Get to know: Natasha Sunderland, Creative Lead

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

What do you do at Job Portraits?

I’m a creative lead for ongoing content support, which means I work mostly on long-term engagements. My job starts with strategy—talking with clients about the stories they want to tell and the audience they want to reach. Then I lead interviews, guide our writers and editors, and, once a draft is delivered, head up the client review process.

There’s a project management aspect to my job, too, because the lines between strategy and logistics tend to blur—when you’re trying to figure out the best person to talk to, scheduling an interview is about more than just getting on someone’s calendar. We’re working on getting me more support on that side, though, and I’m excited about being able to focus on creative work.

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

Most of my background is in editorial work—although my first job after college was as a project manager, so even that part is a return to my roots! Before I joined JP, I was working remotely as a writer and investigator for a due diligence firm. I loved the flexibility and it was a privilege to write for a living, but ultimately I wanted more variety. So joining JP as “generalist,” which was my first title here, was a great fit. I’d worked with the team before as a freelance writer and knew I’d be in a place that truly values words, even when it’s just an email. But I got to dig into other aspects of the business, too, and learn about things like contracts and finance. Plus, I really believe in Job Portraits’ mission. It’s pretty amazing to be part of a company that’s promoting diversity and trying to change the workplace from the inside out.

Tell us more about how your role has evolved.

I think it all starts with saying “yes” to things. As you learn, you’re trusted with more responsibility—and then inevitably, you realize you’ve said “yes” to too many things and you need to shift your focus. When I first joined full-time, I split my time between back office stuff, project management, and internal documentation. Miki was wearing doing some of the creative lead work at the time, and as she brought me in on more of those strategic discussions, I got interested in doing it myself. She was great about pushing me to grow, too; there were many times that I’d ask her a question in Slack and she’d say, “What do you think?” I teased her about being too obvious—but those moments are exactly what led me here.

And now, as we bring on more clients under a subscription model, my role is evolving again. Jackson and Miki and I have talked a lot in one-on-ones about switching costs and the overall hours I’m putting in, and eventually we decided that it was time to bring in more support on the project management side, to make sure my attention stays on the quality of the content.

What’s the company culture like?

There’s an emphasis on what we call meta conversations that I really appreciate. It was new to me —the cofounders of the company wanting to check in not about a specific project, but just to hear how I’m thinking and feeling about my job. And I think it’s true of the whole team , too. People don’t just want you to feel comfortable, they want to know if you’re uncomfortable, which is a whole other level.

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?

Honestly, right now I think it’s finding a balance between making sure our clients are happy and giving the team everything they need to be as successful. In employer branding and in tech in general, things move quickly. People are busy, schedules change, and adapting to that is part of our job. But I really value every single person on our team, including our contractors, and I want them to give them some level of stability and adequate preparation and space to be creative. 

I’m working on balance in my own role, too, because even with more support there will always be some amount of planning and email—and it’s easy for those seemingly urgent things to overpower the important work of making sure our content is great. But I’m getting better at carving out time just for editing, and it helps just being part of this team. Whether it’s a thoughtful comment on a draft or a grammar discussion in our “Writer’s Room” Slack channel, I’m constantly reminded of how much we care about words.

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

Ask questions! I ask a ton, and Miki and Jackson understand that taking a minute or two to explain or coach can save us all time in the long run. I’ve learned so much here, and it’s because they’re great teachers, as is everyone else on the team. When you want to grow, all you have to do is speak up. The team will help you create a path to 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.

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 http://soundcloud.com/nicolai-heidlas | Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ | Music promoted by Audio Library http://youtu.be/kbqmEJTr3nU

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