smartie spotlight: Jennifer in Grand Rapids

I’m Jennifer Wallace, a Business Development Intern. I’m a lucky wife, a doting mommy of two, and an USAF intelligence veteran who graduates from Grand Valley State University with a bachelor’s in public relations this April.

What got you into staffing? (Or how did you become a smartie?) 
I was assigned smartdept. inc. in my Advertising and Public Relations Capstone course at Grand Valley State University. I researched the staffing industry and smartdept. inc., and formulated a campaign to suit smartdept. inc.’s needs to reach a narrowed target audience in the Greater Grand Rapids Area. When I heard about this job opening, I jumped on it.

Do you have any pets? 
I have a pug named Gidget and an ornery cat named Indiana “Tiny Paws” Jones. They’re both naughty.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what 3 things would you take with you? 
A machete, a hunting rifle with ammo, and a case of whiskey. I would like to survive.

What is the best thing about being a smartie? 
All the people I get to meet and know!

What is your favorite band? 
I don’t have a favorite band, but my favorite composer is Tchaikovsky.

What is your favorite type of pizza? 
Hand-tossed with garlic crust, thick-cut pepperoni, maitake mushrooms, and banana pepper slices.

What is your favorite movie? 
Burn After Reading

What is your dream job (not in staffing)? 
Chief Communications Officer for a large corporation or investor relations practitioner at a public relations firm that operates nationally.

Top tip for any job seeker: 
Apply to jobs you’re passionate about and talk about what facets of that job interest you (and why) during the interview. Being passionate about the job and displaying your knowledge thereof will work in your favor.

smartdept. inc. is indeed Good for Grand Rapids, Business as a Force for Good

What does it feel like to be deemed “Good for Grand Rapids” you ask? It’s that moment when Grandma walks in the door with her famous blueberry pie, and she baked it just for you (it feels awesome)! When we got involved with Local First and Good for Grand Rapids, we had no idea the knowledge that the organization would be able to share with us, and the impact it would have.

The process of being recognized as a Good for Grand Rapids business was completed in two steps. We first met with Dana of Local First to learn more about the initiatives the team was working on, and how we could get involved. The second step was a bit more intricate. We completed a thorough assessment that asked for our deepest and darkest secrets i.e. environmental impact, employee satisfaction numbers, community involvement, and most importantly our dedication to our local community.

The Good for Grand Rapids initiative celebrates companies using business as a force for good. These companies have a demonstrated commitment to positive environmental and social change. They create high-quality jobs, stronger communities and a healthier Great Lakes region. To be accepted into this group of celebrated businesses after taking the assessment was certainly an honor.

Once accepted, Local First supplies you with an incredible visual tool to show you where you’re located on the scale of environmental impact, social impact, employee satisfaction, and more. The team offers multiple networking and workshop opportunities to learn and improve. Because it’s never good to stay stagnant, even when you’re GOOD – you should be working to be GREAT, right!?

On February 8th, we attended the Lakeshore Annual Meeting and Local Motion Awards, where we were recognized as one of the Top 8 Finalists in the running for the Good for Grand Rapids Awards.

We are honored to be involved with Local First and Good for Grand Rapids, and look forward to continuing our efforts of positively impacting our GR community! Good for Grand Rapids is open to all Grand Rapids local businesses and we definitely recommend getting involved, and hey, maybe we will see you at the next workshop! Information on Local First can be found at www.localfirst.com.

From the desk of Hannah Staal, smartdept. inc. Grand Rapids Branch Manager

What are the best (and worst) questions to ask during an interview?

An important part of preparing for an interview is thinking through (and writing down) questions for your interviewers. While there is such a thing as asking too many questions, coming in with a short list of smart questions will go a long way to both understand the role and impress the hiring manager. It’s always best to focus on the role, the team and company – not the vacation package.

Great questions:

  • What are the biggest professional challenges that the person in this role is likely to encounter?
  • What are your long term goals for this role and department?
  • How is the team structured?
  • How closely will I work with a supervisor or mentor?
  • What types of employee tend to succeed here? OR – What qualities are most important for success in this role?
  • Are there opportunities to take on new projects and challenges that may fall out of the actual job responsibilities? 
  • Is there any experience you’re looking for that I haven’t yet spoken to?
  • What are the next steps/best way to follow up after our meeting?

Avoid asking:

  • How long will it take for a promotion? (You seem like you’re only interested in climbing the ladder, not focused on being successful in the current opportunity)
  • How long until I can take vacation? (Wait until offer stage or a conversation with HR to ask about benefits, PTO, etc.)
  • How soon can I apply for another job here? (Don’t jump ship so quickly! Stay focused on the one position.)
  • How much PTO do I get? (You shouldn’t be planning your vacation before you even get the job.)
  • Flexible Schedule or special privileges (Save these for when you actually have an offer.)
  • Anything generic – So…. What do you like about working in X industry? (Really, how is this helping you evaluate the job?) 

Start Off Your 2018 Job Search in Style With These Classic Blogs from smartdept. inc.

If your 2018 New Year’s Resolutions include a new job in the Creative and Digital world, the creative consultants at smartdept. inc. are here to help! We’ve ventured into the archives to pull some of our favorite tips to get your search started out right. As always, we’d love to be a part of your journey to a new career (and even included a blog for that too!), so get in touch with a real-life smartie today!

Give your resume an overhaul: Read more >

Spruce up your LinkedIn profile: Read more >

Upgrade your portfolio: Read more >

What NOT to do on an interview: Read more >

What to expect from working with smartie: Read more >


Find a job in Chicago >
Find a job in Grand Rapids >
Find a job in Seattle >

Get Smart

Having choices is generally a good thing. When it comes to staffing resources, we recommend that job seekers take advantage of several options (as long as smartdept. inc. is one of them). If you’re a hiring manager searching for candidates niched in creative, interactive and marketing, however, we would prefer you look no further. 

Started by a couple (literally) of former creative professionals, smartdept. inc. is a staffing resource that specializes in creative, interactive, and marketing placements. We have been operating in the Chicago & Seattle markets for 16 years, and in Grand Rapids, Michigan for just under 2 years. While we compete with the largest staffing companies in these markets, our boutique approach to service sets us apart. 

Our goal is to develop meaningful relationships with people, so that we can accurately and efficiently make a match. How do we do it? Well, we are accessible! We don’t have voicemail and we answer your call even if it’s after hours. And, by asking the right questions and putting on our listening ears, we efficiently get to know the people we represent. It’s no different for our clients! If we know you better, our results will be better. So, we’re always curious about how you’ve been successful in your organization, we love seeing your environment and digging deeper about how people work best with you.

Making good relationships takes time and effort and I’m proud to say that the people at smartdept. inc. take the time to do what it takes to move our relationships forward in a positive direction.

My name is Colin Wodarski and I am an Enterprise Business Development Manager here at smartdept. inc. I believe in our process because I have seen it work.

So, if you haven’t already, get smart and give us a try! Reach out to me any time at colin@thesmartdept.com to talk about or your next hire or your job search.

smartie spotlight: Colleen in Seattle

Colleen Walton is smartdept’s resident expert in all things glitter, and she works in our Seattle office. She has a sunny disposition and an unyielding passion for Disneyland, Harry Potter and Starbucks. 

What got you into staffing?
I basically fell into staffing. I knew that I wanted to be a recruiter, and I interviewed for a position through an agency. Even though I didn’t get that job, the agency hired me for an internal position. So it worked out. 

Do you have any pets?
No, but whenever I see a dog tied up outside I come up with a strategy for taking it home with me.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what 3 things would you take with you?
I was going to be smart and say a boat… But I could be happy anywhere with a lifetime supply of Diet Coke, McDonald’s chicken nuggets, and my Nintendo Switch.

What is the best thing about being a smartie?
The people! (I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true.) Even though I’m halfway across the country from the Chicago and Grand Rapids offices, I still feel like I’m part of the team. 

What is your favorite band?
Does Britney Spears count as a band? If not, then I’d have to go with ABBA. 

What is your favorite staffing story?
I got to interview my hero – a UX Designer who worked on the Starbucks mobile app. 

The call was going well until I admitted that I’m a huge fan of his work. I LOVE the Starbucks app, especially mobile orders (which he designed). This caught him a little bit off-guard. And then I causally mentioned that I tell every person I meet about the app and encourage him or her to use it. I really thought I had found someone as passionate about the app as I am… but I think I ended up scaring him a little bit because of how excited I was. 

I still hope that if he ever feels a little down, he remembers that one recruiter who totally fan-girled over his Starbucks work, and it makes him feel better.

What is your favorite type of pizza?
I’m sure everyone in Chicago is absolutely horrified, but nothing beats Domino’s pepperoni. #SorryNotSorry

What is your favorite movie?
It’s a tie between Legally Blonde and Clueless. 

What is your dream job (not in staffing)?
A back up dancer for Britney Spears. 

Top tip for any job seeker:
When you’re talking about your experience, highlight the things you’d like to do more of. If you have a portfolio, your favorite types of projects should be the first thing people see. 

Reach out to Colleen at colleen@thesmartdept.com.

So you want a fresh resume…. where to start?

In the 10 years I’ve been in staffing, I’ve looked at 3 million resumes (give or take a few 100,000). I’m excited to share some expert advice on making your resume excellent.

First at foremost, tailor your resume to align with the job you want, while keeping in mind that formatting, organization, and readability are important as well. Take a long look at the job description for the role you have in mind. What key words and ideas jump out at you? What have you accomplished in your career that makes you an awesome fit for the position? Do you have the software/technical skills reflected in your resume that are required? Your resume should reflect all of these things.

The closer your resume matches up with the job description, the more compelling it will be for a Recruiter or Hiring Manager to follow up with you. It may be easy to assume that having a certain job title means you have a specific kind of experience, but you need to spell things out for someone like a recruiter who might have many candidates in front of them with the same job title. If you are applying for a role that requires certain experiences, and you have that experience – add a specific section with examples of those.

LENGTH: Stick to a one-page resume if you have less than five years of experience, and expand into two pages if you’re more seasoned.


  • Stick with standard fonts like Arial, Garamond, Times New Roman or Calibri. They’re easy on the eyes
  • Choose size 11 or 12 font – making the font smaller to fit everything on one page is not ideal – it needs to be legible
  • Avoid script fonts. Use italics, bolding and caps sparingly
  • “Creative” formatting like using heavy graphics or running text diagonally across the page is never a good idea – sometimes your resume only gets a quick glance, make it count!


  • Header: Your name, email address, phone number, city, state and zip code should be clearly listed at the top of the page. No need to share your street address.
  • Summary: A well-written Summary sets the stage for the rest of your resume. Five to seven sentences are ideal. Speak to your years of experience, area of specialization, and industries in which you’ve worked.  Do you have an advanced degree? Do you have staff management experience? Are you a strong project manager? Have you worked for a big name company or client? What are your technical or software skills?  Look at that job description again – and format each summary to each specific role you are applying for. What can you call attention to on a high-level to matches the things that the description calls for?
  • Tools/Skills: After your summary, make a quick list of the programs and skills in your toolkit – leading with those called for in the job description. Whether you’re a marketing analyst well-versed in Adobe Analytics and SQL or a designer skilled at using Adobe Creative Cloud, call attention to your familiarity with the required and nice-to-have tools.
  • Professional Experience:
    – List your experience chronologically, with your most recent job listed first.
    – If you have been working for an agency or freelancing, include the names/industries of your top clients. Unless your company is a house-hold name, include a one line description about your company. Are they national or global? This helps put your experience into context.
    – Lead with your company, title, start and end dates including months, not just the year.
    – When describing your role, think about the job description again. Lead with information that ties back to the job you’re applying to. More than just a list of tasks, speak to your measurable accomplishments. How have you impacted the bottom line?
    – Format these points in a bulleted list, rather than a big block of text.

EDUCATION: If you are early in your career (less than three years out of school), consider floating your Education as the first item on your resume. If not, the Education section should be toward the end. Include the name of your school, the degree earned, and your graduation date.


  • “References available upon request.” This is assumed.
  • Personal interests can be appealing to potential hiring managers, but avoid anything that is polarizing such as religious affiliations.

For feedback on your resume and a hand with your job search, get in touch with a real-life smartie today!

Find a job in Chicago >
Find a job in Grand Rapids >
Find a job in Seattle >


from the desk of Amy Porter, Sr. Creative Consultant in Chicago

Are you making the most of LinkedIn?

Whether you’re actively looking for the next step in your career or just open to hearing about new opportunities, LinkedIn is an excellent resource. But how do you make the most of it?

  • Check your status: The Privacy Settings in your profile includes a button labeled “Let recruiters know that you’re open to new opportunities.” Checking “Yes” helps you show up in recruiter searches matching your career interests.
  • Check your mail: Push InMails to your email. Under the Communications tab, set “Messages from Members” to “Yes” so you always know when a recruiter or hiring manager is reaching out.
  • Check your facts: Do the start and dates on your resume match up with your profile? Big discrepancies in dates and titles will be a red flag to recruiters and hiring managers.
  • Include an updated resume, your email address, and a current portfolio link (if applicable) on your profile.
  • Describe your current and past experience. Prioritize details that are relevant to the job you seek.
  • Expand your network in a thoughtful way. Send a short intro with your invite and respond with a purpose when your new connecting accepts.
  • Your Summary/Bio is the best place for your “elevator pitch.” This quick intro should leave a positive impression about who you are, what you do, and why you are doing it. Let people get to know you without having to read a novel.
  • Keywords: Fill your skills section with relevant technology, programming languages, activities, and certifications.
  • A clean headshot is all you need. Avoid unprofessional options like a car selfie (complete with SnapChat filter), a poorly edited group shot (whose arm is that?), or your cat.
  • Feel free to include a little bit about your hobbies, passion projects, and volunteer work.
  • Remove irrelevant jobs from your bio (food service, child care, etc), but do include volunteer work.
  • When a recruiter reaches out, take a moment to engage with them. Even if the job isn’t a great match, or if you’re genuinely not looking right now – things can change on a dime. You can always reach back out to them 6-months or a year from now if your situation changes.

If you’d like to get a jump-start on your search – get in touch with a real-life smartie today!

Find a job in Chicago >
Find a job in Grand Rapids >
Find a job in Seattle >

from the desk of Amy Porter, Sr. Creative Consultant in Chicago

Pumpkin Paint Night

One exciting thing about being a smartie is spending time with talented creatives. The Chicago team got to show of their creative skills during pumpkin paint night.

Harry Potter – by Sana  //  Owl scene – by Jaime  //  Cartman – by Nina  // Abstract – by Amy  //  Googly Eyes – by Matt


What recruiters want you to know

Do you ever feel like applying for full-time jobs is a full-time job in itself? You know the drill – shotgun your resume out to 50-100 online postings. Maybe you even read some of the descriptions. If lightning strikes, you’ll snag 2-3 HR phone interviews. With any luck, you may even hear back from one of them within a month, but maybe not, and that’s what you’re used to.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you had someone in your corner who really took the time to get to know you? Who brought relevant jobs to your attention and made sure that your resume was on the right hiring manager’s desk at the right time?

That’s where we come in!

The creative consultants at smartdept recruit exclusively on creative roles in Chicago, Seattle and Grand Rapids. Meeting with the right recruiter can be one of the most rewarding and beneficial relationships you make in your career.

How can you make the most of the relationship?

  • Come prepared with your resume and portfolio, and be open to suggestions. Our recruiters have seen it all. They are experts in the creative space – and they know what their clients are looking for. If they have a suggestion on how to better your digital portfolio or resume, take it! If the smartie you meet with, doesn’t have much feedback on your resume, ask for it!
  • Be transparent and honest, always. We promise to be sincere and match you with not just any role, but the right role. In return, if you have other irons in the fire, if contracts aren’t what you’re comfortable with, we need to know! We build relationships with people and it’s our expertise. It is vital that we keep both our clients and our candidates on the same page.
  • Explain when you’re feeling unsure. There are a lot of murky waters to navigate here, and we’re here to help. Are you looking at multiple offers? Great! Talking out all of the options with your recruiters is the best way to weigh the pros and cons of each opportunity.

What can you expect when you meet with a smartie?

  • We will never force a job onto a candidate.
  • Honest and valuable insight into job opportunities – if we have something that sounds great to you, but we know from our relationship that it isn’t the best fit whether that means the culture, growth trajectory, or work style isn’t aligning – we are going to be honest with you.
  • Consistent communication and a smooth timeline (most of the time) – unlike those online applications you’re applying to day after day, we are going to keep you up to speed. If you’ve been disqualified from the role, we don’t leave you hanging. And if we are waiting on our client to review your application, you will know. We do our best to keep the process as seamless and hassle-free as possible.

So what do our services cost you, the job seeker? Nothing.

It will require your time, your engagement and a little bit of trust. smartdept. inc. is a free resource to our job seeking candidates. Now what are you waiting for – get in touch with a real-life smartie today!

Find a job in Chicago >
Find a job in Grand Rapids >
Find a job in Seattle >


from the desk of Hannah Staal, Creative Consultant in Grand Rapids

Portfolio Review: Expert Tips

When applying to a design role, one of the first things a hiring manager will look at is your portfolio. The creative consultants at smartdept. inc. review 100’s of portfolios each month and want to share their top tips on how to make sure yours stands out from the crowd.

Unsurprisingly, the one thing that everyone on staff wanted to talk about was organization. Whether you’re organizing by campaign, client, or type of medium, it should be very easy to navigate through and get to the right place.

See the rest of our expert tips below:

Hannah Staal, Creative Consultant in Grand Rapids

  • The most effective portfolio will tell your story, celebrate your brand. It will showcase your growth and development.
  • Flushed out campaigns: Does your messaging hold true for several different pieces? i.e. signage, logo, branding, sales sheets
  • Are you specialized? i.e. packaging, agency driven…or more generalized? Embrace it!
  • Concept to Execution: did you show process? That’s always a cool perk.

Jaime Sklar, Creative Consultant in Chicago

  • Functionality: Content and samples should flow naturally and easily. User experience is huge when looking at design portfolios especially. Nobody likes to waste time trying to click through different samples and images that are choppy and inconsistent
  • Layout and Design Aesthetic: If the color and design aesthetic is too bulky, showy, or flashy, it takes away from the work. Black backgrounds look outdated. The text should be easy to read on each page/sample.
  • Portfolio Site Used: Use a modern portfolio site and check it regularly. Coding changes and updates can pop up without warning.
  • Variety: I prefer portfolios that include several samples from each project, along with descriptions of that project and the work you contributed.

Colleen Walton, Creative Consultant in Seattle

  • Keep it simple! The background should be neutral and the navigation should be intuitive. Your site shouldn’t distract from your work.
  • Descriptions are key. They don’t have to be long, but one or two sentences about what the project is and how you were involved is very helpful.
  • Make it easy for people to contact you. Include your email or add a contact page. People can’t hire you if they don’t know how to reach you.

Nina Strolia, Creative Consultant in Chicago

  • Share some information about each sample to give the viewer context. What did you contribute to this piece? Was this an existing file that you updated or did you concept it?
  • Delete that distracting background. The highlight of the site is your work, not some crazy animated background. A simple, white background is always a winner.

Colin Wodarski, Business Development Manager

  • You should express your personality without it distracting from the main focus – your work!
  • Samples should include a pertinent description in an easy to find, quick, digestible format: where did you do the project; who was the client; if it was done as a team, what was your role; tools/software used; challenge & outcome (i.e. these direct mailers helped increase web traffic by 50%)

Amy Porter, Sr. Creative Consultant in Chicago

  • Hiring managers like to see a copy of or link to your resume on your portfolio. Put everything in one place. That goes a lot farther than the cutesy “about me” page.
  • Tread carefully with sensitive materials. Did you sign an NDA when you designed that nifty piece of internal software? Even if your portfolio is behind a password wall, your future employer may worry if you’re showing samples from legally protected work. Be sure you have permission before putting your work out there.
  • Building a responsive site portfolio site Square Space, Wix or WordPress using snappy template. Or if you’re targeting Web Design and UX roles, build the site yourself to push it the extra mile. Be sure to test it on multiple browsers, your tablet and mobile phone.

Eric Pairitz, smartdept. inc. Principal

  • When I am reviewing a portfolio I look for a clean and organized presentation.
  • Often the way a candidate presents their work in an interview setting can be a hint as to how they organize their work day.
  • Show up to an in person interview at the scheduled time. Late is never good, but too early can also be a deterrent for many hiring managers.

Michelle Pairitz, smartdept. inc. Principal

  • Present your work in chronological order. Most recent work should be first and student work you are proud of should be last.
  • If your portfolio lacks depth, it is perfectly acceptable to include well-executed spec work.
  • Be honest with yourself and your recruiter about what your role was on each portfolio piece. Elaborate on working with a team, the software used, and if any special circumstances were involved.


Grand Rapids celebrates first anniversary!

I’m very happy to announce the one year anniversary of our Grand Rapids office. We opened up on April 11th of 2016 to better support a large client in the area. Over the past 12 months we’ve had the pleasure of developing so many new relationships with clients, talent and various organizations. Hannah Staal, who is also celebrating her first anniversary with smartdept. inc., has done a tremendous job building our talent pool at the local level and building our brand in the Grand Rapids community. We are very proud to be the only niche creative, interactive and marketing staffing company in Grand Rapids and look forward to continued growth and success in the years ahead. If you work for a company that hires talent in Michigan or are seeking new opportunities, then please don’t hesitate to reach out! 

From the desk of Matt Crook, smartdept. inc. President

Advice for Companies Looking to Attract Top Talent

The beginning of a new fiscal year always brings new project budgets, additions to headcount and unexpected turnover — all resulting in the need to identify good full-time and temporary talent. As a 20-year veteran of the staffing industry, I’ve been approached many times by companies to discuss what attracts good candidates. There are many factors that can influence a prospective candidate’s decision, including salary, benefits, location of company/potential commute, off-site work options, and work-life balance. Companies have gone to great lengths to put together great packages and attract good talent, only to lose them due to a very simple reason — the hiring process takes too long.

There’s an old expression in business: “Time kills all deals.” And this holds very true for hiring top candidates. Think about it — top candidates are consistently being recruited (even when they may not be exploring a new job). Often they are juggling opportunities with multiple companies. A lengthy interview process and the inability to make quick hiring decisions can impact the odds of landing a top candidate.

It seems the hiring process has become more drawn out since the Recession of 2008. For several years afterward, companies redefined roles to keep headcount down, and many employees took on additional responsibilities. Employers wanted candidates who fit every criterion of a job description — from industry experience to very specific software skills — and, of course, they also had to be a cultural fit with the organization. This added steps to the interviewing process, from executives scheduling interviews with non-direct reports to panel interviews with various team members. Today it’s not uncommon for the average role to take three or four steps between phone screens, in-person interviews and skill assessments. The average life cycle of an open position is now typically about three months or longer.

And it’s not just full-time roles that have developed a long hiring cycle — it takes much more time to on-board temporary help than it did five years ago. Many assignments of three months or longer in duration require an interview process very similar to that of a direct placement. At the very least, there are two interviews: a phone screen and an in-person. Add on skill assessments, waiting for hiring managers’ feedback and pre-employment screenings, and it can easily take up to four weeks just to start a temporary employee. Working in the creative, interactive and marketing niches, we staff a variety of roles in which talent is in great demand — especially anyone with digital experience. Often these candidates are sought out weeks before finishing a contract and have little or no downtime before starting somewhere new. They won’t be available long enough to endure a month-long interview cycle.

My advice for companies that are looking to obtain top talent more consistently is pretty simple: Go back to the basics and examine your hiring process. How long does it take you to vet resumes? How many people need to be involved in a new hire? How efficient is your company at getting quick feedback after interviews? How quickly can you make a hiring decision?  

While taking time to appropriately vet potential hires is very important, be aware of the parts of the interview process that stall. Try to structure interviews so candidates don’t need to come on-site more than twice during the hiring process. Block interview days and times so multiple candidates can go through the process at the same time and comparisons/feedback can be drawn more quickly.

And if you identify the perfect candidate early in the hiring process, don’t stall things by comparing that person to others who are not as far along in the process. Candidates are very aware of companies that move too slowly. Good talent tends to have strong networks, so word gets around. And good candidates appreciate companies that move the process along quickly and show consistent interest in them. Again, “time kills all deals” — so once you identify a good candidate, don’t let them get away!

From the desk of Matt Crook, smartdept. inc. President

Happy Anniversary to…Us!

This month, smartdept. inc. is celebrating our 15th anniversary! It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since we began our lives as smarties back in Seattle, with just me and Michelle. Boy, have we have come a long way! We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and in between we’ve managed to accomplish a number of positive things that relate to staffing – like matching more than 3000 creative professionals with more than 500 of our clients! And, while not quite related to staffing, we witnessed the Cubs win a World Series.

We would not be here today (still going) without YOU, our amazing clients and creatives. You are (all) the reason we keep those creative wheels turning. So, as I wipe a tear from my eye, thank you for the past 15 years and cheers to 15 more! High fives all around (or a fist bump if you prefer)!

For fun, we decided to look back and pick our top 15 highlights from the past 15 years. And yes, there will absolutely be a Cubs World Series win in there! Enjoy!

from the desk of Eric Pairitz, smartdept. inc. Principal

Matt joins the 10-year club

This past week our very own Matt Crook celebrated 10 years at smartdept. inc. Congratulations, Matt on this incredible achievement.




smartdept. Chicago and smartdept. Grand Rapids Team Up for a Volunteer Opportunity

Back in September, Leah Bye, a Chicago smartie, and Hannah Morgan, a Grand Rapids smartie, teamed up and utilized their talents to help out the Grand Rapids community during Weekend Blitz.

Weekend Blitz, an event that unites local professionals and organizations with big hearts and a fierce need to collaborate for the good of the GR community! This is a weekend long design challenge, conceived and coordinated by AIGA and Design for Good Western Michigan*. Teams of 8-10 professionals volunteer from a wide variety of industries (design, tech, marketing, etc) are paired with ten local organizations in need of their skills and talents. A team lead works with a mentor to define the organization’s greatest need and then strategically assigns tasks to teammates. From there, the teams closely collaborate with each other and a representative from their organization throughout the weekend. Weekend Blitz reimagines the essence of design and playful thinking through the lens of an accelerated timeframe.


* “Design for Good is a platform to build and sustain the implementation of design thinking for social change. This platform creates opportunities for designers to build their practice, their network, and their visibility. Design for Good recognizes the wide range of designers’ work and leadership in social change which benefits the world, our country and our communities.” Learn more >


Grand Rapids – On the Road to Success

Opening an office in a new market has been adventure. Now five months into the process with a few freelance roles under my belt and a couple direct hires – I would love to share the methods I have been utilizing to become a successful recruiter, and grow our brand in this new market!

1. Networking – it is all about networking, people! Grand Rapids is very unique in the way that it is all about “who you know”, well I want to know EVERYONE!

  • Meet EVERYONE – It is crucial to build relationships and truly put yourself out there. Networking has been a huge chunk of how I have met clients and candidates alike. There are tons of different ways to network – virtually on social media, monthly or weekly meet-up groups, formal and more casual happy-hour events, alumni events, and events created specifically for creatives. I have attended them all – even a web development group where I felt completely foreign when they were talking “shop”, but found some awesome talent that has spread the word about us!

2. Utilize ALL relationships for growth – it doesn’t matter if I knew this person five years ago from college or met them six weeks ago in the coffee shop, I have noticed that it is an absolute must to connect with everyone I can (and I’m not shy about it either)! This community is so eager to help others. They love spreading the word about openings to their friends, colleagues, and students! I have had a blast meeting new people and appreciate all their support as we continue to grow.

3. Consistent Customer Service

  • Quick response time – One of the most successful practices I utilize is quick and consistent response times to both clients and candidates. The appreciative feedback I receive from them reminds me how important it is each time. Even if I respond letting them know I will reply later, they feel much more comfortable.
  • Willingness to go above and beyond – With the partnerships I have made so far – no questions asked, I go above and beyond to make any connection, answer any question, and support them through the interview or hiring process. With the candidates, I do my best to support them by assisting with resume edits or supplying them with ways they could build upon a certain skillset. I also invite my candidates to attend networking events with me, and they love it!
  • Strong and friendly communication – Communication is key in this market! Our clients like to move at their own pace; some really fast and others like turtles. I connect with the candidates often to keep them engaged and their spirits up reassuring them that the position is still moving forward or has taken a pause. Throughout the process, I found that most of my candidates are AWESOME! So, I prefer to check in with them to see how they are doing, or if they have done anything exciting lately, too! Consistent client check-ins have proven to be successful as I have snagged a few recent freelance roles from simply saying ‘hi there! Hope you’re doing well…’.  KEEP EVERYONE ON THE SAME PAGE.

4. Source, Interview, Source, Source, Interview! This day to day here for a consultant may look a bit different because I spend A LOT of time sourcing, and A LOT of time interviewing.

  • My goal has been to interview 10 or more candidates a week. I enjoy meeting the candidates in person because they are able to put a face to a name, feel us out, and I instantly have an idea of where I could see them being placed in the future.
  • I really enjoy sourcing, and playing with the multiple ways you can find talent! Of course LinkedIn Recruiter is my best friend, but I find a lot of great talent through my networking group websites! Grand Rapids can feel quite small at times, and it can be a challenge to find multiple candidates for a specific niche, so I pull from other markets like Kalamazoo or Detroit. Adding those areas into my search and sourcing process actually landed me an amazing candidate that made the physical move for a full-time position in Grand Rapids!!

Overall, these past five months have been fantastic! Things are really starting to get moving on the client front with the help of our new business development consultant, Colin. If we continue to provide top of the line customer service and present top talent, we will definitely reach our goals, and perhaps surpass them!

– from the desk of smartdept. inc. Creative Consultant, Hannah Morgan



Hannah Morgan – Getting around in Grand Rapids

Hannah Morgan, our newest creative consultant in our Grand Rapids office, is a Grand Rapids, MI native and a proud Grand Valley State alumna. She is excited to be connecting her creative community with top clients in the area. 

Hannah familiarized herself with AMA (American Marketing Association of West Michigan) through one of her creative candidates. Most recently, she was given the opportunity to create the AMA blog post highlighting  the last meeting of the year. The topic covered this time around was “How the Digital Age has Changed the Marketing and PR Game”.

We are thrilled to share this with creatives alike! 

from the desk of smartdept. inc. Principal, Eric Pairitz

Interview Don’ts – Stre-e-e-e-tch!

from the desk of smartdept. inc. Principal, Eric Pairitz

3. Stre-e-e-e-tch!

Yup! We’ve all done it. And, most of the time, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. For instance, during a traffic stop, when a police officer asks, “How fast you were going?” Or when the nurse’s assistant at your regularly scheduled check-up asks, “What’s your height and weight?” (I always say 6′ with shoes on.) Oh, and my favorite, “How many baseball cards do you have?” Okay, that one is more specific to me. But you get my point. Every single day, we’re asked a dozen questions that allow us the opportunity to “STRETCH” the truth.

But what about during an interview? Can we “STRETCH” a tiny bit there? You know — make four-and-a-half years of experience into five? Maybe bump that previous salary up a bit? Stre-e-e-e-tch!? Just a little? Well, I’m not your mother, so do what you think? However, creatives, beware! There’s one place for certain that you should never make a “STRETCH.” And that place is during a portfolio review.

That’s right! You should be up front in every case about your level of participation on a particular piece in your portfolio. If your contribution to a piece was more production and less conceptual, let your prospective employer know. Maybe it was a collaborative effort? If so, give credit to your partner (they’d like that). Lastly (and this seems obvious), never represent someone else’s work as your own. If you convey to a prospective employer that you possess a particular skill set, you can expect to be put in a position to use that skill set if you’re hired. Stretching the truth may set you up to fail in your new environment. Worse yet, it could cost your employer time and maybe even money.

So remember, if you’re a creative with an opportunity to show off your work, it’s best not to “STRETCH” the truth. Oh, and how many baseball cards do I have? I’d say, “About a million.”

Grand Rapids, Michigan is about to…


You can call it River City, Furniture City or Beer City (because it’s known by all three). And now, you can call it the newest home of smartdept. inc. That’s right! Just like LeBron took his talents to Miami (and then back to Cleveland), we are taking our creative, interactive and marketing recruiting talents to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Effective April 15, 2016 the second largest city in the great state of Michigan, located 30 miles away from a lil’ lake with the same name (that’s Lake Michigan), will be the next location of smartdept. inc. Grand Rapids is a diverse city known for healthcare, consumer goods and the arts. It’s growing and people dig it (we have this in common).

If you know anyone in Grand Rapids who would find our service useful, tell them we just arrived and we need some help unpacking.



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