How Business Development at Spotify Sees Your Headshots

I interviewed Shane Tobin at Spotify about the impression headshots make on him when he's considering a company for a partnership deal. Shane was Vice President of Business Development at The Echo Nest prior to its acquisition by Spotify in March 2014. Before that, he directed business development at MobiTV.

Shane's new headshot - Porcupine Photography

Shane's new headshot - Porcupine Photography

I was rocking out to some Hesitation Marks streaming through [now defunct] Grooveshark when Shane walked into my studio for some headshots last week. He glanced over at the computer and said "Hey! That's not Spotify!" Busted! I got a lesson in royalty payments and how Spotify actually pays musicians while the service I was using doesn't. I've since made the switch and am now listening in style!

I always like to know how professional headshots are viewed in their native environment...particularly on company websites and Linkedin profiles, and Shane was a great person to ask about this.

Top five things I learned from our conversation:


Younger companies can get away with less polished head shots. As a company matures, so too should its visual presentation.


Employees feel valued when their company presents them professionally on their website with high-quality head shots.


Never use a selfie.


Even though we're all impressed that you spoke at your local Ted conference, your headshot should never show you wearing a headset microphone.


Keep your photos up to date. It sends a bad message when your head shots aren't current.


And here's the full interview, in case you want all the fine grit:

Ian Tuttle: What is your current role at Spotify? Shane Tobin: I joined the Business Development team handling software partnerships at Spotify last year after the music intelligence company I had been at for 3 years, The Echo Nest was acquired. 

How many prospective companies do you look at in a typical month?  It ranges, but probably around 10-20 a month. We’re pretty focused on specific partnerships but I always want to keep informed on new start ups that are gaining traction or breaking new ground in the music and social space.           

What is the FIRST thing you look for?  I look at the presentation of the website, what they see as their primary value proposition, how they summarize their business offering and then if I know of anyone on their team, board or advisers.

Can a company’s photos of their employees affect their desirability as a partner, either negatively or positively?  I think if you are an early startup you get a lot of passes in terms of how you present yourself but as you get larger or get older, you need to be more professional. If you have a uniform look for your team photos, it shows you put some effort in.  I think it also makes employees feel like they are valuable too when they see themselves on their site in a professional manner.

 Any specific cases you can think of with a particularly bad photo?  Using a photo from a conference when you have a mic attached is the worst.  Or you are on a stage talking with your hands.  Ted talk photos. And no selfies from your laptop.

What about a particularly good one? Just be natural, dress nicely, be yourself and approachable. 

What sort of photos would you consider "unacceptable" in a business context?  Being too casual, using photos of someone else like a celebrity, or a photo that has other people in it.

What about eye contact in a picture? Yes, don’t look away. What are you looking at?  Did you see Bigfoot driving a truck?  If so, that’s awesome but take another photo where you are looking into the camera.

 Do you notice what someone is wearing in his or her picture? Only if they are wearing something unprofessional or out of context like a tuxedo.

 Okay, but really, does a photo actually matter?  Most of the time if you haven’t met a person, this will be your first impression either on LinkedIn, doing a Google image search or on your website.  So I think it’s worth it to take the time and do it right.

 Do you notice the background in a photo? Or the context? Is a plain backdrop or outdoors or something else particularly good or bad?  We don’t need action shots of you in the forest or leaning against a car.

Have you ever met people from a company and they look completely different than their pictures? Did it matter?  Yes, because a lot of people don’t keep the photos updated.  Sometimes they just want to be seen as younger.  But styles change and in a lot of cases, the photos look dated and people will pick up on that.

Do you have any favorite head shot stories of all time?  A friend of mine had a bright light shinning behind his head that made him look like a data god but I told him he need to take it down.  It looked like the cover of a self help book.

How a Salesforce Recruiter Sees Your Headshot

My goal is to provide the best headshot you’ve ever seen. It’s a tall order, and my success depends not just on technical knowledge of camera equipment, lighting, and body language, but also on the context in which a headshot is used.


To that end, I am always looking for expert knowledge and guidance. I recently took professional headshots for Devin Brooks, who works at Salesforce, and asked if I could interview her about what she sees when she’s going through applications. Ms Brooks is an Inbound Candidate Sourcer. She processes around 200 applications every week and looks for appropriately talented individuals to fill specific sales roles.


Ian Tuttle: What is the first thing you look for in a candidate?


Devin Brooks: My roles require a very specific skillset and number of years of experience, so first and foremost, I look for amount of experience a candidate has in the industry, and then review the specific experience to see how relevant their sales experience is to the roles for which we are hiring.

IT: How often do you see a picture of a potential recruit?


DB: For international candidates (I hire in Brazil and Mexico City as well as the US and Canada), it is very common for candidates to include a headshot on their resume. Otherwise, I don’t necessarily see a photo unless I am on the fence, and may go digging for more information on LinkedIn.


IT: How can a person’s picture affect their desirability as an applicant/recruit, either negatively or positively?

DB: A photo is our first glimpse into whether or not you might be a culture fit at our company. While it may not be a hard yes or no from the picture alone, it could raise a flag.


It also really depends on what types of roles one might be hiring for as well. In my previous role, as a Recruiting Coordinator at a staffing agency, wherein all of our time was spent on LinkedIn, the picture was much more important. We were hiring for roles where companies asked for very polished individuals, typically in the Administrative Assistant and Executive Assistant space. If someone couldn’t demonstrate that in their photo, it was easy to pass on those folks. If you are in the market for a particular role, you must know your audience.


IT: What sort of photos would you consider “unacceptable” in a business context?




IT: What sort of photos actually help?


DB: I think the team would agree that a photo that shows a bit of your personality, through a smile or the background, is appreciated, and helps us to see you more as a human than just another candidate.


IT: Does smiling matter?


DB: I think a smile is great! We are a fun company, and we like our employees to be the same.


IT: Do you notice what someone is wearing in his/her picture?


DB: Not necessarily unless it sticks out for the wrong reasons…too much skin showing, or in one special case, a giant fur coat…


IT: Okay, but really, does a photo actually matter?


DB: Will it make or break you, if you are an otherwise quality candidate? No. But don’t give us an opportunity to even lean in the wrong direction and have any doubts.


IT: What do you think of your new headshot?


DB: Interestingly, the people who have noticed my new headshot most have been my coworkers…At Salesforce, we utilize a company-wide social media channel within our company called Chatter. It is essentially the Facebook of our company, but we use it to communicate on a variety of issues, with customers and co-workers alike. So, much like Facebook, we have a profile and a picture and that picture is shared with anyone who looks me up. Since I deal heavily with employee referrals, I have employees all over the globe looking me up and reaching out to me. Having a professional headshot to share internally has been fantastic – it is a photo I am proud of, and I think sets a great tone for me when people see it and choose to reach out. I feel like I look like me, personable and accessible and here to help, but also professional. So I have loved the new pic big time.


IT: Any last thoughts?


DB: Think about the value of a fantastic photo even when you are happy in your work environment…how many people look at your photo just before they call you or reach out for a meeting. It is a valuable first impression. And from a hiring perspective, it will always depend on what type of role it is that weighs most on your photo’s first impression. Give us a hint of who you are while keeping it professional and ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have a photo. No photo is even worse than selfies. If you know your ideal role requires an extra polished exterior and a lot of customer service and smiles, then step it up with your photo and really make it count!