Psst! Your terrible profile photo might be visible to people you email

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I routinely receive emails from PR reps who want me to write about various products and services.

What most of them don't know is that I can see them. Specifically, I can see their social-network profile pictures.

That’s because I have the Outlook Social Connector, a plug-in that displays, among other things, the sender's profile pic from Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, or Windows Live. (Xobni's Smartr Inbox accomplishes much the same thing in Gmail.)

And, wow, do some of these folks look unprofessional.

Think about your own profile photo. Are you wearing a ratty t-shirt, hair a total mess, sitting on the couch with a beer in your hand? (I'm not making that one up.) Is that how you want clients, co-workers, media types, and even prospective employers to perceive you?

You may think I’m exaggerating, but I get lots of email from business professionals with embarrassingly bad profile shots. Sometimes it’s the kids or the dog; I’ve also seen a few that were overtly political.

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but in the business world, appearances are everything.

Yesterday, for example, I received a pitch from a veteran PR guy who looked downright angry. If I saw him down a dark alley, I'd run the other way. I think the company he's representing would be mortified to know that that's the face associated with their product.

I'm sure this guy and other “offenders” had no idea their photo was attached, so to speak, to their e-mail, but that’s no excuse. We’re living in a social-network society, where nearly any image you post online has the potential to be viewed by others -- even if it’s ostensibly for "friends" only. Thus, it’s your responsibility to project a more professional you.

Need help creating a better, smarter profile pic? Check out "7 tips to make your profile picture professional." It's a fairly straightforward -- some would say obvious -- set of suggestions, but worth heeding if you're just not sure what constitutes "professional." For example:

3. Your face is the focus, not the background. Again, this is a headshot. That means you posing near the Great Wall is probably not the best choice for a main picture. Is it cool? Absolutely. Professional? Not unless you’re an ancient bricklayer. Keep your face in focus too — nothing is worse than a blurry photo. Well…

It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to snap a decent headshot of yourself and use it consistently across the various networks – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

It does, however, make you look like the pro you are. Remember: The career you save could be your own.

While we're on the subject of tanking your contact with media people, be sure to check out "Five Ways to Screw Up Your Press Pitch."

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