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.
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.