We wrote this with job seekers in mind (our open positions are here), though potential clients and partners might also find it valuable.
Our culture, which rests on three pillars: values, tempo, and instincts.
Our day-to-day activities, which are informed by roles, workflows, and the tools we use.
What we make (and for whom). You know, the tangible stuff.
1. Our culture
“Culture” is a nebulous word. We think most companies misuse it (and we’re sure most academics would say the same of us). In lieu of a definition, we prefer three statements we believe are true about work culture:
Everyone is a participant
It is subject to change
It drives and shapes decision making
Fair enough? To describe Job Portraits’ culture, we also break things down further — into values, tempo, and instincts.
We recently formalized a set of values we’ve long held in our guts. They’re phrased as mantras, and are explicitly designed to help us navigate hard conversations. We believe such conversations are themselves a value — one we’re proud to embrace within a wider culture that can be less-than-adept at civil disagreement. We’ll write more on this topic in the coming months; for now, we heed the following:
Ask good questions.
Know yourself. Trust yourself.
Take the other side.
Seek the truth.
Assume good intentions.
Values aren’t worth much without action. We like the concept of tempo as a way to structure our days and keep us focused on what’s important, not just what’s on fire. In practice, we create tempo using standing meetings with predefined agendas. (If this sounds blindingly obvious — as a small team, we’ve learned to take nothing for granted.)
What do we discuss? Only the things we need to: All agenda items for all of these meetings have origins in a real problem that caused us real pain. As our problems evolve, we add and subtract items. Meetings we currently hold include:
Weekly Business Review (one hour). First, we refresh our high-level awareness of the business by reviewing large projects, our finances, and our personal happiness and feelings about progress. Then we celebrate victories from the past week. Finally, we identify big conversations we need to have and who needs to be present, and get them on the calendar.
House Party (one hour). Every Friday our extended team hops on a one-hour video call. Everyone chimes in on four prompts: 1) What are you anxious about? Excited about? 2) What did you learn in the past week? 3) Any questions for our founders, Miki and Jackson? 4) What are you grateful for?
We also do post-project debriefs, and everyone has regularly scheduled one-on-ones with Miki and Jackson. Every six months we do an offsite retreat where we discuss long-term internal projects (no client work allowed).
Our shared instincts are the final pillar of our culture. They guide our day-to-day behavior. Here are a few we’re particularly conscious of:
Knowing when to tackle something alone, and when to ask for help. We typically ask each other to review anything for a client that’s larger than an email — and sometimes the emails, too. For internal stuff, we typically don’t work alone for more than a day before checking in.
Knowing when to document something, and where. We document way more than the average bears. Especially for client work, we record our processes and learnings so they can be replicated in the future.
Knowing the scale at which our decisions should apply. We use a version of the advice process. In short, we all have the power to make big decisions, but the harder it is to reverse a given decision, the more advice we seek before taking action.
2. Our day-to-day activities
“What should I do today?” On a small team, this question can be both a cosmic blessing and a curse … and it requires an answer. Roles, workflows, and tools help us decide.
Most agencies define “designer,” “writer,” “creative director,” etc. — and we do, too. But since we have more roles than people, we each play a handful at a time. At root level, the point of roles is to clarify responsibility and guide ambition. So, what should you do today? Review the projects you’re on, and the roles you’re playing, and your responsibilities should come into focus.
Coming from the startup world, we pay close attention to patterns and processes. We design workflows for common projects so we can solve problems for future clients with improved efficiency. Reviewing them is a reminder of best practices, and helps us decide what to do today. This kind of operationalization also helps us anticipate costs for upcoming projects.
We lump tools into three buckets:
Team tools, which derive their value from participation. We keep these open at all times: Slack, everything G Suite, and Harvest (for time tracking).
Task-specific tools, which we all have access to but don’t require regular attention: Airtable, Asana, PandaDoc, and Beautiful.ai come to mind, though there are others.
Solo tools, which we keep to ourselves. What are they, you ask? Not sure — that’s the point! (Though when we discover something helpful, we do share with the team.)
3. What we make, and for whom
The things we make
From the outside, it probably looks like we write fancy blog posts. And that’s not untrue: a lot of our work ends up as online stories. But that, as they say, is the tip of the iceberg. We also do:
Strategy, including employer brand audits, employer value prop development, publishing calendars, and planning content use in recruiting funnels
Content beyond employee and team profiles, including ghostwriting, photography, video, social media, careers sites, and job descriptions
Distribution, including social media implementation and ad buys, and employee engagement workshops
Actually, let’s start with the audience for most of our client work: job candidates. They respond best when companies are thoughtful and candid, so we’ve made a conscious decision to work with clients who are game for that — which often means the clients who come to us. (As we’ve learned, candor can’t be imposed!) What we make, and the value we provide, varies based on the people we serve. Here’s how we explain it to each group:
To recruiters:“We turn ideas like employer brand and candidate value props, into tangible tools. Our stories help candidates self-select in — and out — so you can spend your valuable time with candidates who are already excited. Plus we’re hella fast, just like you.”
To founders and C-level executives: “To help you compete with brand-name companies for top talent, we quickly clarify and publicize your employer brand. Bonus points: Current team members are excited to see the real, hard work they’re doing be highlighted and appreciated.”
To talent brand leads: “We provide a single point of contact for all your creative needs as you bring your employer brand to life. We love finding the perfect combination of words, images, videos, and design to support your vision and engage your ideal candidates.”
Our areas of expertise
In part, clients hire us because we understand:
Silicon Valley-style startups. 90 percent of our clients are venture-backed startups. We understand them because we’ve started two companies that took that path. (One failed despite critical success; the other died in a flash. Stories for another day.) From the mechanics of rapid growth, to common pain points, to the scope of ambition, to the magnitude of risk, we get startups.
The experience of job candidates. Companies hire us because we understand what it’s like to be a candidate, from both personal experience and thorough research. This includes knowledge on the preferences and habits of different kinds of job seekers, which helps us make empathy-based decisions and avoid conventional, but spurious, wisdom.
Employer branding and talent/recruitment marketing. These terms are industry jargon for what we do. We don’t love them because they steal focus from job seekers, but from a professional perspective, they’re accurate. In the realm of company storytelling, we know who likes to be involved, what their needs are, how those needs sometimes conflict, and how to reconcile them. Oh, and we know how to advocate on behalf of job seekers (which is kinda the whole point).
How we measure success
What’s the value of the things we make, and the expertise we offer? Marketers everywhere struggle to prove the ROI of content, and we face the same challenge. While there are quantitative metrics that clearly show our value, few companies are set up to consistently gather that relevant data. So in many cases, we show the value of our work through qualitative evidence. Examples:
We have these impacts on the typical recruiting funnel: increasing the volume of inbound candidates, increasing response rates to outbound communication, improving the quality of screening calls, and improving hiring team satisfaction.
We save our clients time in the short term by getting good candidates excited and causing poor-fit candidates to self-select out, thus making the recruiting process more efficient.
We save our clients money in the long term by saving them from bad hires and the associated costs or recruiting replacements.
But of course, Job Portraits doesn’t just serve our clients. Everything we do — each pillar of our culture, every workflow and tool we use, and every story we write or video we shoot — is also designed to serve job seekers, and members of our own team. While our tasks are often complex, our mission is simple: to widen access to meaningful work. We believe achieving that goal is a win for everyone involved.
Like what we do? Our clients aren’t the only ones hiring. If you’d like to help, check out our job openings or send a question to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also browse every notable link related to Job Portraits (including profiles of our team members, a post about our editorial process, and examples of our work).