterns. As an inquisitive person and a former consultant, I decided to do some formal analysis.
Most people who commented thought that #1 was more “warm and inviting” while #2 was more “professional.” Here are the exact descriptors:
- “you look more confident in the first picture because you’re facing the camera head on”
- “your face is brighter”
- “looks more natural!”
- “looks more happy and friendly”
- “you’re smiling with your eye in the first one, which is a real smile”
- “Love the first one bc you look so genuinely happy and super approachable!”
- “1 is a bit more warm and inviting”
- “2 has a good 3/4 angle”
- “2 looks little more like a business professional to me”
- “you’re smiling with your mouth in the second one, which implies that you’re just posing for the camera”
- “2 has the better angle when it comes to 3/4 lighting as you’re turned more, which slims down the face”
- “2 is a bit more professoinal and polished”
- “2 is more sophisticated and more professionally polished”
- “For business wise, 2 is better”
One of my close friends, Andrew Gonzales, offered more detailed thoughts:
Some commentary on my earlier vote. If more natural and inviting, #1. If more sober and professional, #2, though slight left-eye squint bothers me a little, haha. #1 is the person I interact with at CG and what people will eventually see if they spend enough time with you, even in a business setting. This is why I probably prefer #1. It’s more genuine to the person I know. #2 is more of a “let’s make a good first impression”, “let’s trade business cards” kind of look. Both are appropriate, one more than the other depending on context.
And as an aside, brownie points to everyone who gave the can’t-go-wrong answer when a woman asks you to judge their appearance:
- “Both great! I would vote for X”
- “I like both! If I had to choose, probably X”
- “Both are awesome”
- “X. Both are great, though”
Another aside: brownie points to Sam Lee for this funny reference when the thread started getting bloated.
this is like the yellow or blue dress 🙂
Now for the fun part.
Overall, 32% voted for #1. 68% voted for #2. As I mentioned before, n = 134.
I wanted to see if there was a correlation between people’s answers and their gender, closeness of friendship with me, whether or not I had a crush on them at some point, whether or not they were “artsy,” and other factors. My statistician friends would do a much better job but here are some rudimentary findings.
- 58% of respondents were female, 42% were male.
- Women leaned more heavily toward #2 while men were more even. Only 27% of women chose #1, while 40% of men chose #1.
Almost all respondents were either Asian or Caucasian. No differences in the #1 vs #2 split. I thought there might be different standards on which picture was better, but I guess not.
Closeness of friendship
- About half of respondents were “distant” friends — people I haven’t talked to in a long time and don’t know very well. A quarter were at a “medium” level of friendship — people I know fairly well and talk to maybe once every few months. 13% were “recent” friends — people I’ve met in the past few months. 8% were “close” friends — people I talk to on a weekly basis, or have shared significant parts of my life with in the past.
- 77% of “distant” friends chose #2.
- Both “medium” and “recent” friends were almost evenly split on #1 and #2, leaning slightly toward #2.
- 64% of “close” friends chose #2.
I thought my close friends would be more likely to choose #1 because as Andrew said, that is the person he sees every week and is more genuine to the person he knows. Interesting to see there’s still a preference for #2, but as some people stated, they thought #2 would better serve the purpose of presenting me professionally. It may not be reflective of which one they actually like better.
I debated whether or not to add this dimension, but I thought it could be pretty funny. Among the guys who responded, there were some who I have been interested in at one point or another. I wondered if there would be any agreement in their responses, if they saw me a certain way. There actually was, but I won’t specify which picture was preferred. 75% of them took a particular side while 25% took the other.
I have a lot of friends who are musical or artistic in some way. I wondered if they would have a different perspective, since artists also have to take headshots and present themselves professionally — but they might have a different idea of what a professional look is.
- 22% of respondents were “artsy” — meaning they were professional musicians, music students, amateurs who practice a lot, artists, designers, etc.
- 62% of my artsy friends picked #1, vs. only 24% of my non-artsy friends.
Seems to say that artistic people do have a different idea of what a professional headshot should look like.
High school, college, HBS
I wondered if people who I met at different phases of my life would have different opinions. The number of respondents among my high school, college and HBS circles were roughly the same.
- My high school friends had a strong preference for #2 (80%).
- My college friends were almost evenly split between #1 and #2, leaning slightly toward #1.
- My HBS friends also had a strong preference for #2 (77%).
Not sure how to explain the high school and college difference. But for business school, I presume that most of my friends have a pretty solid idea of what a professional headshot should look like, and #2 fits the bill better.
Following my previous post on “doing things we love within the things we love,” this has been my creative rumination for this week. It was fun to study people’s perceptions across various lines. And to note the tension between gendered descriptors like “warm and inviting” and the supposedly gender-neutral but usually-male position of a CEO or startup founder.
Like Andrew said, I hope people “will eventually see the real me if they spend enough time with me, even in a business setting.” And maybe that begins with a picture.