Get to know: Olivia Haas, Creative Lead

Joined Job Portraits: May 2017 | Based in: San Francisco

What do you do at Job Portraits?

A number of things! Which is great, because I love variety. I’m lucky to have a diverse network of folks working at great tech companies, so I handle some of our business development. As I come across new companies, I think about how they might benefit from our services, and also who would be cool to work with in terms of social impact.

The bulk of my role is managing client relationships and working closely with clients to strategize and create meaningful content. Internally, I’ll oversee production of the projects — conducting interviews, working with writers, incorporating client feedback, directing photography, and ultimately publishing our stories. Occasionally, I get to dive deeper into the creative side to write and actually take photos, which I love. I’ve also started to expand my focus to video production and building up that side of the business.

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

I first met the Job Portraits team through Medallia, one of our clients and my former employer. But before tech, I had a whole other career, in entertainment. I moved to New York after graduation and worked for the casting director of Manhattan Theatre Club. That was thrilling, but dramatic — while theater is my first love, it’s not without its stresses. It was tough getting by on odd jobs and the small stipend from my full-time internship, and I missed the relative peace of mind of California, where I grew up. So I moved back to LA and ended up at Columbia Pictures, supporting the president and executive producers. From there, I went to a TV production company, where I worked on several shows while studying TV writing at UCLA and training in improv at The Groundlings on the side. But ultimately, I decided Hollywood wasn’t for me. The culture was all about climbing a ladder, and mental health wasn’t a priority. I spent a few years stressed and unhappy, and eventually took steps to change my own brain and thinking, which helped me realize I needed to leave. It was scary, because I’d imagined a career in entertainment my whole life. But I don’t regret it.

I wanted to return to the Bay Area, where I went to college, so I joined Medallia and spent three years building out and running their university programs — everything from campus recruitment to internships and retention. Then in April 2017, I met Miki and Jackson and Jonaki, and we hit it off right away. At the time, I’d just gotten an offer from the marketing team at a very fast-growing tech company. It was a fantastic opportunity, but a few things would have been big compromises for me. And then the chance to join Job Portraits materialized, and it felt like such a natural fit, because of the way Miki and Jackson value work-life balance and value team members as individuals. I wanted to learn from them and everyone else on the team, professionally and just as people.

I remember sitting on top of Bernal Hill with Jackson shortly before I made my decision, thinking, “What do I want from my life? I want to become a better writer and creative person, and be more in touch with myself.” The opportunity with Job Portraits was perfectly in alignment with that.

Tell us more about the Job Portraits culture.

I learned a lot about strong company culture at Medallia. They value vulnerability and authenticity, which are very important to me. But I think Job Portraits does it on this whole other level. We’re a small team, and we’re able to work together very closely because we are radically honest with each other. I don’t feel like I have to hide any part of me. I can say, “Hey, I need to go take care of this medical issue,” and both Miki and Jackson are completely supportive, no questions asked.

We’ve also had some incredibly honest conversations, where we can bring things to the table and just clear the air. That level of vulnerability can be scary at first. We had a talk recently where I’ll admit, I started out nervous and defensive and worried. But I was able to calmly and unemotionally talk through those feelings, and ended up almost elated.

Miki and Jackson have a saying I love: “Criticize the idea, not the person.” Every time I’ve shared how I’m feeling here, it’s been well-received and productive. To me, that makes any of the challenges that come with working for a small company totally worth it.

What’s it like to work on a team that’s partially remote?

I didn’t know what to expect at first, but it’s been fairly seamless. I think that’s due to the caliber of people we have on this team. We have the occasional technical issue, but collaboration happens pretty effectively through a combination of video chat, Slack, and email.
When I started, I also had no idea what it would be like to work from home two or three days a week, but I’ve learned that I really like it — I consider it part of my compensation. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to go back to being in an office five days a week. That said, the time I spend at HQ is important to me. I like that sense of community with my teammates, and I love that we’re in the Mission district, which is such a vibrant place. I’m also incredibly grateful for the home-cooked meals Miki makes whenever we’re in the office.

Lightning Round!

What is your morning routine?

If I’m working from home, I get out of bed with just enough time to brush my teeth and make myself presentable enough for a video chat, and then I plop down in front of whatever’s happening on my laptop. On the days when I go to San Francisco, I get a little more presentable, and then get in the car by 8:30 — enough time to get to the city and find parking.

What’s your superpower?

I can nab decent-to-excellent parking almost anywhere, anytime. Something just happens; I have this faith that a spot will materialize, and about 85 percent of the time, it does. Which is especially useful in San Francisco.

What’s the worst advice you ever followed?

This is a tough one. I’ve made a few ill-advised choices in my life, but they’ve really been internally motivated. I will say I definitely fell for the idea that working in entertainment was the only route to a sense of creative success or fulfillment. I believed that for many years.

What’s your spirit animal?

Maybe a loris; people often comment on my big eyes. When I was a camp counselor one summer, we took the students to a zoo — and they bought me a stuffed loris doll, because it had really big eyes. If you’ve never seen a loris, there’s a pretty great video of one being tickled on YouTube.

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

Another hard one! When I was a kid, I used to get in trouble for staying up too late, reading under the covers. I consumed books. These days, I spend more time reading articles than entire books, but I can tell you the last book I finished — When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. Her writing is intimate and poetic, and almost painfully vulnerable. It’s about her life experience and the human experience. That’s the kind of writing I love.

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

The first person who comes to mind is Nora Ephron, the screenwriter. I’ve always admired her work — especially her essays — and I relate to her sense of humor. I’d love to get her feedback on my work, and ask her how to get over myself in my own writing process.

What unpopular opinion do you hold?

I’m not sure how unpopular this is — but in this age of “30 under 30” lists, I’m less and less interested in working non-stop, and in financial or material gain. I’ve watched so many of my Stanford classmates put in insane hours, and for a long time I thought that was the only way to feel fulfilled. But I’ve realized I don’t necessarily need to do that. I still want to achieve success in the sense that I create things that resonate with people and help them feel a certain way. But my priorities have shifted a lot over the past few years. What’s important to me is being in touch with myself, the people in my life, and the natural world — not working 60-hour weeks.

What’s your next adventure?

If we’re talking literal adventures, I’m going on a couple of trips this year that I’m excited about —first Joshua Tree and then Japan, which will be my first time in Asia.

More broadly, I think my next adventure will be a personal creative project that’s been on the tip of my tongue for awhile. I’ve performed as an actor a number of times since returning to the Bay Area, but it’s been awhile since I’ve exercised my playwriting muscles. I’m slowly starting to make progress on my next play, and I think just investing more time and energy in that will feel like a huge personal success.

Video music credit: Music: “Today Was a Good Day” by Wes Haas (2012)—Olivia’s younger brother :)

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