Artisan Blog

The Proust Questionnaire for Creatives

Thursday, January 26, 2012


You’ve heard of the Proust Questionnaire, I’m sure. Made famous in the back pages of Vanity Fair Magazine, it was named not for questions, but for the answers given by Marcel Proust to a set of questions asked by his friend Antoinette Faure.

I remember them best from a television show called “Inside the Actors Studio” where, at the end of every episode, host James Lipton would ask these questions of the famous actors he interviewed. His questions included: What is your favorite sound? What is your favorite curse word? If you weren’t an actor, what would you be instead?

Barbara Walters uses a variation of the Proust Questionnaire in her interviews - which, in turn, inspired us at Artisan.

I asked our Recruiters what Proust-like questions they would like to ask (or do ask) when they interview talent, and I love the responses!  Definitely a lot more interesting than the adage “Tell me about yourself”, the answers to these questions reveal aspects of a candidate’s personality that help hiring managers determine if someone is the right cultural fit for their position.

And so I bring you…(drum roll, please)...The Proust Questionnaire for Creatives

Some that aren’t too outside the box:
  • What is your definition of creative?
  • What is your ideal job and where?
  • What inspires you?
  • Who is your favorite designer?
  • Who is your favorite architect?
  • What is your favorite source of design inspiration (website, magazine, blog, etc)?
  • What projects have you worked on that you are most proud of and why?
Some that would be fun to answer, take some real consideration but still be job related:
  • Name 3 things you could not live without?
  • What is your favorite part of the day or favorite part of your job?
  • We used to have the drop shadow, now we have the reflective surface, what do think is next?
  • What keeps you motivated?
Some that might make me wonder what they’re looking for exactly:
  • Where is your ideal travel destination and why?
  • What 3 things that you use in everyday life should be designed differently?
  • What was the last book you read?
  • What is your favorite TV show or Movie?
  • What is playing on your iPod right now?
And a few that I’ve honestly never thought about before an interview (but maybe I should)!
  • In your time away from work, what do you do?
  • Are you doing what you love or doing what pays the bills?
  • If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
  • If you could invite three people (dead or alive) to dinner who would they be and why?
  • Do you believe in aliens?
  • What's the most despicable act a creative supervisor has done/can do to you?

I’m definitely going to add some of these to my interview preparation list!

Granted - these are just some of the unusual questions potential hiring authorities could ask during an interview.  The best advice is to be prepared to answer these kinds of questions as honestly and calmly as possible. Guess that's just one more reason to do some practice interviews with imaginative friends!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Creatives and Business Meetings: 5 Tips on How to Stay Engaged

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Creatives and Business Meetings: 5 Tips on How to Stay Engaged

Photo by Chloe Dietz, Flickr Creative Commons 

Creatives are not known for being comfortable in a formal business setting. Suits and ties and long strategy sessions are not their normal M.O.

But freelancers do end up going to business meetings or formal pitches and it is important to stay involved in the material and remember what was discussed, since they will probably be sent home to work on the project at hand.

Some meetings, sad to say, are not as interesting and exciting as they could be and creatives may very well have trouble staying engaged. Here are some tips to keep you looking and feeling like you are fully present at your next formal business meeting:

1. Active listening—When someone is talking, we all receive much more information non-verbally than verbally. Put your attention on the body language, facial expression and tone of the speaker.  Concentrate on how that information adds to (or detracts from) what is being said.

2. Look at the speaker—Making eye contact will make a good impression on your meeting leaders and keep you on track. Your mind is bound to wander if you stare at the table or out the window.

3. Don’t chat with your neighbor—Although it is a good idea to sit near someone of like mind at a business meeting, don’t start side conversations while the main speaker is presenting. Not only is it bad manners, but you will miss the main points of the presentation.

4. Take notes - During any meeting there are bound to be hundreds of topics (big and small) discussed.  No one could remember them all.  By continuing your active listening, noting key facts or action items on paper, you can stay more focused on the topics being discussed.  Because you've written them, you will also be more likely to remember them later as well.

5. Ask questions—If you have trouble keeping your mind on the topic at hand, while listening, think of a question to ask.  When there is an opportunity, ask them.  A good question can help a presenter further engage with his or her audience and enable all to remember the material better if a discussion occurs as a result.

We’ve all been to meetings that seem like a waste of time, led by unskilled presenters, or the coverage of information we already know. They can be very frustrating.  Best advice for dealing with these types of meetings: find a way to get something out of the meeting, whether it be a lesson in reading body language, making a positive impression on a manager or adding value to a presentation by asking questions or offering your own expertise as a resource. Any meeting can be useful, even if you have to set your own agenda.

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Preparing for a Behavioral Interview

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Preparing for a Behavioral Interview


In doing research for this article, I went back to basics.

What is a Behavioral Interview?

A Behavioral Interview is one in which the interviewer asks questions about past behavior in the hope of being able to predict how you would handle a situation at their company in the future.

An example of a behavioral interview question would be: Tell me about a time when you set a goal & achieved it.

This and other behavioral interview questions are the perfect opportunity to tell a great story. We have talked before on our blog about telling stories and here is where those stories come in handy.

During your general interview preparation, write out a few stories about specific events or projects which were very successful or fulfilling for you. Even something that didn’t work out perfectly can make a good story, if you can talk about what you learned from it.

If you have been preparing for interviews very thoroughly, you will have compiled a list of stories from which to choose and can focus on a few for each interview. Read the job description again and see if any of your stories involve any aspects of that job and practice telling them.

Many people use a technique known as STARR to prepare for these kinds of questions. STARR provides an outline for your answer which ensures that you will hit all the important points and stay on track while telling your story. STARR stands for:

  • Situation - be specific about where you were and what you were doing.
  • Task - what you were trying to accomplish.
  • Action - what you did to accomplish the goal you were working toward.
  • Result - the outcome of your efforts.
  • Reflection - what you learned from your experience.

Practice moving from one of these elements seamlessly into the next. Be sure to point out positive results and reflections.

If you are prepared with a few relevant stories, you will never again be thrown by behavioral interview questions!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Body Language Tips for Creatives

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Body Language Tips for Creatives


Have you ever come out of a meeting with no clue how it went?  You feel like your presentation was clear and effective.  You know you were prepared and your materials were informative.

Maybe you were paying more attention to what you were doing than how your audience was reacting, but if you play it back in your head, you might have more of an idea of how your presentation was received.

You also might be able to make it work better!

If you can put some of your attention on watching your listeners, you can learn a lot about how your pitch is going and maybe even change it up midstream and close the deal.

Is your listener…

  • Leaning his head on his hand?  He is bored.  Change the pace of your presentation or ask a question to re-engage his attention.
  • Leaning forward in her chair?  She is interested.  Keep up what you’re doing.
  • Touching his ears?  You are connecting.  Give him more information.
  • Making a suggestion with her palms down?  This is no suggestion, this is what she wants.  Tell her how you can give her what she has suggested in a definitive way.
  • Making a suggestion with his palms up?  He is looking for a discussion of the issue and is open to your input as well as his own.
  • Putting her hand over her mouth?  She doesn’t believe what you’re saying.  This is a good time to offer some quantitative evidence or examples.

How about you?  What are you revealing with your body language and how can you make sure your messaging is what you want it to be?

Are you…

  • Slouching? Sit with your back touching the chair, but leaning forward a bit.  This projects confidence and engagement without seeming stiff or nervous.
  • Crossing your arms?  This makes you seem defensive or closed off.  Stop as soon as you realize it.
  • Restless? If you know you are a “wiggler,” it is a good idea to practice your interview or meeting with a trusted friend who can help you become more aware of your habits.  Restless behavior like twirling your hair or bouncing your knee can be distracting to your listener when you want them to hear what you have to say.
  • Making eye contact?  Great! Active listening is an important skill and keeps your mind on the question at hand.

Both you and your interviewer are getting more information from each other nonverbally than verbally.  If you are paying attention, you can control the information they are getting from you and understand the information they are giving you back.

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

7 Tips for Better Negotiating: How to Close the Deal

Thursday, November 10, 2011

7 Tips for Better Negotiating: How to Close the Deal


As a freelancer, I found myself presented with a rather unattractive job offer this past week and ended up thinking a lot about negotiating and how I wanted to handle the situation. I would like to close the deal and have some additional work – but was I willing to compromise significantly to make it happen? I decided to do some research about successful negotiating and found some pretty useful tips for anyone who might be searching for a job or freelance work:

  1. Be prepared. Once an offer has been made, you should have an answer ready for any scenario. The salary might be lower than expected, but you get to work from home. The drive might be further, but you would be working with one of your dream companies. Know your deal-breakers and on what you are willing to compromise.
  2. Plan your next move. When the offer is not ideal, make sure you are clear on what is most important to you. It might be vacation days, overtime, salary or telecommuting opportunities. There might be a way to get a concession on whatever your sticking point might be. Don’t be afraid to get creative with a counter-offer.
  3. Know what the other side needs. Their agenda is not your agenda, but they do need something from you. When presenting a counter offer - lay out exactly what value you bring to the table and make sure they understand that what they are getting from you is unique.
  4. Be sincere, polite and business-like.  By being yourself you remind them how much they would like to work with you day in and day out. Even if these negotiations don’t work out for either party, don’t burn any bridges. If they really need you, they might come back to you at a later time - but not if your relationship has been damaged by the negotiation process.
  5. Practice. Try out your presentation on someone else first. It will help clarify your thoughts and the language you will use in the negotiation. The more constructive feedback – the more focused your presentation. The more you practice, the better you will deliver.
  6. Know when to walk away. This is the hardest one, especially in a down market for employment. Remember that the way they treat you before you are hired is a good indicator of their company culture. A deal that negatively affects either party in some way is not a good deal. If it doesn’t offer you something you can be happy with, try again somewhere else.
As for me, I have decided to walk away from my unattractive offer for a few reasons and am preparing for that conversation later today. I have run my arguments by a few trusted friends and am determined to be polite and sincere, but express very clearly that this is no longer a good deal for me. We shall see if there is a counter-offer in the cards!

UPDATE:  My negotiation meeting went very well and I received a better offer a few days later, which I accepted!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Communication 101 for Freelancers

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Communication 101 for Freelancers

It’s World Communication Week (November 1-7) and a good time to think about the challenges of communications in today’s working environment. Many more people are working as freelancers and working offsite, presenting communication issues that don’t arise when everyone is working in the same office together.  

Some things to consider about communication as a freelancer:

Time Zone

If you are working offsite, you might be in a different time zone or even a different country from your client. Either one of you might have expectations of prompt responses to emails or calls which seem unreasonable to the other. I have one client in Central Time, which means he takes lunch right when I’m working. If I send him an urgent email, he won’t respond until it’s too late for me to make my deadline. I know I have to text him to get a quick answer. Talk to your client about your working hours and the best ways to communicate with each other.

Get it in Writing

Phone calls are great for saving time when exchanging small pieces of information or asking a question or two. However, having detailed instructions or answers in writing proves invaluable when you sit down to actually work on your project. An email can serve as your checklist, ensuring haven’t missed any important elements. Even when I have a meeting by phone with a client, I take notes and write them up clearly when it’s over. This might seem like a bit of extra work, but the wasted time over mistakes or having to clarify is much more significant.


Clients can get nervous if they haven’t heard from you in a while during your project. Even if you haven’t finished anything, regular updates, about what you have accomplished so far and what your next steps will be, are essential. For some clients – this means a morning and evening update. For other clients it might be every few days. Confirm with your client ahead of time how often you should be in touch. Services such as Basecamp can be a great tool for managing your project, timelines and updates.

Ask Questions

We all want our clients to feel like we “get it” right away and are off and running. But we’ve all delivered a project we thought was complete only to find that it needs significant reworking. Sometimes this is because the client doesn’t really know what he or she wants until they see it. But often, it is because we failed to ask key questions throughout the process. If in doubt, check it out!

Use Collaboration Technology

With the amount of technology out there to improve communication – there is really no excuse not to be better communicators. Skype and Chat services (AIM, iChat, etc) allow for instant, free communication. You can even share send and share small files. Services like Dropbox, or Google Docs make it easy for you to share files with your clients and get their feedback, no matter what time or place you are working. Google Docs even allows you both to edit and track changes to your documents in real time. These tools are just another way to allow clients to monitor your pace of work and deliverables.

As we talked about last week, freelancing has a lot of good points: flexibility, choice, environment, independence. Successful freelancing, like any other work situations, thrives on good communication.

If you put some thought into the best ways to keep the lines of communication open, your freelancing relationships will not only bring you monetary rewards, but also more clients in the future.

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Wendy has worked as a freelance singer, transcriptionist, legal assistant, writer, web designer, choral conductor and web content development instructor. Right now, she is freelancing full time for clients in recruiting, environmental services, public relations, web content and music, and will be teaching a workshop in Website Content Development next month. 


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