Jen Spofford would tell you that she never had her sights set on becoming a partner at The Archer Group, an advertising agency acquired earlier this year by digital transformation agency Bounteous.
Her former boss would beg to differ.
"He likes to tell the story of my interview," says Jen. "I had studied the website and seen pictures of the leadership team, and one of my questions to him was why were there no women in leadership. He responded with 'you know, there just hasn't been the right opportunity.'"
While the specific role of partner may not have been on her mind, Jen did have her sights set on changing that.
And she has. Seven years into her career at Archer, Jen made partner. Three years later, she and her four co-partners architected the firm's acquisition by Bounteous, where Jen is now the Senior Vice President of Client Service—and where Jen's picture on the company website is joined by pictures of two dozen other women in leadership.
We sat down with Jen to learn about her professional journey, her leadership philosophy, and why she thinks intrinsic motivation is the best path to career fulfillment.
Seeking discomfort to find growth
Jen was born in Delaware and now works out of Bounteous' Wilmington office (well, she did, in pre-pandemic times), which is just a few miles away from where her dad worked for 40 years. "I felt a little mad at the universe for returning me back exactly where I came from," she jokes.
She didn't start her career there, though. After studying advertising at Penn State, she worked for several big agencies in New York City, putting in the hours and honing her account management skills.
"I worked my way through the big guys, and that's kind of how New York felt—you had to constantly be on the move to grow," she says. She got into digital advertising and loved it, and took a role at a boutique firm that specialized in digital in order to learn as much as she could. "It was amazing, but emotional. I had 16 hats and I wasn't always wearing them well," remembers Jen.
She was looking for a slightly bigger agency that still had digital focus, and that's when she found Archer, which just so happened to be in her home state.
She came on as an account manager and within a year was leading the whole account management team. She credits her quick advancement to her drive to improve: "My goal was always to continue to better orchestrate the impact of our work, and that happened to lead to another title." She became a partner at Archer in 2016, and now at Bounteous, Jen manages nearly 20 team members and is responsible for all of the agency's business east of Chicago.
"I know if I push myself to get into uncomfortable situations, those are the places where I'm going to grow the most personally and professionally," says Jen. "Out of those uncomfortable experiences, you forge yourself into something better."
Points of impact
As she moved up the ranks, Jen wasn't tracking her title changes—she was tracking her scope of impact. "Being in the C-suite of a company was never a long-standing dream, but the idea of contributing meaningfully and of making an impact in whatever I am doing, that's something I have to have," says Jen. "If I'm not making an impact, then I need to find a place where I can."
Seeking to make a positive impact instead of plotting a way up a career ladder has let Jen focus on what she actually loves to do, which is partnering with her clients to achieve their goals and building a strong team underneath her and helping them to grow. And while yes, the titles and the raises have come, too, and aren't completely irrelevant, Jen credits her success to not chasing them. "I don't think about my next promotion. I think about how I'm going to be able to either keep making an impact or what am I going to have to change so I'm able to make the impact I want to make."
3 tips to unlock your growth, at Bounteous and beyond
As a manager of a big team at Bounteous, Jen seeks to apply her philosophy of internally-motivated career growth with her direct reports, aiming to understand where each person on her team wants to grow and to create the conditions for their success. That does come with promotions and raises, but she's much more focused on helping her team find career fulfillment than she is on those accolades themselves.
She has three pieces of advice to share with women looking to find that fulfillment in their own roles:
1. Pinpoint how you'd like to grow. Jen highlights how important it is that you as an individual do some soul-searching on exactly where and how you want to grow, beyond whatever promotion is on the horizon. "I just don't believe most people can get a 'senior' in front of their title and will go back to their office and feel satisfied, if they weren't before," says Jen. "You need to understand what it is you wish you could do or try or learn that your current situation is not enabling."
2. Understand where your pain points are in your current role. Jen gives an example of when a simple promotion isn't actually what you should be asking for: "Let's say your problem is you can't let go of some of the work that you've mastered and you don't have time for things that are actually teaching you something. Well, it's not a solution to promote you if you still have to do that job from top to bottom. Maybe instead, we need to hire someone to support you." You could then free up your time to learn new things and get to grow as a manager of people.
3. Make sure you've earned your wins and you know how to communicate them. Before starting any conversation about how you'd like to grow your career, says Jen, you need to make sure you've proven to your manager you're worth investing in. "I think sometimes people early on in their career need to hear that you do need to work really hard and get those successes so you can talk about the reasons why you deserve that next opportunity," she says. "Once you have that, you can persuade me you're ready for the next level."
"If you stay open-minded, if you push yourself to do uncomfortable things, and if you work hard, you will be presented with opportunities to do more," says Jen. Part of being open-minded is being willing to collaborate on solutions, she notes. She never wants someone to leave her team because there's an issue they're having they don't know how to solve, be it a desire to work in a different role or an issue with their commute.
"There's a thousand reasons why you shouldn't leave Bounteous and only a few why you should. I want my team to be open with their challenges and real with themselves. I care about every single person on my team," says Jen. "Everyone that stays or goes, I want to help them grow. I want to give them all the opportunities I can. And I fully believe Bounteous, if it continues on its trajectory, will continue to offer them all kinds of growth."
If you're interested in working with Jen and the Bounteous team, check out their open roleshere.