Finding Your Niche

While having a general skill set to draw on is substantial, finding your niche in any field is crucial to securing unique opportunities and growing your professional network. Being an expert in one discipline opens doors to opportunities you might not have considered. Creating a reputation for your specialized skill set will help other professionals recognize your talents by word of mouth. When thinking about your career path, it’s essential to keep in mind what you want to be known for. Are you a graphic designer with a well-rounded portfolio? That’s great! But hiring managers want candidates that are not only versatile but also specialized. There’s no doubt you have the skills to excel in that Presentation Designer job you just applied for – but how will you stack up against another designer who has found their niche in presentation design?

Here are some tips for finding your niche and refining your expertise over your career.

Focus on your strengths

Think about your professional experience so far – what have you excelled at? Are you a responsive and clear communicator? A leader with the insight needed to manage others. An organizational wizard who can wrangle an excel spreadsheet like no one else. Knowing what you’re good at is the first step to finding what you should be known for being good at. If you’re unsure, ask your co-workers or former supervisors to weigh in – sometimes, it’s hard to see where our strengths lie!

Just because you’re good at it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be challenging!

It can be easy to settle into our regular responsibilities, especially if we’re good at them. But clocking in and running through the motions daily will leave you in the dust. Innovations mean jobs are constantly changing and pushing you out of your comfort zone is essential to ensure you are staying competitive in your field. Take every opportunity to try something new; you might find a new skill you possessed all along. Use these opportunities to keep learning and growing, and soon enough, you will be taking on challenges others wouldn’t know where to begin with.

It’s never too late for a change

Maybe what you’ve been doing so far doesn’t light that fire in you anymore- that’s okay! We are constantly changing as humans, and sometimes we need an external change to keep up with our development. It’s never too late to try something new, and with many online resources, it’s easier than ever to change specialties or fields. Try taking that UX course you saw an ad for, or maybe watch some videos on digital marketing trends. Don’t be afraid to explore your interests because your niche will reflect what you’re most passionate about. Once clients and employers see that passion, they’ll know they can trust you with their vision and feel confident that they are in the hands of an expert.


By Rob Leinheiser, smartdept. Talent Acquisition Specialist

Pronouns: More Than Just Grammar

International Pronouns Day takes place every year on the 3rd Wednesday of October. This year Pronouns Day is October 19th. International Pronouns Day takes place each year with a straightforward goal; to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace. That’s amazing because it’s one of our goals at smartdept., too. With that in mind, let’s look at what Pronouns are, why they are essential, and how we can use them in the workplace to create an inclusive and welcoming environment.

What is a Pronoun?

That’s a great question! Thanks for asking. Personal gender pronouns are those a person identifies with and would like to be called when their proper name is not used. The goal is for all people to decide how they want to be addressed. Some examples of commonly used Pronouns are:

  • she/her/hers
  • he/him/his
  • they/them/their
  • zi/zir/zirs/zirself
  • hi/hir/hirs/hirself

Being referred to by the wrong pronouns mainly affects transgender and gender-nonconforming people.

Why are they important?

Another great question! Referring to a person by the Pronoun of their choice is essential to human dignity. At smartdept., we use them because it allows us to see the whole picture of a person. Referring to people in our environment by the Pronoun of their choosing normalizes non-binary and transgender identities in the workplace and creates a safer environment for everyone. Additionally, it shows our commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace and allows us to respect our candidates, clients, and others.

How can we use them?

Ding, Ding, Ding! Five Stars! We should all consider including our Pronouns in our email signature and incorporate neutral language in greetings. If you are not sure how someone would like to be addressed, it’s okay. Just Ask. Try something appropriate like, “My pronouns are _______. Are you comfortable sharing your pronouns with me?” And if you make a mistake and someone corrects you, say “Thank you” instead of “I’m sorry.”

For ideas on how to participate in #pronounsday and for additional resources, please visit


By Haley Stowell, Sr. Creative Account Manager

Hispanic Heritage Month: Literature and Art

The smarty team continues to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with more influential views on Hispanic culture.

Creative Account Manager, Haley Stowell, enjoys the writing of Sandra Cisneros.  Known for work that experiments with literary forms which investigate emerging subject positions, Cisneros, herself, attributes her style to growing up in a context of cultural hybridity and economic inequality. Sandra is the only daughter in a family of six brothers which often made her feel isolated. Additionally, the constant migration of her family between Mexico and the United States made her feel as though she was always straddling two countries, while never really belonging to either culture. As a result, her work deals with the formation of Chicana identity, exploring the challenges of being caught between Mexican and Anglo-American cultures, facing the misogynist attitudes present in both these cultures, and experiencing poverty.

Cisneros has received numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and the Ford Foundation Art of Change fellowship in 2017, and is regarded as a key figure in Chicano literature.

In Haley’s Words…

“I admire her bold prose which lends itself to exemplifying the stories of Latinx individuals that are truly felt and understood across cultures.”

Haley’s Pick…

Sandra Cisneros penned one of Haley’s favorite books. A coming-of-age story called The House on Mango Street. Check it out!

Read more about Sandra Cisneros here.


Eryn Briscoe, Talent Acquisition Specialist at smartdept., admires the work of Mexican Painter, Frida Kahlo. Frida is known for her many portraits, self-portraits, and works inspired by the nature and artifacts of Mexico. Born to a German father and a mestiza mother, Kahlo spent most of her childhood and adult life at La Casa Azul, her family home in Cayoacán. Inspired by the country’s popular culture, she employed a naïve folk art style to explore questions of identity, postcolonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Often mixing strong autobiographical elements and mixed realism with fantasy. Kahlo has been described as both a surrealist and a magical realist.

Kahlo is known for painting her experience with chronic pain. She contracted polio as a child and was injured in a bus accident at the age of 18, which caused her lifelong pain and medical problems. It was then she returned to her childhood interest in art.

In Eryn’s own words…

“I think I admire Frida because of her exclamation, I paint the flowers so they will not die. I love that philosophy! Seeing art as a way to own the unknownable, to protect the things and people you love against the cruelty of time. Also, the fact that she’s a woman of color in a patriarchal society, is very impactful.”

Eryn’s Pick…

Check out, Diego and I. In this painting, Frida’s great anguish over Diego Rivera is revealed after his affair with Maria Felix nearly resulted in their divorce.

Read more about Frida Kahlo here.


Credits: “Sandra Cisneros” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Photograph of Frida Kahlo’s 1949 oil painting Diego And I via Wikipedia. Header photo: crop of Emmy Star Brown painting.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Humanities

The smarty team continues to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with more influential views on Hispanic culture.

Creative Account Manager, Morgan Gorecki, would like you to take some time to learn about Sylvia Rivera. Born on July 2, 1951, this Latina trailblazer was a Venezuelan-Puerto Rican trans woman who pioneered LGBT activism, fighting for trans rights. Raised in New York City, Sylvia was abandoned by her birth father and became an orphan after her mother died by suicide. Living on the streets before her 11th birthday, Rivera was forced to work as a child prostitute before she was taken in by a local community of drag queens who gave her the name Sylvia. Together she and Marsha P Johnson (who allegedly was the first person who threw a brick in the Stonewall riots) created the “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries” (STAR) organization that provided a home for trans people living on the streets in the 1970s in NY as well as offered organizers a space to discuss issues facing the transgender community in NY.

In Morgan’s Words…

I admire Sylvia on many levels. As time goes on, the trans community has become more and more accepted, and it is clear the work Sylvia had done in the past was the catalyst to this. She had paved the way for the LGBT community to walk; feeling much more normal than our past histories have depicted. In hindsight, Sylvia has saved so many LGBT lives with her efforts not only at the Stonewall riots, but her legacy lives on as the world continues to move in a more positive direction.

Morgan’s Pick…

Check out the book, The Stone Wall Reader, an anthology chronicling the tumultuous fight for LGBTQ rights in the 1960s and the activists who spearheaded it.

Read more about Sylvia Rivera here and here.


Rob Leinheiser, Talent Acquisition Specialist at smartdept., admires the work of Jacob Padrón. This Mexican American is the artistic director of Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT. He is also the Artistic Director of The Sol Project and a co-founder of the Artists’ Anti-Racism Coalition. A graduate of Loyola Marymount University where he studied Theatre and Communications, Jacob also attended the Yale School of Drama studying Theatre Management.

Padrón was raised in Gilroy, California. During his youth, he attended a production of “La Virgen del Tepeyac” put on by El Teatro Campesino. He soon joined the company and was a member throughout his teenage years. After graduating college Jacob volunteered with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, providing support for those living with HIV/AIDS. Before his role at Long Warf Theatre, he worked as an associate producer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a producer at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, and a producer for the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles. Padrón was named “one to watch” by American Theatre Magazine.

In Rob’s own words…

“I love the theatre scene in New Haven, where I live, and it has been made even better the last few years with Jacob Padrón’s artistic leadership at Long Wharf Theatre. Jacob is a talented producer who has dedicated his work to lift new and exciting voices, reckoning with the legacy of racism in American theatre, and fulfilling Long Wharf’s mission statement of creating theatre for everyone.”

Rob’s Pick…

If you’re local to New Haven (and even if you’re not, join or support the Long Wharf Theatre because “theatre is for everyone.”

Read more about Jacob Padrón here and here.


Credits: Sylvia Rivera with STAR banner by Roseleechs – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0; header photo: crop of Emmy Star Brown painting.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Arts and Culture

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, smartdept. has asked a few of its smarties to share whom it is that they admire from this richly talented and diverse community.

One of our founders, Michelle Pairitz, would like you to know about Judithe Hernández, an artist, educator, muralist, pastel artist, and painter. Judithe is a pioneer of the Chicano Art Movement and a former member of the art collective Los Four. She is based in Los Angeles, CA, and previously lived in Chicago, IL.

Judithe Hernández in 2010 via Wikipedia

Judithe first received acclaim in the 1970s for her mural work. Her artistic practice shifted over time and now is centered on works on paper, principally pastels, which frequently incorporate indigenous imagery and the social-political tension of gender roles.

In 1974, she became the fifth and only woman member of Los Four, the influential and celebrated East Los Angeles Chicano artist collective. Additionally, she was later part of the art collective, Centro de Arte Público. As early as 1970, Hernández was involved in the initial efforts of Chicano artists in East Los Angeles. During a time in which she was the only female at meetings who was not a girlfriend or wife but an active artist participant.

In Michelle’s Words…

“I identify with and admire Judithe Hernandez on many levels. I, too, am an Artist who similarly produces large works and expresses my point of view through my work. As a professional, I consider myself a trailblazer, like Judithe. Starting a niched staffing resource more than twenty years ago involved imagination, courage, and a multitude of risks. Still today, smartdept. is one of just a few creative, digital, and marketing-niched staffing resources certified as a women’s business enterprise.”

Michelle’s Pick…

Check out Summer, created by Judithe in 2013 as a portion of the Santa Monica Metro public art project transcultural depictions of sun-related mythology.

Learn more about Judithe Hernández here and here.


Melissa Imbrogno, Senior National Account Manager at smartdept. admires the work of actor, rapper, composer, playwright, and filmmaker Lin-Manuel Miranda. Known for creating the Broadway musicals Hamilton and In the Heights, and the soundtrack of Disney’s Encanto, his work has earned him three Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, two Laurence Olivier Awards, two Primetime Emmy Awards, an Annie Award, a MacArthur Fellowship Award, a Kennedy Center Honor, and a Pulitzer Prize.

Miranda in March 2022, via Wikipedia

A graduate of Wesleyan University, Miranda made his Broadway debut in the 2008 musical In the Heights, starring, and writing the music and lyrics. A critical and commercial success, In the Heights, won Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Original Score, and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album, and was adapted into a film released in June 2021. Miranda is perhaps most recognized for writing the script, music, and lyrics for the pop culture phenomenon Hamilton in 2015. It earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for a record 16 Tony Awards, winning eleven.

In Melissa’s own words…

“Lin is an amazing writer and performer and has inspired a whole new demographic with his release of Hamilton. He took something that’s been the same way since the beginning of time and flipped it on its head. He is a minority, embraces his culture, and has inspired and taught so many.”

Melissa’s Pick…

Disney’s Encanto because the musical style is immediately recognizable and the impression it leaves on you is unforgettable.

Learn more about Lin-Manuel Miranda here and here.


Credits: Judithe Hernández in 2010 via Wikipedia; Miranda in March 2022, via Wikipedia; header photo: crop of Emmy Star Brown painting.

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month…

For the first week of Hispanic Heritage month, smartdept. is highlighting the life and career of Hall of Famer and former Pittsburgh Pirate, Roberto Clemente.

Stick to what you know, right?

Clemente played 18 seasons in Major League Baseball, all with the Pirates. Among his player achievements are 15 All-Star games, 1966 NL MVP award, 4-time NL batting champion, 12 consecutive gold gloves, 3000 career hits, 2x World Series champion, and a World Series MVP.

Oh, yeah, and he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and 6 months after his untimely death Baseball waived its standard 5-year waiting period and inducted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame (1973). His induction made him the first Caribbean-born and Latin player to receive enshrinement.

But in my opinion, that’s not even what makes him special.

Roberto Clemente was a tireless humanitarian, spending his off-seasons focused on charitable causes. His efforts both on and off the field lead Major League Baseball to rename its Commissioners Award to The Roberto Clemente Award given to the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team.

So, it was no surprise that when Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, was affected by an earthquake on December 23, 1972, Clemente immediately went to work arranging emergency relief. But he learned that because of corrupt officials in the Somoza government, the aid packages that he set up were not being delivered. On New Year’s Eve 1972, he decided to accompany the relief flight, hoping that his presence would ensure the delivery of the much-needed aid to the survivors. The Douglas DC-7 cargo plane he chartered had a history of mechanical problems, an insufficient number of flight personnel, and was overloaded by 4,200 pounds when it crashed immediately after take-off into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Isla Verde Puerto Rico. There were no survivors.

If you investigated it, you would find endless examples of selfless acts performed by the late Roberto Clemente. One that sticks out for me happened on the day of his passing and was quite possibly the last selfless thing he did.

Tom Walker was a pitcher who pitch parts of six seasons in the big leagues and got to know Clemente while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. He had just finished his rookie campaign when, on Dec. 31, 1972, he was among a handful of ballplayers helping to load the small plane in San Juan with food, clothing, and medical supplies.

Walker, who was single at the time, was to travel along on the ill-fated journey, but Clemente urged him and several others to stay back and celebrate the new year. Walker stayed, and he survived. And as only fate would have it, Walker was drawn to Clemente’s adopted hometown of Pittsburgh. Where he would raise his family and where his son, Neil on September 1, 2009, would make his Major League debut as a member of (you guessed it) the Pittsburgh Pirates. Neil Walker has been quoted, as saying “I literally owe my life to Roberto Clemente.”

Join us in celebrating Hispanic Heritage this month, and share who has inspired you.


By Eric Pairitz, smartdept. Principal


Celebrating Jackie Robinson Day

Jackie Robinson says to Branch Rickey, “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back”? Rickey returns, “No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back.”

Before Martin Luther King Jr., there was Jackie Robinson. By being the first Black player to play in the Major Leagues and doing so without conflict, he was leading peaceful protests one game at a time, inspiring a nation, allowing an entire race of people to see what could be done, and giving them the courage to follow his lead.

April 15th is Jackie Robinson Day in the United States. And this April 15th marks the 75th anniversary of the day that Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in a Major League Baseball game. When in 1947, he took the field as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Though baseball was not the first sport to integrate (football did it one year earlier), Jackie’s ability to follow through on his promise to not “fight back” paved the way for countless athletes of African American descent to follow.

At smartdept., we take the time to recognize and celebrate Jackie Robinson Day. The first step in creating a culture that promotes diversity, equality, and inclusion involves education. Through conversation, we can begin to understand what is essential to an individual and an organization and develop strategies around solutions. As I reflect on past Jackie Robinson Days, I’m reminded of the time my oldest daughter excitedly came home from second grade to share with me that her class was studying a chapter on Negro League Baseball. Knowing she was named after Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux and that her dad was a baseball nut, Maddy knew I would be excited. She didn’t know that I have an extensive collection of Negro League memorabilia, including cards, jerseys, posters, autographs, videos, and more. And I love to share.

Like any good salesperson would do, I identified my target, got the contact information for Second Grade Teacher, Mrs. Marsh, and made my pitch (pun intended) to come to share my knowledge and treasures with her second-grade classroom. Okay, I admit it’s not a tough sell! Pretty much, anyone who calls any grade-school teacher and offers to fill 30 minutes of class time (so they don’t have to) will be welcomed with open arms. She may have offered to come to the house and drive me to the school to make sure I showed up. All kidding aside, it was an honor to have the opportunity to go to each of my four daughters’ second-grade classrooms to talk about Negro League Baseball, Jackie Robinson, and what he had to endure to leave his legacy. It was a privilege and a time in my life that I will always look back on fondly.

Join us in the celebration by dawning a number 42 jersey on Friday, April 15th. Or any other day. And learn more about Jackie’s impact on our game here. Then share it!


By Eric Pairitz, smartdept. Principal

A Women’s History Month Reflection

Women’s history month is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the important female figures who have shaped our paths through life. These might be family members, friends, or mentors. Some might be individuals we see every day, while others influence us from our memories alone.

One influential woman in my life was my Grandma Lissy, who passed away last October. She led a remarkable life, by all accounts. At sixteen years old, she escaped from the Holocaust, fleeing south from the Netherlands through France. It was only through good fortune and the heroic actions of the Portuguese consulate Aristides de Sousa Mendes that she and her family were able to cross into Spain, Portugal, and, eventually, the United States.

Upon arriving in the U.S., Lissy Jarvik continued her studies and eventually attended what is now Case Western University School of Medicine. In her early thirties, she married and began a family, juggling a prolific career. She led incredible advancements in the field of psychology and specifically in her research on twins and Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually, she became a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, where she was a pioneer in the field of psychogeriatrics.

In her later life, my grandma thought a lot about how to document and share a life lived. She spent years working on an unfinished memoir and was passionately vocal about her escape from the Nazis thanks to de Sousa Mendes. Perhaps it was through her influence that I found myself pondering the same questions when she passed away in October of 2021. How do you honor such a life as it ends? How can you share and celebrate its memory?

This is a question many great thinkers have pondered over time. Several William Shakespeare’s sonnets, for instance, are dedicated to the notion, often concluding that children are the purest form of legacy. “Die single, and thine image dies with thee,” reads the last line in Sonnet 3, as it urges a youth gazing in a mirror to have children or be forgotten to the mists of time. Other individuals focus on the work we do in our lives. “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing [about],” advised Benjamin Franklin in the 1738 edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanac.”

These ideas echoed in my head as I helped clean out Grandma’s apartment last October. As we emptied the bookshelves, it occurred to me that the collection reflected her life. They held her interests and passions, friends and colleagues, and history. Her escape. Her career. Her family. Her joys. I felt her there. That is when it occurred to me—what better way to honor my grandma, who loved to give gifts, than to re-gift each book in her collection?

Thus began the “Lissy’s Library” project. I packed up all 375 unclaimed books from my grandma’s collection and brought them back to my apartment. I organized them, created an online survey, and invited everyone and anyone who might be interested in signing up for a book. So far, around 200 books have been claimed, and 100 have been mailed out to 27 US states and nine countries, spanning North America, Europe, and Asia. (And the project is still ongoing! If you’d like to receive a book, you can still sign up here.)

One of my favorite things about the project has been learning a little bit about each book recipient. Some people leave comments about their lives, making me feel the beauty of this impermanent community I am creating. One woman sent me a message that she had read about my grandma’s life and was inspired to share the story with her children. Other recipients commented on how the project helped them reflect on themselves or reminded them of their loved ones. That is a legacy for which I know my grandma would be proud.

So, this women’s month, I hope you, too, will take the opportunity to reflect on the people that have shaped you, the journeys they have taken, and the ways you can honor them.


By Leah Jarvik, guest contributor

Reimagining Imagine

Released in 1971 by John Lennon, the song Imagine was the former Beatle’s way of asking us all to imagine a place where the things that divide us did not exist. Fifty years later, his message, including the physical single, downloads, ringtones, streaming, and albums on which it was featured, has sold 21 million copies, according to ChartMasters.

But here’s a what-if…

What if Lennon’s chart-topping signature song had been called Reimagine? What if he had asked us to act? To not just think about what life without the things that divide us would be like, but to rethink what existed and make it into something better. Instead of asking all the people to imagine living life in peace, imagine (pun intended) if he had written, “reimagine all the people living life in peace.” Sending out a call to action to an entire generation and the generations that followed to take steps to remake something broken into something better.

Would the 21 million people so profoundly touched by his message that they added it to their music collection be enough to make a difference if they had been asked to do more than imagine? Would reimaging have created a powerful movement that, when compounded by 50 years, would have moved us closer to a world with no countries and nothing to kill or die for? If John Lennon had asked us to do something, instead of just thinking about how nice it would be, could we literally be “living life in peace” right now?

Were we just two measly letters away from a better world? A stinking R and a crummy E?

Can someone get in a time machine, go back fifty years, and buy a vowel?

Okay. To be fair, you do have to imagine something happening to take appropriate steps towards reimagining it, I’m telling myself. My own business was built by first having a good idea and then creating a feasible plan to execute it. That said, couldn’t Lennon have put out a follow-up single asking us to expound on what we’ve imagined? Was he so naïve to believe that we would just create such a movement and take the next step all by ourselves? Ice cream moguls Ben and Jerry kinda got the message. I guess. In 2008 they reimagined the concept by creating a new ice cream flavor called “Imagine Whirled Peace.” Their attempt at changing the world with caramel, toffee cookie pieces, and chocolate peace signs was retired in 2013.

But here’s (another) what if…

What if John, a.k.a. the Clever One, had not reached so far with his ask of the world peace? Maybe that was too grand of a concept. What if he had just asked us all to imagine or reimagine considering the feelings of all people on earth? What if we had spent the last fifty years reimagining how to treat all people equally regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, ability, disability, gender, religion, culture, or sexual orientation? Wouldn’t focusing on diversity, equality, and inclusion ultimately have led us down the same path to world peace? Possibly with better efficiency?

Here’s a thought…

What if we called in a favor to Yoko Ono? After all, the Imagine concept came from Ono’s book Grapefruit, according to In fact (pun intended), Yoko was credited as co-writer on the song on June 17th, 2017. Due in part to Lennon himself, reimagining how the song came to be. So, let’s not go toe in with this thing. Let’s all jump in with two feet by calling on Yoko Ono to help write the follow-up to Imagine and set things straight once and for all. And let’s pivot away from world peace. Are we still using the word pivot? Anyway, I think the pageant people have a trademark on the big WP deal. Those pageant people are crafty (pun intended). And are we likely subjecting ourselves to legal issues if we jump on their bandwagon? I suggest we start with other reimagining’s of DEI. Wouldn’t that be terrific?

Should we get greedy and throw in Sustainability, too?

I’ll reach out to Yoko. Rest assured; I’ll get it done! I’m persuasive. And if Yoko won’t do it, I’ll call Julian Lennon!


By Eric Pairitz, smartdept. Principal

What Does It Mean to Think Outside of the Box?

If I told you that, to start smartdept. inc., my partner (in life and business) and I saved our seed money by downsizing, living on $25 per week for groceries (for an entire year), moving to a different state to avoid contractual issues with a previous employer, leased an office (site unseen) for $190 per month, lived in a relatives basement to save on expenses, didn’t secure funding from a bank, and went all-in on our little idea 3 months after 911 in the middle of a recession without a single client or candidate…

Would you say we qualify as “outside of the box” thinkers? Or are we risk-takers? Perhaps you prefer idiots?

When I started writing this blog, I began by jotting down a few ways our business has operated differently than some of our contemporaries. I don’t know, I’m thinking. Should I do something that gets straight to the point, like a David Letterman Top 10 list? Populated with quirky examples like buying equipment for a candidate so they could fulfill an assignment. Or rolling up our sleeves to help a candidate move so she could do a scheduled interview. That’s pretty out of the box! How about driving a candidate to an interview when their car broke down, consoling someone after a tough day, or taking time on Saturday or Sunday to make sure someone is prepared for their interview on Monday?

It was then suggested to me that these are examples of being kind. Better illustrating compassion, which is not necessarily out of the box. Kind-a, I reluctantly agreed.

Okay! Maybe let’s focus on some other areas that deserve consideration. Like having an open dialog with clients, candidates, and co-workers leading to refined processes. How about taking a consultative approach and positioning ourselves as your own personal expert on the subject of employment and our niche? Would you like us to sit in on your team meeting to help shape a process, give input on who would work best together, or assist in establishing a workflow schedule? All you need to do is ask. How about just keeping it simple? All of our recruiters are cross-trained, work on, and are compensated for all open opportunities. Our clients enjoy one point of contact to keep them in the loop, and the owners actively manage the process. So we always know what’s happening with you.

That’s some creative thinking, right there! Wouldn’t you agree? But is that out of the box?

Surely we’ve exercised our OOTBT (that’s how the kids would say it) during the Pandemic! Over the last 18 wild and crazy months, we’ve reestablished our identity, received certification from the WBENC as a Women Business Enterprise, updated our website and marketing materials, re-invested in streamlining our internal processes, added staff, and adapted to remote work for both internal employees and the candidates/clients we represent. To keep our growing team engaged, we’ve made an effort to teach them new skills outside of their jobs descriptions, done Zoom parties, and sent gifts to remind them that we see them (even if we can’t see them). Most recently, we helped one of our teammates forced by the Pandemic into being the primary caregiver by adapting to her reduced availability and offering her a new role that made sense for her new situation.

Out of the box or not, we do what you have to do (I’m sure you’d do the same).

It seems like the more I write about it, the more I realize that thinking outside of the box is another way of emphasizing change. Maybe we are not thinking outside of this elusive imaginary box, after all. Perhaps we are throwing it in the trash and getting a new one. Or better yet, there is no box! Possibly being a risk-taker, a creative thinker, having compassion for others, and doing what needs to be done are common traits relative to success. I bet if you put your space helmet on, you could think of a few high-profile examples of people who exhibit these traits. In the end, I think it’s safe to say nobody from smartdept. inc. is going to space anytime soon. And now that we’ve got the imaginary box makers all up in arms, we won’t be invited, in or out, of any imaginary boxes, and our pantomime careers are over.

But hey, if you’re looking to engage with compassionate people who prompt change by employing creative solutions to do what needs to be done, then we’re for you! Email us today!

Boutique is Back!

Save your golf clap. Boutique is just a fancy way of saying we have time for you. And over the last 18 very unique months, we’ve maximized our opportunity to learn about and grow with you through conferences, break-out sessions, Zoom calls, and phone calls. We’ve made time for prospective clients, clients, industry contemporaries, candidates, our own employees, and friends, too (we are boutique, after all). One consistent takeaway from these conversations is that you are looking for a true partner with specific knowledge of your niche to solve staffing-related issues. Even the MSP leaders we connected with spoke about a shift in viewing their partners moving forward. At smartdept. inc., we choose relationships over metrics. We have more successful placements because we take the time necessary to know the clients we serve and the creative, digital, and marketing professionals we represent.

Boutique is back (caviar, while you read, is optional)!

Why do we consider our service to be boutique? Well, it’s not about our size; it’s our approach! For one, we offer a single point of contact to our clients while everyone on our team has the autonomy to find qualified candidates for all of our open opportunities. Meaning our team works together (and is compensated together) to find the most qualified person for your need. Your mother might say, “many hands make light work.” Meanwhile, you will not be inundated with information because our progress is communicated to you through the Creative Account Manager who knows you. As a bonus, working collaboratively on all of our open jobs allows us to seamlessly train our entire staff on the ins and outs of your company, department, and opportunity. So, if something does come up, any one of us can keep moving in a positive direction.

Another difference-maker is the quality of our talent. Our detailed matching process lets us really get to know everything about our talent – that’s true! But our approach to relationship building allows us to continue to learn about our talent as they grow professionally. Heck, we will stay in touch with our smartdept. inc. candidates until they tell us not to. For example, we recently placed a talent (again) who has been signed up with our resource for nearly 20 years – that’s boutique!

What about pricing? What about it? Imagine if you could have the pricing offered by your favorite big box staffing resource and the knowledge and service of a niched boutique staffing resource. Ahoy paloy! Now you can!

Finally, the experience in our niche is second to none. The smartdept. inc. management team boasts more than 40 years of combined creative staffing experience. So there isn’t anything we haven’t seen. Yep, seen that too. In many cases, our experience extends beyond staffing in our niche and includes your company, as well as the candidates who have worked (and sometimes not worked) in your environment. It’s kinda like Cheers! Don’t you want to go where everybody knows your name?

To learn more about our boutique approach to creative, digital, and marketing staffing or discuss further our philosophies on service, pricing, vetting our talent, or our experience, please drop us a line at

Now you may golf clap (at your convenience, of course).

You need a staffing resource, now more than ever!

So here we are, a good 18 months in, and the water park is re-opened. But we can’t enjoy the lazy river because there aren’t enough lifeguards available to keep that attraction going. It’s frustrating! The need is there, but it’s not exactly lining up with people’s priorities because it’s still a bit scary out there. People are still concerned about the spread of the virus, and basic things like childcare and school are still a slippery slope. Some won’t come back or can’t come back, and others are looking for a change. What can you do?

Thanks to the pandemic, our current workforce is in the middle of a major shift. The new workforce has been slow to re-enter because, in some cases, they are being paid more on unemployment than at the jobs they were laid off from, and going back to work puts them at risk of losing those benefits. On the flip side, many individuals close to retirement are finding solace by an early exit. And LITERALLY, EVERYONE ELSE is taking steps to reevaluate whether or not their current role offers them the best combination of responsibilities, compensation, and work-life balance. Side note, did you know that so many teenagers overuse the word “literally” that Webster’s Dictionary has taken steps to change its definition to mean not literal?

Another gaping hole in employment left by the effects of COVID-19 is related to women. Did you know that 1 in 4 women left the workplace during the pandemic? Some left because their jobs were eliminated. Many other women left out of necessity to assume the role of caregiver, full-time. Anyone with school-age children can easily relate to the side effects of home or hybrid school. In total, nearly 1.8 million women left the workforce during the last 18 months. Many have not been able to re-enter the workforce.

Here’s a question for those who managed to avoid having a gap in their employment during the COVID-19 outbreak. Have you been busy? Duh, you’re thinking. This just in, the remaining workforce is being asked to do more than ever. The increase in responsibility has led to more hours dedicated to work and less time to find the help you need. Your reward for such dedication might include work fatigue, lack of focus, and a shift in work-life balance. A medal for your service; that wasn’t anywhere in my research. Sorry.

What’s the rub? You need help. But, you’re so busy you don’t have time to find it.

Now more than ever, you need a staffing resource! At smartdept. inc. (oh, hi there), we are experts in our niche and on the subject of employment. Our fees are contingent on a placement, which means our searches are free until you find the candidate you want to hire. We offer full benefits to candidates placed on temporary assignments, so you don’t have to. And all of our candidates, temporary and direct-hire, are fully vetted. By the time they get to you, it’s like they’re on a second interview. Plus, we are nice. So drop us a line at Don’t you want someone to be nice to you?

Pride at Work — All Year Round

As we enter Pride Month 2021, we’ll begin to see rainbows pop up all across the business world. So whether you want rainbow-themed Legos, a colorful Mickey Mouse hat, or rainbow-packaged mouthwash from Listerine, there are a million ways to show your pride and support for the LGBTQIA community this month. Even LinkedIn is getting in on the rainbow trend with their updated logo (by the way, does anyone know if their graphic designer is open for work?).

Now we at smartdept. inc. love rainbows as much as the next boutique-style creative, digital, and marketing talent resource, but we also understand that pride at work isn’t limited to 30 days out of the year. That’s why we are committed to supporting LGBTQIA employees year-round. And as a WBENC certified women-owned enterprise, we see the value in promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion from the top down. Here’s a few ways we (and you!) can do it:

Improve the representation of women and minority groups. Additionally, we address diversity from a broader perspective and look at all types of diversity. We do not just stop at gender and ethnicity. We also focus on cognitively diverse people.

Create an inclusive work environment that fosters creativity and innovation and promotes engagement through awareness. Enable employees to be their true selves. We encourage and celebrate each person’s personal story and how that impacts how they perform their job.

Ensure that DEI initiatives, actions, and results are clearly communicated consistently. Provide ongoing training on why diversity is important to us.

External Relations
Engage with vendors, support organizations, and groups that support and align with diverse values and interests.

Consistently measure and train how our initiatives work with the EEOC and OFCCP while staying in compliance with our goals and objective.

As a proud and out member of the LGBTQIA community, I feel especially grateful for smartdept. inc.’s commitment to supporting diversity, equality, and inclusion in the workplace. Pride at work was never something I knew I needed until I got it, and it is something every person, regardless of gender or sexuality, should have. Happy Pride 2021!


By Haley Stowell, smartdept. inc. Creative Consultant

Let’s get down to payrolling

One of the great things about not being a stuffy ogre in the staffing universe is that we tend to have a lot of actual conversations with the other people in this universe. We love that! Collaboration is fun, and working together with people to solve or improve something is what we dig the most. One FAQ is about whether it is better to hire a freelancer on a 1099 or W-2 basis. At the suggestion of our own trusty advisors, we offer our candidates the opportunity to work on our client’s behalf only as a W-2 employee of smartdept. inc.

Why, you’re asking? Well, how much time do you have?

The long and short of it is that making our freelancers W-2 employees as soon as they accept an assignment allows us to offer our working talent the benefits they deserve. It also keeps us on the right side of employment law and protects us from potential penalties – if we had a freelancer working as an independent contractor and they forgot to file their earnings with the IRS, we would be on the hook for paying their penalty.

This next bit is a little dry, but your friends at the Internal Revenue Service (you may also know them as the IRS) would want you to know that they require subcontractors to submit IRS Form 1099-MISC with their annual tax returns? Subcontractors, or what we lovingly refer to as freelancers, must report earnings of $600 or more from a company in a calendar year. A freelancer must provide earnings information to the IRS even if they do not receive 1099 forms. And, oh, by the way, companies that fail to provide these forms to their freelancers may face IRS penalties of at least $250 for each incident.

In a nutshell (that’s a phrase only people born before 1971 use), companies usually mail 1099 forms to their freelancers in January. The forms should list the freelancer’s earnings and notes any income tax withholding. In February, companies report 1099 information to the IRS. That alerts the IRS to expect certain taxpayers to report the income, and each form is linked to a taxpayer by a Social Security number, and freelancers may receive multiple 1099s in one year.

Are you with me so far?

Great, but if scary things make you squeamish, get ready to cover your eyes! I’ve heard some companies pay freelancers “under the table” by paying them in cash! This little creative workaround allows the freelancer to avoid reporting the money as income, possibly resulting in tax savings. Even though companies paying under the table may pay lower wages than they would under normal circumstances, this is a bad idea because both the company and their freelancer could face penalties if the IRS found out.

The minimum penalty is $250, but (remember when I told you to cover your eyes) total penalties for the calendar year could total as much as $500,000, depending on the size of the business. OUCH! To add insult to injury, the IRS also imposes penalties for sending 1099 information late and may learn about missing 1099 information when subcontractors report the income but note it did not receive a 1099.

What does it all mean?

It means that the 1099 process can be time-consuming and costly. Time is money! And, money is money! Kinda like bitcoin is money and nonfungible tokens are, too. Okay, maybe not exactly like that.

Look, it doesn’t matter if we find your freelancer for you or not. Everyone payrolled through smartdept. inc. is a W-2 employee of the smartdept. inc. This is helpful to them because they are paid bi-weekly (no chasing invoices) and are automatically entitled to benefits like healthcare, paid sick leave, and 401k. As their employer, we cover payroll taxes, onboarding, record keeping, HR/employee compliance, and time tracking. Oh man, you’ll be able to do so many more activities (Step Brothers reference).

Let’s just agree that time is money, money is money, and using smartdept. inc. to payroll your freelancers is a great way to save you both.

Drop us a line at if you’d like more information.

What if a staffing resource could find you the best available candidate (even if they lived on the moon)?

If the following blog seems familiar, it’s because we first published it a year ago. At that time, remote work was like the “fingers-crossed, let’s hope this works” solution for how we can all get back to being productive. But a funny thing happened on the way to surviving a Pandemic. These tips on how to manage remote workers are relevant! As we hold on loosely through the tail end of this universal challenge, remote work is not only accepted; it’s taking off. Now, it seems that it is here to stay. Granted, we only have a small sample size (baseball term), but over the last six months, we have placed Photo Re-touchers from Chicago with Ad Agencies in Seattle and Project Managers from Grand Rapids with a Wellness Organization in Phoenix. Still not convinced? How about a Print Graphic Designer from Cleveland paired up with a small Agency in Minneapolis or my personal favorite, our candidate from Chicago, creating templates in Microsoft Word for our client in Medford, Oregon. It is not quite like cats and dogs living together, but it’s on that level, and it’s awesome.

Though I am not a licensed Remote Organizational Psychologist, I can tell you with confidence that a successful remote relationship might require patience and flexibility from all parties involved. In many cases, we have gone the extra mile to ensure our clients get the candidate they asked for by providing equipment, software, and coordination as part of our service. If you are still on the fence, a simple 5-minute phone or zoom conversation can make it all happen. 

So, let’s say you’re in Timbuktu, and the very best Digital Flugalbinder Designers all live on the Moon…


I’m sure you know, working remotely is not a new concept. Sure, in certain fields like Healthcare or Manufacturing, it’s a tricky proposition. But for companies in the areas of Knowledge and Service, the possibility for remote working does exist. Many companies (smartdept. inc. included) have been taking advantage of some form of work-from-home policy, even well before it was thrust upon us as the “new norm.” Until now, working from home was often considered a privilege and had been used in corporate settings as motivation, or for the advancement of a negotiation. And, even as a replacement for salary.

Experts have been predicting that remote working will become commonplace for half a century now. Heck, in my research for this blog, I came across something I wrote 10 years ago about how to vet a candidate in a remote location properly. You know, voice inflection, speech pattern, pitch and all that.

But, like anything else, remote working (even under the best of circumstances) isn’t without its challenges. Here are five challenges of remote working and how you might find your way through them.


Challenge: Keeping your team focused during a remote meeting.

My Suggestion: Don’t let the “power person” dominate the meeting.

Possible Action: Every person’s input matters! By engaging each of your co-workers during a remote meeting and allow them to share their unique views and insights on the topic at hand, you will begin to problem-solve as a group. Rather than one person giving their opinion and everyone else agreeing or following, the entire team will feel they are adding value to the meeting.

Desired Result: Getting everyone involved will help to establish open channels of communication between you and the team, now and into the future. Additionally, it will help to develop mutual respect among teammates.


Challenge: Continuing to build trust with teammates while working remotely.

My Suggestion: Work towards creating (or maintaining) a Shared Identity and a Shared Understanding. A Shared Identity can be helped along by promoting a sense that we are all in this together, and as a group, we share one common goal. Talk to your team as “we” rather than “I and you.” Gaining a Shared Understanding can help you get to know who your teammates genuinely are (and vice versa) and what they truly value.

Possible Action: Make an effort to learn about your co-workers outside of their work responsibilities. Ask them to give you a tour of their at-home workspace. Try and gain a further understanding of their context. Why do they set up their day the way they do?

Desired Result: Learning a little bit about what makes your teammates tick can help gain trust, give them added confidence, and lead to improved productivity.


Challenge: Getting the most out of introverted co-workers.

My Suggestion: Pay attention to your teammates during a video call, you could be losing introverts by only using video. It’s possible that they may be distracted by the knowledge that they are on camera, and they might be less inclined to join the conversation. Everybody is different!

Possible Action: Turn off the video portion of your meeting.

Desired Result: Not relying on visual cues can help people to focus more on what someone is saying, and eliminating the video may help to put your more introverted workmates in a better position to focus and contribute.


Challenge: Staying focused throughout your workday.

My Suggestion: Avoid the problem of time becoming meaningless by creating a routine at home that includes all of the variables that you would have had during your typical workday. Consider your commute, lunchtime, breaks, and worktime when solving this equation.

Possible Action: Be creative! Exercise or listen to a podcast during the time you would typically be commuting. Set up your unique workspace and make sure it is not in the same place you eat your meals.  Use break times to run short errands. Get the most out of your work time, but make sure to have a definitive end to your day.

Desired Result: Your work routine, all be it different, will have structure and some sense of familiarity. Having a definitive start and end time will keep you motivated to work at achieving your usual daily goals, and being creative with your commute and break times might lead to more productive results during the scheduled work time.


Challenge: How to prevent worry from taking over during this unprecedented time.

My Suggestion: Allow yourself to think about things in the past, present, and future tense. Be aware of the difference between worry and rumination. Worry can be an attempt by your mind to problem solve a current issue going on in your life. Rumination is your mind continuously obsessing over that same issue without trying to solve it.

Possible Action: Set aside 15 minutes every day to worry. Focus on thinking about what troubles you during this dedicated time and then move on.

Desired Result: Reminiscing can lead to nostalgia. Nostalgic events generally make you happy, which can lead to motivation. Thinking about the future can be productive, even if those future thoughts include worry. For some, thinking about the future can help motivate us to get through the present. For others, it can make us feel thankful for what we have in the present. Setting aside time for worry can allow you to contemplate and move on.


Of course, there are plenty of other challenges to consider when setting up a home office. Technical issues are right at the top! Slow internet, bad sound quality, or a lack of technical ability might slow you down. But I believe focusing on a few of my top 5 will get you and your team pointed in the right direction and on your way to successfully working remotely.

If you have questions about these tips or what to discuss with other challenges, drop us a line at or reach out to us directly. If you’re looking for remote work, check out our jobs page.


By smartdept. inc. Principal, Eric Pairitz

We’re in the relationship-building business

From the get-go, we’ve emphasized relationship building (over being transactional) concerning our business. I used to say, “we are too small to make a mistake, sweep it under the rug, and move on like nothing happened.” In the beginning, opportunities were difficult to come by, maybe even more so today.

We choose to build relationships with both the candidates and clients! And our goal is to improve them over time. We’ve developed pretty awesome relationships over our 20 years at smartdept. inc. It’s why we are still here! So, I thought I would share my top 5 reasons to build relationships in business.

… I never know if I should start a Top 5 list with number 1 or number 5? I’m going with the best, first! If you prefer to be surprised, feel free to start at the bottom and scroll up!

1 – IT FEELS GOOD! – At our core, we are creative. Having lived it, our goal is always to find someone their “dream job.” Very early in her staffing career, my partner in crime, Michelle, placed a graphic designer with a local minor league sports team located in Chicago’s Western Burbs.  Recruiters, like all professionals, celebrate wins. Her candidate got a new job, and the ball team was happy, too. Success! But a couple weeks later, Michelle received a handwritten letter from the designer’s wife explaining how happy her husband was in his new role. “This was his dream job,” she went on to explain. Remember when people wrote letters? I do! A simple, heartfelt thank you. I remember it 20 years later, and it wasn’t even to me.

2 – BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS CAN BE TWICE THE FUN – In our second week of operation in the Chicago market, we got lucky with a suburban tech company. Who knew that our good fortune would continue with this hiring manager for nearly two decades? Sadly, our long-time partnership was forced to an end during the pandemic. But then a funny thing happened, the person who trusted us to provide him with a top-level talent for his department reached out to us for advice as a candidate. A new partnership was born! We worked with our long-time cohort to tighten up his resume, gave our opinion on his portfolio, and lent some advice on where to look for the next opportunity. In the end, our talented friend was snatched up quickly, and it didn’t have much to do with us. But, we were honored that a veteran creative, with 20 plus years of experience, entrusted us with the task of helping him to find his next opportunity, and wouldn’t you know it, a few weeks later, he called needing creative help. Another new partnership is born, and with any luck, this one lasts another 18 years!

3 – WE ARE IN IT FOR THE LONG HALL – It was January 2002, and we had been in Seattle for less than a month. Literally, we were still sweating over how to find our way back home at night from our office in Pioneer Square. Chicago’s streets are set up on a pretty basic grid, okay! Our newest candidate was looking for work as a print production artist, and she was openly frustrated (at the time) with the other resources in town. Her skill set was a perfect fit for a well-known Ad Agency located on the edge of downtown Seattle, so we jumped at the chance to make the connection. This smartdept. OC (original candidate) has worked with us on and off through the magic of forging a relationship since we began. Like many relationships, there were gaps in our communication and chunks of time when she was OTM (staffing lingo for off the market). This fall, nearly 19 years to the day that we first met, we placed her once again. This time with a well-known agency on the opposite side of town, and the opportunity went from freelance to a temp-to-hire in a matter of a few weeks. With any luck, we won’t have to help our friend for a while. But we both know that the next time she calls, we will help her again.

4 – FORGIVE AND FORGET – That’s the funny thing about really good relationships; they’re not always perfect. But if they are really worth having, you have to find a way to push through the tough times and make them good again. Such was the case with our Fortune 500 client from Chicago. We were really making an impact with their creative team when we were given a gut punch. They would soon be moving their staffing needs to a managed program, and long story short, we were not going to be included in their future plans. Still, we continued to stay in touch. We waited patiently for another opportunity, and two years later, they would call us. That’s right, they called us. They explained that their current relationships weren’t meeting expectations and asked us to participate in their next RFP. We obliged and re-earned a spot in their program, which we hold to this day. Fly the W Flag because that’s a win for relationship building. It’s also why you never give up if you believe a relationship is worth having.

5 – FRIENDS FOR LIFE – That’s what I think of when I think about our relationship with the creative leaders at the Benefits company that we are partnered with. Once again, an organization that we have helped for nearly the entirety of our existence. It would not be an exaggeration to say we would not be here today if not for their loyalty and trust in our abilities. And I’d like to think we’ve had an impact on them, too. Still, these relationships are truly rare, and we don’t ever take them for granted. The great part about working together, year after year, is that you get to know people and learn and grow along with them. Ultimately, the effort you put into growing a relationship can lead to becoming the best partner possible. In business and in life, tomorrow is promised to no one. But no matter what lies ahead, I’d be willing to bet we will always be in touch with these champions of our organization.

Honorable mention:

OH, THE STORIES WE COULD TELL – Did I ever tell you about the time I helped a candidate move out of her apartment so she wouldn’t have to reschedule an interview? And, there’s the time I drove a candidate to an interview because she had car trouble. Did you know that we’ve thrown pizza parties for candidates and clients to thank them for being a part of our lives? I could go on…

The moral of the story is that none of these unique memories would be possible without being open to the idea of making and growing relationships.

Are you ready to hire talent for your team? Are you ready to begin your job search? Get in touch with us today. We’re ready to build some new relationships!


By Eric Pairitz, smartdept. inc. Principal

REAL PEOPLE – My encounter with the artist, Duane Hanson

To the best of my recollection, the story goes something like this… it was the wee hours of the morning when the night custodian was passing through the lobby of the building he was tending to. Suddenly he was startled! The hairs on the back of his neck were raised just slightly as he caught the presence of a woman out of the corner of his eye.  He had locked the door behind him after he entered the building, and up until that moment, it was business as usual. But unexpectedly, there she was. A middle-aged, disheveled woman dressed in rag-tag attire and resting comfortably at a nearby table. She appeared to be content, if not deeply consumed, by the bag of personal items that accompanied her.

“Hello,” the custodian said.

The women did not offer a reply.

“Can I help you?” he politely asked.

No response.

As he approached, the women remained still. Now practically on top of her, the man realized that the intruder was not moving… not at all. His concern grew deeper as he assessed the situation further and determined that she was also not breathing. In his one-piece jumper with his name embroidered in a little circle on his chest, our hero immediately dropped his supplies and streaked to the phone.

Yes! This story takes place during a time when you actually had to go to the phone. Attached to a wall. With a cord!

As he arrived, breathless, at the phone, he frantically began to dial. Every second would count in a situation like this. The fact that it was a rotary phone made each number he dialed seem like an eternity. “Help,” he exclaimed as he was finally patched through to the authorities! “There is a woman! She’s not breathing!” Desperately, he tried to keep it together as he shared his story with the concerned 911 Operator.

I know it seems dire, but don’t worry. This story doesn’t end tragically (unless you feel bad for the custodian). Emergency services quickly arrived to find that the lifeless woman was actually not a woman at all. The custodian’s Superman-like efforts, as it turned out, would not save a damsel in distress. Though, it did allow the local police and fire departments to have a sneak preview of the buildings’ newest exhibit called REAL PEOPLE.

That is how I came to admire the sculpture of Duane Hanson.

Duane was known for his hyper-realistic depictions of ordinary people. He employed the use of polyester resin, Bondo, bronze, and fiberglass in his work. Mastering a technique that involved casting living people and then painstakingly painting the fiberglass figure with all the imperfections and veins of actual skin.

Born on January 17, 1925, in Alexandria, MN, Hanson received his MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI, in 1951. His works can be found in the Smithsonian American Art Museum collections in Washington, D.C., the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.

Before his passing, on January 6, 1996, I had the great privilege of meeting Mr. Hanson. He allowed me to write and film a fictional scene in which he and I co-starred for my studies. In the spoof, he angrily denies me entrance into his studio until I offer to treat him to the lunch of his choice. What was not fictional about the film was his kindness in allowing me to come to his studio. And the care he took in showing me the steps involved in the creation of his work. Also strange but true was his request to eat turkey dogs and strawberries for lunch.

“My art is not about fooling people,” the artist explained. “It’s the human attitudes I’m after—fatigue, a bit of frustration, rejection. To me, there is a kind of beauty in all this.” –Duane Hanson

If you haven’t seen the REAL LIFE work of artist Duane Hanson, I recommend pulling your phone out of your pocket and looking him up.

By Eric Pairitz, smartdept. inc. Principal

Photo credits: Taken from REAL PEOPLE exhibit book owned by Eric Pairitz and via Wikipedia.

smartdept. inc. is proud to be a certified Women’s Business Enterprise

Hi everyone. My name is Michelle Pairitz, and like many of you, I am entering my second school year as principal, administrator and part-time home-school teacher to my four daughters (9th, 8th, 6th and 5th grade.) But up until a few months ago, my main credentials were being a twenty-year veteran of the staffing industry and the majority owner of smartdept. inc.

It remains difficult to craft a meaningful message that isn’t somehow related to COVID-19 or social distancing right now. So, to each of you taking the time to read this, I appreciate your time and hope you and your loved ones are safe. And while I have your attention, does anyone remember how to divide fractions? Asking for a friend.

Earlier this year, I was encouraged by one of our largest clients to apply for certification as a Women’s Business Enterprise. This certification affirms that smartdept. inc. is an organization owned and entirely operated by a woman and earning this certification would prove to be no small task. After filling out the initial application, I had the next three months to provide all critical information to tell the story of how smartdept. inc. came to be. This trip down memory lane (and into some very dusty flat files) included everything from sharing our latest financials, contracts with my stamp of approval, rental agreement and equipment lists, to rediscovering the corporate documents we created nearly two decades ago. And everything in between. In addition, I was quizzed on every aspect of our creative staffing business. The goal was to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was in control of every process vital to successfully operating the company.

On the day of my site visit, I was asked to connect all the dots. What was my inspiration for starting the company? What was a typical day and week at smartdept. inc.? How had I helped push the organization forward? How exactly did I get from a two-person staffing company in Seattle in 2002, to a staffing company spanning nationally with thousands of placements?  The conversation was long, but reflective. And it gave me the chance to think honestly about my journey as a business owner and appreciate how my organization, with the help of so many along the way, has been able to achieve some very unique goals.

Michelle pictured with her four girls.

As a woman in recruiting:
When I started this company at 27, I looked and sounded young for my age. (Oh, the good old days!) But I remember struggling to overcome doubters and naysayers – both women and men. And I vowed I would not treat others that way. I earned respect, I gave respect and I lifted others up every chance I got. At smartdept, our culture is based on encouragement and kindness. What we do is more than just recruiting, it’s creating an environment of confidence and support for our clients, candidates and each other.

As a mom:
When I began, I was part ignorant and part fearless, and I am proud of it all. I want my girls to have the same confidence and be fearless in making something happen. It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be a company, but I want them to know that anything is possible.

As a business owner:
Some of our biggest clients were my candidates just starting their careers 18 years ago. Long-standing relationships and treating people with respect means everything to me, and to us. We are all humans, and it’s important to really get to know people beyond what position they’re looking for or looking to fill.  We take the time to do that, so each person could potentially work with us for the next 18 years whether they are a client or candidate.

I am proud to report that on Thursday, March 19th, 2020 (at 3pm CDT), smartdept. inc. received its Women’s Business Enterprise certification! It represents so much, and I feel it’s worthy of another mention during National Women’s Small Business Month.

Thank you, to Kristin Malek at CDW, Ranjani Mohana at R Mo Diversity Solutions, Karen Golder from the Women’s Business Development Center, #WBENC, #NAWBO and to the countless others who have made me feel welcome as a Women’s Business Entrepreneur.

Be safe, be well and best of luck with all the math homework.

Love, Michelle

Meet Lolablue

It’s a combination of nervous energy and excitement. Your stomach hits the giant drop at Six Flags, and your mind is racing, Indy 500 style. You’re on the ledge now. Looking over. Your eyes can see for miles and miles, and while your egoic mind is telling you the ground floor is near (and it’s gonna hurt when you land), your heart tells you the free fall will be endlessly glorious.

If you want to start your own business, all you’ve got to do is jump. So… are you going to jump?

Jamie Lovern did!

Jamie is the owner of Lolablue, located in North Port, Florida. Lolablue is an artisan maker of bath, body + beauty goods which (in her own words) are infused with love + positivity to inspire clean + mindful living. Hand-crafted in small batches with only the best ingredients on the planet. Goods to help you live your best life ever.

As an entrepreneur myself, my favorite part of any successful business story is the beginning. What pushed Jamie, an award-winning creative professional with 12 years of experience, to leave her comfortable surroundings at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and embark on this slippery little journey (soap reference, get it)? I mean, besides infinite amounts of competitive drive, giant wax holding tubs of courage, a sprinkle of curiosity, and a hope to create something better for this planet and the people on it.

Well, ultimately, it was the birth of her son, Dakota. But let me go in reverse for a minute.

All the way back in 2002, Jamie and her husband (and right-hand man at Lolablue) DJ were burning a candle that was leaving a curiously unpleasant pile of soot. Thinking the black flakey powder pile didn’t fit with the theme of relaxation associated with burning a candle, they began to do a little digging. It turns out this gathering of amorphous carbon carried along with it potentially cancer-causing carcinogens, too. How’s that for romance? Soon after this discovery, Jamie began making her own candles with something better for us all. Soy! At first, she made them for herself, and then for friends, and then for Christmas presents, and then… well you get the point, people like them.

It wasn’t long before her one-bedroom apartment was wall to wall candles. I think there’s a Kramer from Seinfeld reference in there somewhere. “It’s gonna be wall to wall candles, Jerry!” These constant reminders of her candle making addiction and the encouragement of a friend prompted her to visit with a local accountant who pushed her right up the edge of that dusty little cliff by simply asking her, “when are you going to quit your job and make it official?” Nuff said! In 2003 Lolablue was born.

In 2005 her son, Dakota, was born and the kidding around was pretty much over. The name Lolablue is derived from Jamie’s love for Barry Manilow and the song Copacabana. Lola was a showgirl, but I cannot confirm or deny that Jamie ever was. Blue is in reference to our giant blue planet, which Jamie and DJ have pledged to take care of by using natural ingredients to make each and every variation of their now line of 10 different products. I have it on good authority the planet earth is, in fact, mostly blue. I also have it on good authority that the birth of her son gave Jamie the final push needed to leave corporate America and focus on her love of Lola fulltime. I wish I could say that they just made candles, and then soap, and everyone just started running towards them, it all erupted into a buying frenzy akin to Luke Perry showing up at the mall, they moved to Hawaii became neighbors with Rosanne Barr and lived happily ever after.

But that’s not how it went.

Like many entrepreneurial stories, Jamie and DJ had to rise from the (potentially carcinogen filled) ashes and fight to get where they are today. In 2007 the recession hit. Jamie was staying home to raise Dakota, making candles and spending her weekends traveling to various farmer’s markets to sell her products. The couple had invested in a real estate magazine with the hope of making it successful enough to turn a profit and use the money to invest back into Lolablue. But, when the real estate market bottomed out, so did their magazine venture, and like many people during that time, they trudged along for a while. DJ found a succession of opportunities outside of the comfortable wax walls of Lola, but because of the economic state of the world, nothing seemed to stick. With product literally oozing out of their home in the hot Florida sun, Jamie had what she refers to as “the utility sink moment.” Doubt was creeping in, and she was coming to the realization that a decision needed to be made about what lies ahead. Does she keep moving forward with Lolablue, or should she get her portfolio and resume up-to-date and use her contacts to get back into the creative workforce? With money running out, and their family’s future hanging in the balance (and in the middle of a recession), JAMIE AND DJ WENT ALL IN! They took the little money they had (and probably some that they didn’t) and leased warehouse space. The new digs, which they got on the cheap because of said recession, allowed them to store their existing product and gave them the necessary space to make more. “Every time I thought it was over, something popped up that kept us going,” Jamie would say. DJ also made a decision. He stopped looking for the next, “get us through,” opportunity, and began to focus his full attention on a life of Lolablue Living.

Their courage paid off! The determined couple was able to persevere through the recession and build their business by forming strong local relationships within their North Port community. Soon Lolablue products made their way into local shops, and then on-line. Finally, as their products got more popular, they added a way for their growing fanbase to come in and buy them in person. Lolablue products have been used in swag bags for the Oscars and MTV movie awards and even got a little love from Martha Stewart, herself. In 2020 the couple renewed their “go for it” vows and invested into a brand-new, larger, location with the intention of stomping, full-on, the petal to the metal! I’m sure this will mean more amazing, good for the earth products for all of us to enjoy in the future and perhaps more opportunities to get them.

Truth be told, I chose to write about Jamie (and Lolablue) because we are all about courageous, creative, smart, and talented women who own and operate a business. And, because I know her, I can unequivocally say that all of the mentioned personal attributes are 100% accurate. That said, my favorite part of putting together this blog came when I asked her if she focused on any charitable efforts. Though her answer was not really a surprise. Jamie made full mention of all the people who helped her along the way and makes it part of her mission to pay it forward. She loves to give back to her community and give her creations to literally anyone who walks through her door. For years, they have donated their products! Supporting local schools to promote Teacher Appreciation Day, making an offering to neighborhood daycare, and even routinely dropping product at a North Port area animal hospital. Lolablue has teamed up with Baby Boot Camp (now called Momleta) to give back. And Yup! They even made, bottled and distributed hand sanitizer during the onset on the Coronavirus Pandemic. Jamie let it slip that she could probably put someone to work full-time fulfilling her donation efforts. Hey, give her a call if you want to help her out.

Jamie’s advice to current and future entrepreneurs, “Follow your bliss and doors will open that you never knew existed.”

Oh, one last thing! Check out Jamie’s life’s work at if you see something you like enter the promo code: smartdept and Jamie will give you 25% off of your purchase. Who knows, maybe she will even throw in a sample of her latest killer soap creation!

Artist Profile – Justin Kauffmann

Every so often, I see the work of an artist that brings on an immediate rush of emotions. For me, it feels like envy, jealousy, happiness, appreciation, and love with a side order of how the hell did they do that and an order of that’s awesome to go. A garbage plate of emotions, if you will.

Of course, I get those types of feelings when I go to a museum and view a piece (or a collection) from one of the greats. I am intrigued by the mind of Pablo Picasso and the use of color by Henry Matisse. I love Norman Rockwell because his work is a slice of Americana. These are artists that, as a youth, drew me to have a career in a creative field or, in some way or another, influenced the beginnings of my creative process.

I like these dudes! But, in the end, I can only guess what Picasso was thinking during his Blue Period or read in a book about how Norman Rockwell came to work at the Saturday Evening Post. And, I will have to view it entirely through somebody else’s eyes.

More exciting for me is making that same type of connection with artists who are my contemporaries. There is something extra cool about being able to walk right up to Plein Air artist Ethan Jack Harrington (@ejakcity) and talk with him while he pushes around his paint in the middle of a crowded Seattle street. Or, as I recently wrote about, talking Chicago Cubs Baseball with the likes of Regan Dunnick (@ibraygunz).

Another, on my very short list of inspiring artists that I have the pleasure of knowing and whose work I am privileged enough to have hanging in my collection, is my Ringling classmate, Phi Delta Theta fraternity brother and friend, Justin Kauffmann.

Justin recently completed a 2-year long journey that resulted in it the completion of his first published book called “Yesterdaze.” Though, at its inception, it was meant to be a compilation of witty quips with his art as a backdrop. It evolved into a career retrospective, of sorts, highlighting 25 years of creativity, which began in Atlanta, GA, and landed him in Chicago via New York City.

Growing up in Goshen, Indiana, Justin’s earliest creative influence was his father, Joel, who was a cartoonist. Joel’s influence (and most likely his genetics) are an obvious link to the evolution of his style and what led Justin to attend The Ringling School of Art and Design with the hope of someday working as an animator at Disney.

Post Ringling Justin worked for 12 years as a “9-5 graphic designer”, first in Atlanta and then in New York City. Honing his fine art skills after hours, his mixed media work of collage, pencil, paint, and chalk was influenced by the likes of Ray Gun Magazines, David Carson and painter, Phil Frost. One of Justin’s proudest moments as an artist happened in 2001 while curating his show in New York. A gentleman approached to compliment him on his work. Serendipitously, the gentleman was none other than David Carson (that’s freakin cool). The two hit it off and have worked together on several projects over the years. A few samples of Justin’s work even appear in one of Mr. Carson’s books.

As for his book, Yesterdaze is a collection of Justin’s personal and professional finished work, accompanied by printed articles, thumbnail sketches, and “in action” photos weaved in throughout. Packed with inspiration, my favorite part of this explosion of color and creativity comes near the end of my signed first edition. A piece that I begged Justin to do for me for 10 years called “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” appears along with an original sketch (and a Cubs pencil) in a 2-page spread. “I made it into the book,” I shouted upon first seeing the page.

Also worthy of mention, as a designer, Justin has had the opportunity to integrate his fine art into a line of t-shirts working with apparel giant, Quicksilver. Additionally, if you’re a fan of winter sports, you may have seen Justin’s work while shredding the mountainside. As he worked alongside, Creative Director, Sven Hoffman at Head to create the artwork for their Rocka snowboard line (drop me a line if you have one of those boards).

Justin is currently available for both fine art and graphic design work! If you want to be inspired check him out online at or follow him on Instagram @justink

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