There's an element of online recruitment that I see a lot of students neglecting- and that is the importance of a professional headshot.
Many students either have what is clearly a selfie (debatably tolerable for an online presence depending on how how "professionally" leaning the selfie may be), or worse, the empty face of anonymity.
You know that guy.
Unless someone happens to have connections behind that grey circle, it statistically proven that profiles with photos gets 21x more connections on LinkedIn.
By not providing a photo- even a questionable selfie- he's effectively selling himself short and lacking on awareness of personal branding.
There are several reasons why you should invest in a professional headshot, even before you get a job as a legal professional:
It improves your online profile- Unfortunately, people tend to take you more seriously the more seriously you seem to take yourself, sometimes.
It shows potential employers you are willing to invest in your career, both literally and figuratively- Not only by shelling out money for a professional photoshoot, but you take yourself seriously enough as an employee to consider detail oriented elements.
A good headshot makes you look like an adult, and not a student- It demonstrates your transition, mentally and physically, into the world of working adults.
In short, professional headshots help to demonstrate the professional potential you may bring to a firm. And while in non-COVID times, you are more likely to get a headshot at a larger, "BigLaw" firm through the course of working there (especially if you get hired back as an articling student/ hired in as an articling student third year/after graduation), you might not even reach that hiring stage unless you know how to present yourself.
Financially, it may seem like a burden now, but it can also pay dividends down the line.
So where can you find a professional photographer?
Finding a Professional Photographer:
Find a photographer with strong COVID-19 restriction policies, a solid online portfolio, and stellar references. The most obvious tip here would be a quick Google search, but a was I made sure that my professional headshots would be 'firm-quality level" was actually to contact managing managers I knew at firms, and ask them if they knew of any professional photographers that photographed for the firm (It also is a solid talking point if anyone asks your connection to getting your headshot done- it demonstrates you're effectively on the same level as the professionals the firms employ- at least, visually).
If you don't know of any hiring managers (or lawyers at smaller firms who act as the managing partner), ask any lawyers or your career office if they know of any professional photographers the school has employed in the past. Most law schools offer or arrange a "professional headshot" day under regular, non-COVID times, where for a severely reduced price you can get a starter headshot taken- but since we aren't in regular times, these photographers may be not getting the same amount of business, and career offices could be just sitting on their usual professional photographers as a resource.
Many photographers allow you to chose from a set of "proofs" after your photoshoot as well- which, in photography lingo, are a set of the best photos they took on that day. You will often be able to keep three or four of the photos that they will edit to your liking. Having more than one headshot could be beneficial to you in the future and allow you to switch things up for different professional platforms.
Honestly, Please Employ a Professional:
Usually, I'm the first to call out unnecessary purchases in the legal world, but I think this is one area where a picture (quite literally) says a thousand words.
We've all most likely had a family member or friend help take a photo of us for social media.
However, unless your family member or friend is a semi-professional photographer, I'd highly recommend scrounging up the money and budgeting for a professional photographer.
A professional photographer is able to direct you more, will meet you in recognisable locations in your local area (The courthouse? A recognisable city location in the background? Done!), and are able to edit your photo afterwards based on your specifications. They also have awareness of sun exposure, wind, and the elements affecting the quality of a photograph (considering with COVID, your photo will most likely be taken outside).
This is the one place I wouldn't scrimp and save- my professional headshots were completed for around $180.00 bucks, which really is a solid investment when you think about it through the long run of presenting yourself as a professional.
You get hired on, even at a small firm? You most likely will make that amount up in a day and a half. Don't let people gauge you (which is why it's good to have a personal connection- so they're held (somewhat) responsible)- but also don't cheap out either.
Unfortunately (and spoken from experience), what you think is a lovely professional photo taken against your bedroom wall and with the help of your best friend, looks like a cropped photo taken against your bedroom wall taken by your best friend. It may do in a pinch, but if you're especially reaching the next level of your career, it's important to budget for this next (visual) step as well.
Wear "Camera-Ready" Makeup (Unless that's Not Your Thing):
Makeup Hot Tip I Discovered the Hard Way: Light makeup is not likely to show up on camera.
This is the one situation where fresh, yet full-faced makeup will serve you well. I made the mistake on my first professional headshot of wearing more makeup than I usually do (which is slim to none, especially since the pandemic started), and you can tell areas where I skimped on wearing a full-face of makeup.
For example,I never wear eye makeup- even a swipe of mascara would have made my eyes more defined.
I also wore a light blush, that, by the time I got down to the waterfront to take photos, had already blended out and made me look relatively washed out.
While professional photographers can change these small details in post (and in regular, pre-COVID times, would often do your makeup and hair for you), it will ironically look more natural to wear a fuller-makeup look on the day of than your regular "running to the store" look I was employing. While it's more true to who I am on a day to day basis, I discovered quickly (and have made note for my next photoshoot) that it is not professional-level makeup.
Go with what professional makeup artists recommend highlighting for a fresh, "five minute face": Eyes, cheeks, and lips.
For guys, this might be a time to experiment with asking the photographer if they'd recommend some light makeup as well- even if most men are unused to wearing makeup, it can help to conceal elements such as under-eye bags, blemishes, or scarring- things that may be considered 'distracting' overall to your photo.
If makeup isn't your thing, avoid this section entirely, and make sure you're just fresh-faced to go on the day!
For women with longer hair (and men, for that matter), if you wear your hair straight daily (me), make sure there is some volume on the top. My hair ended up looking slightly flat in my own photo, but looking back, I would make sure even my straight hair would have some more height to it- even curling it would have been a step up, even if it's not my natural state of presenting myself.
This is one area where I think a lot of students, especially students funding their own law school journey (again, myself included), have to skimp at the beginning of their law school career. While I appreciate that some lawyers I speak to consider a 700 dollar jacket a "mid-level purchase," I am not amongst them.
While I have some recommendations later for suits for women (keeping in mind I'm relatively tall for a woman), the most important thing here I learned from my photoshoot is to have your suit be form-fitting, not tight or oversized.
Full disclosure: I hate tight-fitting clothes. It makes me feel like a kid being squeezed into "appropriate" clothing for family events. But even I realised the benefit of how much slimmer I could have looked and more professional with a proper-fitting suit jacket.
Luckily headshots are headshots, because even from my chest down you could see my cheap H and M blazer (which ironically was the best fitting of all my blazers) practically flopping in the wind.
The first thing I did after seeing my photographs? Buy all new (still H and M) blazers that fit properly.
Professional photoshoots are not the time to have fashionably oversized suits a la David Bowie (as much as I'd like them to be). You will not look like David Bowie- you will most likely look like a gigantic square with legs who couldn't afford a well fitted suit (also most likely true, but your potential employers don't need to know that).
Try to find the best body-skimming suit you can manage that actually gives you a waist. Even if you have to shop separates that match (also me), it's worth it to have a suit that actually fits you.
Other Tips from My First Professional Photoshoot:
Tilt body to the side- front on photos can make you look "wide"- Tilting your body to the side rather than taking a photo head on will not only slim you down physically, it also looks less like a hostage video where you've been kidnapped to take awkward firm photos. If your photographer is directing you to tilt your body- they know their stuff.
An obvious example from Kirby Partners:
Have hair done beforehand- This is something I noticed on my own photographs- thankfully my photograph lent itself to being in black and white, but the darker areas where we shot that day only highlighted how I hadn't had my roots done for months. I know it's more difficult in COVID if you dye your hair, but make sure to have your hair cut and/or dyed by a trusted professional, even if the costs for your photograph seem to be adding up at this point.
Once again think of it as an investment, it will help in the amount of solid "good" photos you can choose from at the end of the day, and will make your investment more profitable.
So do what I (didn't) do in an effort to save money- bite the bullet, and get your hair sorted before your photoshoot.
Have your blazer tailored (or at least fit properly)- If you can't afford to have your blazer tailored (which can run around $50 dollars a shot), at least make sure your suit jacket isn't oversized (see above).
Make sure your blazer matches/compliments your pants if you're making a full body shot- On the back of the tailoring tip, make sure your blazer matches your pants if they are also offering full body professional shots. While colour next to your face can bring some life to a photograph, unless it is a well fitting coloured blazer or you are only doing upper-body headshots, wearing a blazer and pants that are not complimentary in terms of colour only demonstrates how disparate different elements are in your outfit.
Trust me- this is spoken from someone who as of yet has not bought a suit off the rack and had it tailored. I have broad shoulders from playing professional sports, a smaller waist, and wider hips and thighs. I'm also six feet tall as a woman- no suit is ever going to fit me exactly. The key is to make your separates look like they belong together.
One of the easiest (and most slimming) ways to do this is to just design your own classic, two part black suit. Buy black pants from one location, a black blazer from another, and Bob's your uncle.
We often see men usually getting an all-in-one suit when graduating high school or starting college- for weddings, funerals, and everything in between. As a woman, we need to consider that even our separates can be seen as an investment.
Bring colour next to your face: Photographer recommended a coloured shirt for women in particular that can brighten up your face, rather than all black. Don't lean into patterned shirts- they can be distracting. My photographer recommended a light simple blouse in a bold colour.
Don't squint, and tilt your chin down- Easier said than done when you're taking a photo on a windy day, but try to keep your eyes as wide as possible. Also, try and keep your head tilted down- it avoids any awkward double chins that may or may not exist, and makes your face look slimmer overall.
Hairspray- Hairspray has this reputation as something we left in the 80s, but there are definitely flexible hairsprays that work nowadays and that are touted by industry professionals. One of my friends is a former beauty queen and swears by Bumble and Bumble Flex Hairspray- it's the only hairspray I've tried that I can A) Tolerate and B) Not make my hair hard as a rock. It's probably more on the mid-level to expensive side of things ($28), but a can lasts forever and is another good investment.
Lastly, what are some lower to mid-level places to buy separates/blazers?
Price points are different for everyone, but these are some relatively cheaper options for separates if you're looking for a new suit. Once you get into larger firms, you realise there are some people who consider 500-700 dollar suit jackets "midlevel" suits (as I alluded to above), so I think I've done relatively well over the years in scoping out suits that might actually be tolerably affordable to students.
A Note on Menswear and Gender-Neutral Suiting:
Please note that I'm giving these recommendations as a woman who falls into a more heteronormative way of dressing (for better or for worse)- while some of these recommendations may translate to male separates (I've seen some solid male options at Banana Republic and Banana Republic Factory), I'm by no means an expert on male suiting or gender-neutral suiting.
I am aware, however, of a solid guide for gender-neutral suiting through DapperQ, an LGBT+ site dedicated to "ungendering fashion," and a brand called Kirrin Finch, which describes itself as a company that "meets the growing demand for gender-defying fashion by creating menswear-inspired apparel designed to fit a range of female and non-binary bodies." I've had friends order from Kirrin Finch, and they were nothing but enthused with their experience.
So without further ado, onto the other recommendations:
Other Professional Clothing Recommendations:
H and M- H and M has honestly been surprisingly good for me. I've tried every blazer on (at every price point H and M offers), and can provide some solid tips on making sure your suit doesn't look cheap.
Firstly, anything under the 59.99 price point tends to look cheap. Either the fabric, the lack of lining, or the lack of the collar being able to lay flat- they all lend themselves to saying "I can't afford a solid suit jacket with lining" (while that may be technically true, it's still something we want to circumnavigate).
You can also order several styles online that are unavailable in stores and allow you to actually try them on (H and M stores currently have a 'no try on' policy in place due to COVID-19)- but keep in mind that H and M can take up to a month to arrive, so don't be in any hurry to get a specific jacket you order online.
They also tend to serve the broader-shouldered crowd, and are the only blazers I've tried (even with trying blazers at a higher price point) besides Aritzia blazers that will fit my shoulders accordingly.
Old Navy- Yes, humble Old Navy. Their Pixie Pants are a staple in my closet, because they are one of the few places that sell Tall workpants for women (Crazy, right?). They come out with different styles every season in the same pant, they're ridiculously comfortable and stretchy (you can actually squat down and get files in the office without feeling like you're going to combust out of your pants), and they also come in regular, plus, and petite sizing as well.
Banana Republic Factory- You can no longer order Banana Republic Factory to Canada as of writing this- but I am lucky enough to live near a Banana Republic Factory, and it's where I go to get all my professional cardigans, sweaters and tops all for around $24.99 for higher-level quality pieces and fabric. While I'm not petite, they also have a fantastic petite range in store (but no tall- boo), and a tall range online, but only in the States. If you're feeling flush, the regular Banana Republic also has tall pieces that can be sent within Canada, and often have weekend sales (but for less than the Factory options). They also always have suiting options in stock, but I find they tend to be tight on the shoulders and short in the arms for us tall, broad-shouldered crowd.
J. Crew Factory- Another Factory option that has higher quality pieces and petites (but no tall- double boo) in their in-store options. While J. Crew might be a little too "preppy" for some, there are some solid options you can pull out with a good amount of searching.
Aritizia- I've always loved Aritzia blazers and tops, but they're often too highly priced for my budget ($228 dollars). So what I've ended up doing is following local consignment stores and keeping an eye out on their business section- eventually a blazer or two will make their way through the shop, and often be priced around $78 bucks- still a bit more expensive than I'd like to pay, but still a heck of a lot better than $228 dollars. I've yet to grab one in my size, but I'm always looking!
If there's any other elements of professional headshots you'd like me to cover in a future blogpost, feel free to send me an email on the main page of the blog, and until next time!
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