We’ve all been in the position where we interview for a job that seems great on paper, even better during the interview process, but ends up being a disappointment and a career misstep. It can be frustrating, making us feel like our own judgment has failed us. Where did we go wrong? Uncuffed founder Jennifer Bewley says that was part of the motivation for starting her own company, which helps job candidates understand the ins and outs of companies they’re considering, negotiate deals, and interview like a pro.
We were humbled to speak to Jennifer about her past and present professional experiences, what she does to stay focused and clearheaded, and how to start your own company.
How did your career in communications and PR begin? What was one of your first professional experiences that made an impact on your career?
My career in communications and public relations started by accident. I had joined a public company to lead their Investor Relations efforts, which was really a finance role with communications and story structuring in the background. Four months into my tenure, the company had a public relations mishap, and the CEO strong-armed me in an airport to take on the additional role of communications. I didn’t want the position, but it was a real advantage that I had been both of my customers in earlier roles – an equity analyst and a journalist.
Because I was at my first company for ten years, it’s hard to pick out one experience that impacted my career. The first time I was noticed by the firm’s portfolio manager was on a simple research project. He asked me to find a few experts that he could talk to on an industry issue. Later that day, I gave him a list and he asked a few questions. What I didn’t know? A more senior analyst had been stonewalling the portfolio manager telling him he couldn’t find anyone because he didn’t agree with the outreach. That moment put me on the fast track with the portfolio manager, and I learned the importance of being direct in the workplace and tackling disagreements honestly. It was a very meaningful experience – both personally and professionally.
Can you tell us a little bit about your decision to found Uncuffed? What encouraged you to start this company, and what are some of the goals you hope to achieve?
It’s a classic founders story. Uncuffed was born out of a major mistake that I made taking the wrong job at the wrong company. The company had very high turnover, which is the number one sign of a troubled culture. Unfortunately, that situation was not reflected on the typical corporate review sites. But, there was financial data that with a certain twist would have shown me the issue and allowed me to avoid that toxic company. I figured if I missed it, others did too.
As a side project, I started working with friends who were interviewing, providing data-driven insights and honing in on what professionals needed in a report. When I helped one avoid a complete disaster, I knew I had a business. We opened our e-commerce site about six months later.
Our goal is to help as many professionals choose the organizations they work for wisely. It’s funny, the number one piece of feedback we get from our customers is that our pricing is too low. We know, but it’s intentional because of our goal.
What has been challenging for you over the course of your career? How did you (or do you, if it’s an ongoing challenge) overcome this challenge?
My biggest challenge is keeping my priorities straight. For every year, except the one that inspired Uncuffed, I have loved to work, and there have been too many times that my family was relegated to second place. Not too long ago, I had a choice to make between family time and Uncuffed. Ultimately, I delayed some work and spent two weeks with family in another state. Now, I keep a list on the desk of my real priorities, not just my work priorities. At the suggestion of another founder, I started asking myself “If I’m living my values, what decision would I make?” It adds a lot of clarity to business, career and family decisions.
What are you passionate about when it comes to your profession, and when it comes to life? Do you find that there’s overlap?
When personal and professional passions overlap, that is the lottery ticket. If you had asked me in my 20s what my passions were, I would have said champagne, reading and college basketball. Now with hindsight, I know my passion has always been uncovering a fresh insight or a new idea.
On Wall Street, it allowed me to find interesting companies to invest in. For investor relations, it was about anchoring financial data in the most compelling context. In communications, it allowed me to tell stories reporters cared about. Now, it’s about creatively using data in new contexts to help people find companies that deserve their talents.
How has your experience as a woman in your field been overall? Do you find that there are more or less opportunities today for women to excel in this line of work?
In some ways, I think I was very fortunate to start in a male-dominated field where success is very tangibly measured. Did your research make money for investors this year? I don’t think gender has an enormous impact on stock picking prowess.
I’ve been lucky in that each of my male bosses (and one female boss) have been good-hearted people. That’s not to say they haven’t been “momentary morons,” with offensive gender-related comments here and there. All of those were quickly forgivable because I was fully supported in my career in every way. If I had a problem, I dealt with it directly. I remember telling my portfolio manager that he was on thin ice with me at one point for an insensitive comment about another colleague. Another boss referred to me as Norma Rae, because I was fighting for fair pay for another professional. Sometimes, you have to let the consequences be damned.
I’m not sure about more opportunities in communications-related fields specifically. I do think there are more opportunities to carve your path.
Do you have any daily rituals that you’d like to share, that help you stay focused and calm?j
I walk 10,000 steps every day and I try to tune into the walk. If I can, I don’t talk on the phone during the walk (although I sometimes use that time to catch-up with family.) I try to enjoy the city and be enveloped by New York.
I use walks as intervention too. If I’m having a particularly frustrating moment, I leave my desk and take a 20-minute walk around Brooklyn. I have specific paths I like depending on what sparked the frustration.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working? How do you maintain your work life balance?
Work-life balance has been super hard right now. I fully understand that it’s easier just to go and work at a company. Whatever minimal free time I have goes to family, friends and my dog. Reading for pleasure is a real treat right now, but I still love books. And, I make time to cook dinner three days a week and learn new dishes. Both offer a great break from screen time. I’ve really learned to cherish any mini-break, because the next order is minutes away.
What is one of your biggest accomplishments to this date, and why?
That’s a hard one because I rarely think about accomplishments. I think having enough confidence to invest in my idea, myself, my happiness. That’s what being a founder is about to me.
Do you have a mentor or something that you look to for guidance and inspiration?
There’s not one person, but I’ve collected mentors throughout my career at all levels. A killer customer support person can be as inspiring to me as a CEO. What’s important is keeping in touch, not just when they need you or you need them. I received a quick text out of the blue from a mentor last week that had the exact message I needed to hear. Kismet.
Any advice for anyone looking to found their own company?
I think the most important part is having a clear vision. I’ve been overwhelmed by the generous support that we’ve been shown from people that started as absolute strangers merely because they got our mission. You can talk yourself out of or into anything – sometimes you just have to start.
If you’re looking for a new job, we highly recommend checking out Uncuffed to learn background information on companies you’re interested in, how to interview well, and more!
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