Jennifer Barker is the Senior Business Development Strategist for SEMGeeks. She focuses on developing and nurturing multi-dimensional digital marketing, design and web strategies for companies to increase their digital footprint. Jennifer holds a BFA in multimedia design from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. She entered the tech world in the late 90’s and had the chance to experience the monumental shift from traditional to digital marketing. She has worked for digital agencies in two major cities over the last 15 years but 3 years ago happily put her roots down at the Jersey Shore. Jennifer attributes her success in the tech industry to a combination of professional mentorship, community involvement and life experience. She feels that some of her best career lessons did not come from a classroom or Business Development job, but from living in cities engulfed with creativity, art and culture and surrounding herself with people that challenge and inspire her. Jennifer will be speaking at numerous events this spring. She finds the most success comes from inspiring and empowering others in her industry.
I attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and graduated with a BFA in Multimedia Design in 2004. At the time, digital media was just emerging and my degree program was predominately male. I was one of five women in my major, so even before my career in tech started, I was aware that I had to work twice as hard to be recognized for my talents and achievements. I had a female professor that encouraged me to think out of the box and not be afraid to question the system. I think back and realize now, she was my mentor and inspiration to thrive in the tech community. UArts was a great environment to learn both educational and personal lessons and I feel at this time I was learning lessons that would build the character and strengths I would later use in my professional life.
Honestly, I didn’t. I started as a multimedia installation artist that built environments that incorporated digital and traditional art. My first job was an in-house exhibit designer at a museum. While there, an acquaintance forwarded me a job listing for a position in marketing. I knew I didn’t have a marketing background but I applied anyway. The executive director hired me knowing I had no prior marketing experience, but told me she saw a fire in me that, along with my outgoing personality, would make me a perfect fit. And that’s how it all began. I entered the field as marketing was starting to drastically change, so I got the chance to experience the shift from traditional to digital. It was an exciting time to be in the industry and I feel I was one of the lucky ones who got to experience working in both print and digital. From there my experience took me to two major cities before landing at the Jersey Shore as a Senior Business Development Strategist for a fully integrated digital agency. Now I focus on putting together multi channel development, design and marketing strategies for companies to grow their digital footprint. Through education and experience, I have become a resource to people in the digital world and I couldn’t be happier!
There are three main things I’ve learned so far in my career that have helped me to get to where I am. First, and one of the most important, don’t be afraid. Walk into a meeting, whether with colleagues or clients, with confidence even if you are terrified on the inside. Second, use your voice and make it be heard. Sitting in a conference room full of men can be daunting, especially early on in your career, but remember that we all have something important to bring to the table, we all have a voice that is worth being heard and ideas that matter. Finally, always continue to learn and educate yourself. Tech trends are changing at rapid speeds, and if you don’t keep up there will be someone else who does. Education doesn’t stop once you receive your degree. It is our responsibility to keep learning professionally and personally so we can evolve with the industry.
Going into an interview you always want to have talking points that show you know about the company. I always do my research on the company via company website, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, etc. During the interview have key points specific to the company to talk about, whether it be about the new release of a product, a project featured on their website or something the person interviewing you has accomplished. It’s important to show that you have taken the time to learn about them and including a comment about a success they have achieved let’s them know you spent time researching them. It also helps you be prepared to answer any questions they may present to you. I also make sure that I get good nights rest and do a final review of any information I have researched the day of the interview so it’s fresh in my mind.
I have found that the books that I have learned the most from aren’t necessarily books directly related to my career or text books. The Four Agreements and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck are my go to books. They have helped me to grow as a person and be able to accept my strengths and become aware of things I may need to work on. Both of these books have made me look at situations differently and with new perspective. They have created amazing ground work for me to build upon not only professionally, but in my personal life as well. I am a huge believer that you must work on becoming your best self in order to become the best in other aspects of your life, including your career.
I am also a huge advocate for joining or building a community that empowers, challenges and supports you. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by a growing tech hub that includes both men and women. By getting involved in the community through such groups as Jersey Shore Women in Tech and Babes in Business, I have gained knowledge and support from women in the tech industry. Through these groups I have formed great relationships that continue to educate me. As a woman in technology, I can’t put a price on this. It is an amazing feeling to be able to learn something new and be challenged by such powerful women. We inspire and encourage each other to be our best selves in and outside of work. Navigating success can be a roller coaster, but it is less daunting when you have a solid community that can relate and help you on your journey.
Always personalize your CV. The first thing companies recognize is a template that gets mass sent. Customize your CV to the business development job you are applying for. Highlight the experience you feel will best display why you are the right candidate for the position and always include a brief intro that speaks to your qualifications but also shows your personality. Remember that the HR team is sifting through a multitude of these, so make yours stand out with an intro that catches their attention.
Don’t be afraid to apply for a business development job because you feel you aren’t qualified enough. You’ll never know if you don’t try. Employers are looking for more than just experience now. As company culture is becoming more and more important, employers are looking for someone that can mesh well with their existing team. There may be times someone is a more qualified candidate, but doesn’t fit into the company culture. So instead they hire the less qualified candidate that they feel they will work well with the team. At the end of the day, companies want teams that are productive so they will take the time to train someone that may not be as seasoned. It’s easier to teach someone a process or program than to try and fit a square peg into a round hole. So don’t let your fears or self doubt come in the way of sending out a resume.
I believe that your experience or degree does not define you. Of course it is important, but even more valuable to companies are your accountability, work ethic and personality. I fought to get to where I am. Nothing was ever just given to me, it took hard work, long hours and some failures. It may not seem that anyone notices at the time, but believe me, they do, and they remember those things about you. I pride myself on being transparent and accountable and feel that this has gotten me to where I am today. I learned a long time ago that people will respect you more if you own your mistakes as opposed to deny them. It shows more strength to admit your faults and I think this is key in becoming successful. You sometimes only get one chance to leave an impression on someone, so use your voice to make you stand out from the crowd. Use that voice to verbalize the confidence that is within you so when you leave an interview, that person feels inspired and wants to know more about you. Make them feel confident that you are the best person for that position. It takes time to feel comfortable doing these things, but once you do, you’ll realize how powerful you really are and you will begin to stand out among a sea of candidates.
I’ve learned to not let one road block stop me. Just because you may not have gotten the business development job you wanted, doesn’t mean you aren’t successful, it means that wasn’t the right business development job for you. Remember that you are talented and that you have a lot to bring to the table and don’t get discouraged. And remember that it is ok to ask why you didn’t get the business development job. Not all companies will respond to this, but if they do, take that information and look at it as a learning experience and think about how you may approach the next interview differently.
No matter what industry or position you are in, the most important step to success is believing in yourself. Don’t rely on others to give you confidence, find it inside you. Surround yourself with others that support, challenge and educate you. The best career lessons are learned outside of the office and through life experience. Remember that every challenge is a reason to grow. Without growth, life remains stagnant. For me, remaining stagnant is not an option considering the tech industry is constantly changing. We have the power to succeed within us, it is just a matter of finding the ways that work best for you. Everyone is different, and that is a beautiful part of life. Embrace your differences and use them to create your voice and more importantly, bring your voice to the table.