Why (we humbly believe) you can trust us

An open letter to our readers — job candidates, like you — about Job Portraits’ editorial principles and process

As a co-founder of Job Portraits, I’ve been asked more than a few times since we started: Are the companies you work with really as great as your profiles make them seem? Or are you just papering over the cracks, making bad cultures look good?

The short answers are: Pretty much, and nope. We believe (and our results show) our clients will hire better people faster if they give you, the candidates, what you want — and that includes honest answers about the challenges their teams are facing. This approach is our secret sauce; the more we share the truth, the more we gain your trust. It’s also the reason we say, humbly but without hesitation, that you can believe what you read.

In essence, that’s our philosophy. But I think the long answers are worth sharing, too.

Who are we? We’re you.

We get why candidates are skeptical, because every single one of us has been in your shoes. We know the hiring process usually sucks. In fact, Job Portraits was born out of my own job hunt. Back in 2013, I was looking for work as a product manager. There were a few companies I was interested in, but I couldn’t find information about their cultures. What to do? I called them directly and arranged to spend half a day taking pictures and interviewing team members — and as a thank-you, I drafted blog posts about what I learned. The rest is history.

Today, Job Portraits is a whole team of people on a mission to widen access to meaningful work. Some of us are former journalists; some aren’t. All of us believe transparency is an indispensable tool for helping our clients hire the right people.
Behind the scenes, every single one of our team members helps shape the profiles we publish. Top row: Miki Johnson, Jackson Solway, and Olivia Haas. Middle row: Jon Young, Sandra Barry, and Natasha Sunderland. Bottom row: Jonaki Mehta, Grace Renninger, and Christina Bryza. Not pictured: Andy Whelan.

How we choose (and reject) companies

As you might imagine, transparency is not always an easy sell. Many companies aren’t used to opening up about the problems they face, especially to the very people they’re trying to hire. But again, addressing the hard stuff helps our clients earn your trust — and helps you self-select and decide whether to apply.

If a potential client isn’t on board with our approach, we can say no — and we have. We’ve declined to work with some great brands because they weren’t willing to talk about their challenges. We’ve also agreed to work with companies that have historically struggled with culture, because they were willing to be honest about those flaws.

Our relationship with journalism

As much as we value transparency and our roots in journalism, we also recognize that we aren’t reporters. What Job Portraits does would never fly in a traditional news organization, for one simple reason: We let our clients review our work before it’s published.

The risk is obvious; our clients could strip out information that’s important to you. But because we choose our clients so carefully, that rarely happens, and we believe the risk is well worth it. By agreeing to let clients review our work, we gain their trust — and with it, access that’s otherwise unheard of in the press-skeptical startup world. Our Medium publication is full of direct, first-person information on startup culture that you can’t find anywhere else.

Every step of our editorial process is designed to draw out unique insights. We ask each team member we interview to be completely honest with us, and we explain why that’s important. We ask engineers about the specific technical challenges they’re facing, and we dig deep with salespeople to go beyond the positive spin they’re often trained to give. We also take documentary-style photos — which means our subjects aren’t always smiling.

Exactly how much we edit

Our writers and editors can and do rearrange and rework conversations for space, clarity, and to highlight the things we know you care about most. But while we often edit people’s words, we never edit their intent. We also work hard to retain specific examples and real emotions, because we know they help you understand what life on a team is really like. And we try our best to preserve each interviewee’s voice, because we think it’s not just what someone says, but how they say it, that matters.

What don’t we publish? Obviously, we don’t share sensitive information like trade secrets. We usually take out jargon, too, unless it’s a detail we think would be helpful — like a specific technology, tool, or method. We ditch redundancies. And most important for you, we cut the BS. Here’s a direct quote from our style guide, which our writers and editors use for every story: “Strip fluff, generalities, and back-patting, especially the stuff you hear from every company.”

What we do when companies balk

Because our clients know our philosophy up front, they’re usually not too surprised when they read our drafts. Sometimes, though, we do get pushback. Clients have flagged sections on challenges as too negative, balked at sharing details like team size or the technologies they use, and asked to cut photos that show intense conversations or messy desks.

Ultimately, it’s their call. But we push for the most authentic possible representation of what we’ve seen and heard, because we know that’s what works. We reiterate that talking honestly about challenges will attract people who are excited to help solve them, we explain that candidates really do care about technical details and that sharing them up-front can save time, and we offer gentle reminders that, generally, job seekers have a sixth sense for inauthenticity. We don’t pick — or win — every battle. But at bare minimum, we make sure our clients know that the worst thing they (and we) can do is lose your trust by telling you something you’ll eventually recognize isn’t true.

Advocating for candidates isn’t always easy, but it does ensure we have a clear North Star for every decision we make. If we’re giving you the information you want and need, we know we’ve done our job.

Like what we do? Want to help us do it? Our clients aren’t the only ones who are hiring. Check out our open positions.

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