Is There a 7-Second Rule?

"Why does a selfie makes my nose look so big?"

  • Dec 5, 2018
  • Paul Richardson

You have seven seconds.

As the internet would like you to know, this is how long you have to make a first impression. And that holds not just for a meeting in person, but for a website or LinkedIn profile as well. Except, hold on… another study says you may not even have 7 seconds, but more like 1/10th of a second.

But let’s set aside the question if we are talking about seconds or microseconds, and focus on the (obvious) core issues:

  • First impressions only happen once.
  • They happen very fast.
  • They are overwhelmingly based on visual data.

Which all naturally leads me to ask the question:

Why, exactly, would anyone ever use a selfie as their LinkedIn profile picture?

I was thinking this again this week when I read that the medical journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery studied the issue (really) and found that selfies distort facial features, particularly the nose, often leading to unnecessary surgeries. Indeed: “The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery survey found that 55 percent of facial plastic surgeons treated patients who ‘want to look better in selfies’ in 2017.”

Phone cameras have wide-angle lenses. And, as any photographer will tell you, the closer something is to any lens, particularly a wide-angle lens, the larger it will appear. The JAMA article concludes that, on average, a selfie snapped at arm’s length makes your nose look about 30 percent larger.

But the problem of selfies it not just that it can make your honker look huge.

It is that everyone knows it’s a selfie. And selfies are demonstrably not professional profile pictures.

One of the things I love about photographing portraits is the opportunity to work with a client one-on-one and show them the impact and significance of their micro-expressions. How smiling happens in the eyes, not the mouth; how just a hair-breadth separates a smirk from a pleasant grin; how slight changes in the angle of one’s head can signal diametrically opposite things.

We are a highly visual species (70 percent of our body’s sensory receptors are visual). We notice things (and form first impressions) faster than we realize, and pay attention to subtlety and nuance in ways we rarely appreciate.

So, if you put a selfie or a poorly composed image of yourself up on your social profile, the finely-tuned, visually-advanced humans visiting your profile will recognize it for what it is, and in far less than seven seconds.

A selfie or bad photo (cluttered cubicle background; your head surgically cut out of a crowded group shot) will convey that you care less than you ought. And if you care so little about the impression you are sending about yourself, well, that speaks volumes…

The solution is simple: get a professional headshot. Getting it done right is far less expensive (or painful) than you think, and it will have a far greater impact than you ever expected.