Get to know: Natasha Sunderland, BizOps and Project Manager

Joined Job Portraits: May 2018 | Based in: Eugene, OR

What do you do at Job Portraits?

My official title is “generalist,” and I think it’s an apt description. I spend about half of my time handling contracts and accounts payable and receivable, and the other half as a project manager. I’m a client’s first point of contact for logistics; I work with them to schedule interviews and production days and also manage the post-production process, where we share drafts of stories and incorporate client feedback.

Internally, I work with our creative leads, or CLs, to scope projects and assign roles, and to schedule all the steps of our editorial process. The CLs take the lead on creative and strategic decisions, but I’m often part of those conversations as well, which is great. Because I’m new to the team, it helps me understand our clients’ needs and motivations, and how the stories we create can best serve them.

I also manage what we call “Service Guides,” which is our internal library of documentation — things like production day checklists and email templates — that makes us more efficient and helps new team members get up to speed. We’re deliberate about recording our learnings, but we also recognize that our processes aren’t stagnant, so the guides are constantly evolving.

What were you doing before Job Portraits, and why did you join?

My first job after college was as a project manager, so in a way I’m going back to my roots. But most of my background is actually in editorial work. Before I joined Job Portraits, I was a writer and investigator for a due diligence firm. I did a lot of sometimes-interesting, sometimes-tedious research using court documents, news reports, and corporate records, and then wrote a narrative report about my findings.

I started that job when I lived in New York City and stayed on remotely when I moved upstate and then to Oregon, where I live now. That flexibility was great, and it was also a privilege to write for a living, but I wanted more variety. In that first job as a project manager, I loved having my hands in everything — being involved in the creative process but also digging into dorky things like logistics and calendars and finances.

So the role with Job Portraits is a great fit. My writing background comes in handy, both because I understand all the steps of the editorial process and because this is a team that believes words matter, even in internal documents and emails. But now I’m working on 12 different things in a day and learning about all these aspects of business that are new to me, which is exciting. It’s also much less isolating than my previous job, even though I’m still remote. I’m communicating with my teammates every day. Plus, I believe in Job Portraits’ mission. It’s pretty amazing to be part of a company that is promoting diversity and trying to change the workplace from the inside out.

What’s the company culture like?

There’s an emphasis on process and meta conversations that I really appreciate. I’ve realized how valuable it is to have a quick debrief after a client meeting, or my weekly one-on-one with Jackson. That was new to me — that the cofounder of the company wants to check in not about a specific project, but just to hear how I’m thinking and feeling about my job.

And that’s true of the whole team — everyone not only wants you to feel comfortable, they want to know if you’re uncomfortable, which is a whole other level. They’re just so welcoming and open. It’s crazy; I really feel like everyone at Job Portraits is my friend, even though Miki and Jackson are the only members of the team I’ve met in person. There’s no awkwardness, no hesitation to hop on a call when that’s easier than Slack. That familiarity and emphasis on collaboration makes everything easier.

Jackson and Miki also understand that we all have lives outside Job Portraits, even in the middle of the day. What matters is your work, not whether you’re sitting at your desk from 9:00 to 5:00, and I definitely value that freedom. Getting out in the sunshine and walking my dog for an hour not only makes me happier, it makes me more productive.

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Balancing the immediate, client-related work with longer-term projects and planning. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, but I challenge myself to ask if there’s one thing that could maybe wait for an hour, while I work on a service guide or a calendar or something else that’s not as pressing. At the end of each day, I want to feel like I did at least a little bit to move the big picture forward, rather than only advancing the little things.

I’m new to the team, so I’m also excited to learn more about employer branding, and to fine-tune my processes. I want to streamline how I project manage some of our newer offerings and be able to consistently nail internal things like invoices and contracts.

What advice would you give a new team member on their first day?

Ask questions! I ask a lot of questions, and I really like how much that’s valued here. Miki and Jackson understand that taking a minute or two to explain or coach can save us all time in the long run. It’s surprised me how much I’ve already learned. But it’s because they’re great teachers, as is everyone else on the team. People are always willing to answer questions, not only for the sake of the project at hand but to build collective knowledge.

I’d also say to speak up about what you want to learn, because Miki and Jackson will be open to creating a path where you can use those passions and develop those skills.

Lightning Round!

What’s your morning routine?

I like a quiet house, so I get up pretty early. I usually do about an hour of work before the first dog walk of the day, then I have a cup of coffee. My husband and I share a car, so if he doesn’t bike to work, I’ll drive him. It’s always nice to have those 10 minutes to talk and start our day together before I get back to work.

What’s your superpower?

Keeping in touch with people. I have a pretty solid group of friends, and I can literally feel it in my stomach if I haven’t checked in with one of them for a while. It’s like this internal clock goes off, and I know it’s time for me to send them a text or email, or give them a call.

What’s the worst advice you ever followed?

Honestly, I never really ask someone, “What should I do?” But for the sake of a good story, I’ll say the time three friends and I took a month-long road trip through southern Africa and they told me the tiny Volkswagen Rabbit we were driving would be fine. That car clearly had no business being on the road, and the engine fell out the first day. But we fixed it, and the trip was one of the best experiences of my life — so it was actually pretty good advice, in the end.

What’s your spirit animal?

Maybe a squirrel? I’m not that fast, but I do like to run. And they seem slightly neurotic, but still sort of smart and coy.

Tell us about a book that had a big impact on you.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I worship her; I dressed up as her for Halloween one year and put stones in my trenchcoat pocket. I read To the Lighthouse in graduate school, when I had the privilege of spending three years thinking only about writing and words. To me, it’s about how art cannot truly reflect life, and yet it’s as close as we can get. There are some sentences in that book that are just the greatest ever written.

If you could interview one person, living or dead, who would it be?

My paternal grandmother. I was lucky that I wasn’t that young when she died. But I think I was still young enough that I never asked her a lot of the questions that truly matter. She led a fascinating life; she drove ambulances in World War II and then moved to the U.S. from England after being left at the altar. I think she probably had some incredible stories I never got to hear.

What unpopular opinion do you hold?

I don’t love breakfast. I eat it, even if it’s just a Clif Bar or something equally unhealthy, but it’s not a priority for me. I like to do things in the morning; I’d rather run or go for a hike.

What’s your next adventure?

My brother’s getting married in Tulum, Mexico, this fall, and we’re going to make a trip out of it — five days on the beach. I have trouble relaxing, so that will be interesting, but it’s a special place for him and his fiancée, and I’m excited to see it.

I plan to have adventures before that, too, here in Oregon. I went to graduate school in Eugene, but I didn’t have much time to explore. So everywhere I go on the weekend is like a new adventure.

Video music credit: PACIFIC SUN by Nicolai Heidlas Music | Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0 | Music promoted by Audio Library

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