Get to know: Sandra Barry, Senior Writer and Editor

Joined Job Portraits: March 2017 | Based in: Denver

What do you do at Job Portraits?

I do a lot of our writing and editing, both for clients and for the Job Portraits website. As part of the editing, I also coach other writers on the team.

When I’m working on our own content, I’m generally involved early on. I might write up a draft based on someone else’s notes, or we’ll start with brainstorming and I’ll take it from there. For most of our blog posts, I also handle project management, so I kind of see things through the whole editorial process.

For client work, though, I usually start contributing later, after the strategy is established. If I’m writing, I’ll join the interviews, and then take a first stab at a draft before other team members weigh in. If I’m editing, I’ll pick things up later, in what we call the “wordsmith” stage. Usually, that’s some combination of developmental editing and copy editing — I’ll read for flow and make sure the structure serves the goals of the piece, but I’ll also fine-tune the language to make it more concise and conversational. My background is in broadcast journalism, so I spent years editing copy for people to read aloud. That comes in handy at Job Portraits, where much of the work we do is in Q&A format.

Much as I love writing, I think the best part of my job is when I get to hop on a video chat with a writer for a “live edit,” which is basically a workshop. I’ll read the piece ahead of time and flag things I’m wondering about, and then we’ll go through the wordsmith process together. Our writers are great, so it’s always productive and fun. I think of my job as helping them — and the people we interview — connect with their audience.

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

For the first decade of my career, I worked as a producer, manager, and investigator in journalism. The newsroom is where I got bit by the editing bug. I was lucky to work with a lot of great reporters who were also great writers, and those collaborations were some of the most rewarding parts of my job.

I also did a stint at a startup here in Denver called Craftsy, which produces online courses in things like cooking, photography, and sewing. I developed a bunch of classes and some other projects, and learned a ton. But I wasn’t doing much actual writing, and I missed it. Eventually, I started working with them on a contract basis and picking up writing and editing jobs with other clients.

I found Job Portraits when they posted a job req for the wordsmith role, and honestly, I knew I was interested right away. I liked their voice, and I liked how much thought they’d clearly put into their values and processes. They also walked the walk when it came to hiring. They respected candidates’ time and had a ton of resources available to help people figure out whether they might be a good fit. There was one post in particular I remember; it talked about looking for confidence in new team members. Miki said while they recognized that confidence can be coached, they also knew they didn’t have the bandwidth at that point to invest in the process. That self-awareness impressed me. I was like, “Okay, these people are thinking.”

What’s it like to collaborate remotely with the team?

I love it. Working from home is a high priority for me; I love the efficiency and being able to set my own schedule. Remote collaboration isn’t for everyone, but I think this team pulls it off well. I was surprised that video conferencing is such a good stand-in for being in the office. When I worked in news, the reporters and I were usually right next to each other when I edited their scripts, and I didn’t necessarily think a video chat could replace that. But I feel like I’ve been able to establish the same level of rapport with the writers on our team. My one-on-ones with Jackson and Miki are also just as productive and positive as the ones I used to have in person.

What’s different about the Job Portraits culture?

For me, it comes down to balance. I’m kind of a process nerd — I like spreadsheets and writing down learnings and playing calendar Tetris — and that’s definitely in the Job Portraits DNA. But editorial work is, in many ways, just the opposite. It’s a subjective, feeling, questioning process. I feel like both sides of me are not only welcomed but valued here. Miki and Jackson balance all the different parts of being a company, and that makes it so much easier for me to balance all the different parts of being a working person. There’s a high bar for quality and professionalism, but at the same time, I’ve always felt free to say what’s on my mind, as long as I’m thoughtful and considerate in doing so.

Miki and Jackson have also never hesitated to invest in my growth, whether that means learning something new or just taking some time for process improvement. That’s rare — a lot of clients don’t have much time to offer feedback, much less give you coaching or other resources to help you improve — and hugely valuable to me.

Lighting Round!

What’s your morning routine?

I usually wake up at 5:00 or so and check a couple of my clients’ social media accounts before I get out of bed, just to make sure the world hasn’t caught fire. Then I snuggle my dogs, even though one of them hates it. I stretch, open every blind in the house, make breakfast, and get to work by about 6:00.

What’s your superpower?

Putting away leftovers. I pick exactly the right size of container almost every time.

What’s the worst advice you ever followed?

I spent an hour trying to think of an answer to this question, and I still don’t know. I’ve done a lot of dumb things, but I’m pretty sure I came up with them on my own.

What’s your spirit animal?

You know that old meme, lawyer dog? That’s me. He’s a damn good attorney. He passed the bar! But he’s still a silly little corgi.

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

Ulysses, by James Joyce. I had to spend the better part of a semester on it, and if I didn’t have a brilliant professor and three reading guides, I might not have understood a word. But it ended up being the most rewarding reading experience I’ve had. It forces you to create space in your head for both the substance and the execution, and think about how each informs the other. I think that alone changed the way I write and edit.

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

My Grandpa Cork, who passed away not long ago. I had lots of opportunities to talk with him, and I’m grateful for that, but I’m sure I barely scratched the surface. He was a football coach and a history teacher and a Korean War veteran, and he thought carefully about everything — politics, religion, music. He was also funny as hell, and the best storyteller I’ve ever met.

What unpopular opinion do you hold?

You often hear the advice, “Follow your passion,” or “Do what you love and it will never be work.” I don’t necessarily agree with that. It works for some people, but I ended up putting my job above everything else in my life in a way I ultimately wasn’t comfortable with. I still do something I love, but I think I’ve set better boundaries now.

What’s your next adventure?

Camping at Yellowstone. I only live a day’s drive away now, and I want to go this year.

Video music credit: No Frills Comparsa Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) | Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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