Episode 131 – Learn to Evangelize Your Excellence and Take Ownership of Your Career with Jen Bunk

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Phil’s guest on today’s show is Jen Bunk. Her path into the world of IT was a long one. She started out working in the academic world.

Today, she helps tech managers to upgrade their careers. She teaches them how to share what they are doing and the value that adds effectively. That is in a way that quickly leads to promotion, bigger paychecks and a better work-life balance. Her advice is tailored to fit in with the career objectives of each of the people she helps.

Jen is the host of the People Stack podcast for which she interviews career coaches, authors and tech leaders, from around the globe.


(0.56) – So Jen, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Jen starts by saying how cool it is for her to be interviewed rather than being the one doing the interviewing. She explains that she is a career coach for technical managers. That means that she helps engineering managers, IT managers, technical project and product managers and others. Occasionally, she will work with data analytics specialists or science team leaders too.

She helps these people to upgrade their careers. To get a promotion, move fields get a raise and a lot more besides. Her aim is to help them to do this without having to work ridiculously long hours to achieve this.

(2.46) – Do the people you work with have different career objectives? Jen says yes, everyone has a unique story. So, they have different goals and career paths that they want to follow.

But, there is one thing that ties them all together. They all feel that they are stuck in their career. Usually, they have worked hard to try to progress, but not been able to do so. Others are doing OK, but are having to work ridiculous hours to achieve what they want or stay in their roles.

Most of her clients are middle management. Typically, she is working with the people who directly lead the tech teams.

(4.03) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? If you want to upgrade your career, it is not enough to be excellent, and strive to be the best and continually add value. That is only part of it.

You need to evangelize that excellence; essentially you have to become good at self-promotion. Jen calls it self promotion on steroids. You need to let others know what you are doing and how it is benefiting the organization you work for.

(5.13) – So, do you have any specific suggestions of how people should go about doing that themselves? Jen says that this type of self-promotion has to be done carefully.

First, you have to get comfortable with the fact that you are going to have to promote yourself. Self-promotion is something that makes a lot of people squirm.

What you need to do to get started depends on the circumstances you are in. If you are not doing any self-promoting you need to ask yourself why that is and work out how to get started.

Whereas, if you are already doing it and it is not working you would need to take a different approach. Perhaps you would need to communicate more clearly or share what you are doing in other arenas. There is no one size fits all answer.

(6.29) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. Jen explains that in her former life, she was a college professor. About 10 years into her career, she applied for promotion and tenure. A move that is not uncommon, often, the two go hand in hand.

The process of gaining tenure and getting promoted is a long one that typically takes about a year. It involves working with and being assessed by various departments at different levels. For example, working with the Dean of the College, as you go through each level you are assessed.

This process starts at the department level. So, initially it is your colleagues, people you work with every day that consider your applications. Unfortunately, at this stage, the department committee told her they were happy to support her for tenure, but not for promotion.

Naturally, Jen was shocked and angry. It was a real ‘what just happened to me moment?’ Getting through the meeting was a trial. She could not work out why her colleagues had made that decision.

In the end, both the Dean and the provost supported and recommended her. So, ultimately she got tenure and promotion.

It was not a great experience, but it was one that Jen learned from. Only then did she realize that the Dean knew what she was doing so could understand the value she was adding. But, importantly, the people she worked with every day did not. The result of that situation was nearly disastrous.

(10.03) – Presumably you have taken what you learned from that experience and applied it to your coaching career. Jen says yes definitely. That is where her ‘evangelizing your excellence’ message came from. Her anger at her colleagues turned to understanding when she realized she had not made sure they knew what she was contributing. It was a hard lesson to learn, but a learning moment that means she can be very effective at stopping others from continuing to make a similar mistake.

(11.20) – Phil asks Jen what their best career moment was. For Jen, that has been being able to grow her coaching business at an astonishing rate. After just 3 years in business, they reached the 6 figure turnover point. This was a huge achievement in an industry where most coaches typically turnover between $30,000 and $40,000 per annum.

It is an achievement that shows what they are doing is effective. Her clients are getting amazing results.

(12.20) – Phil says I assume you get some great career stories from the people you are working with. Jen agrees and explains that she is now sharing more of them. At first it felt a little weird, after all these are personal stories. But, she has found that when people are doing great they really want to share their experience with others.

(13.00) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The fact it is always changing is what excites Jen the most about the industry. The other day, her husband was talking to their nine-year-old son about what he wants to do when he is older. He ended up explaining that neither of the jobs his parents do now and love doing did not even exist when they were kids.

Within the IT industry, new careers are constantly emerging. Phil agrees and reminds the audience that this ever-changing landscape means that there are always plenty of opportunities for progress.

(14.25) – What drew you to a career in IT? Even in the 80s, Jen loved tech. Her brother got a computer for Christmas. Jen wanted to play on it all the time. So, now she works in the industry she feels like she has come home somehow.

(15.12) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? That would be – take extreme ownership of your career. Make sure you are always in the driver’s seat. Phil agrees the days where the firm you worked for automatically helped you to learn more and progress your career are long gone.

(15.42) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Interestingly, Jen would not do anything differently. She has enjoyed everything she has done, so would do it all again.

(16.11) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? In terms of her own career, Jen is building a million dollar business. To do this she will be pulling in other entrepreneur friends. The foundations of this have already been laid with the formation of the Two Comma Club.

So, she is switching from fulfilling day to day functions and taking on more of a CEO role. Being the person who sets the strategic vision and leading the way. But, she still plans to do some coaching. Jen wants to continue to have direct access to clients.

Phil summarizes this as becoming the person who works on the business rather than in the business.

(17.38) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Being a good writer has proved important. But, for Jen her most important non-technical skill has been good time management. It has enabled her to be as effective as possible.

(17.45) – Phil asks Jen to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. If you want to progress your career, you have to take true ownership of it.

When it comes to our careers many of us act like we are the pawns in a game of chess rather than the player. All too often we sit there waiting for opportunities to come along. Instead we should be acting like the player and be the one who makes things happen. You can, and should, be the one to move the pieces around the board.

A client once told her that he felt like he was wearing a pair of golden handcuffs. He was making a lot of money and a great position, but, he did not really like where he worked. Plus, he was working 60 hours a week.

So, Jen asked him – who put those golden handcuffs on? Of course, it was him, which was great news because it meant that he could take them off.

Phil says that is a great analogy. All you need to do to take them off is to realize that you have the key.


(4.17) JEN – “It’s not enough to simply be excellent, and strive to be the best and continually add value.”

(4.58) JEN – “Building the excellence and the evangelist excellence coming together is what leads to career upgrading.”

(15.16) JEN – “Take extreme ownership, it’s your career. It’s no one else’s. You’re in the driver’s seat.”

(18.19) JEN – “I like to make sure that every moment is used as effectively and efficiently as possible”

(19.49) JEN – “It can be really hard to realize that I’m the one who put myself in this situation. But I can get myself out because I’m the player, not just a pawn.”


Twitter: https://twitter.com/JBunky @JBunky

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jenbunk/

Company Website: https://thepeoplestack.com

Personal Website: https://jenbunk.com

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