A Walk Down College Ave is a series of interviews conducted with successful individuals to gather insights and advice for high school students, college students, and recent graduates to help them on their own path to success.
After graduating from the University of Delaware, Sarah Brumbley joined a Fortune 500 company as a Treasury Analyst. After a few years, Sarah started to look for something new, and to her own surprise, she switched industries and landed with a recruiting agency.
As a talent recruiter for finance and accounting firms, Sarah gets to utilize her prior experience in the industry, helping both employers and candidates find the right job. She specializes in finance and accounting, but there is overlap with other professional areas such as marketing and technology. Over a decade later, Sarah is a successful “gold” performer (gold = top 10% of the company) who thrives in identifying and delivering top talent for her clients.
Outside of work, you will likely find Sarah hanging with her extra-large extended family or anything outdoors. She enjoys traveling and experiencing other cultures and tries to get out of the country as much as possible. Despite her many interests, including ballroom dancing, she is “addicted” to her work and is never far from her clients.
If someone asks you what you do, how do you respond?
I am a recruiter, also commonly known as a head hunter. My role is two-fold. First, I interview potential candidates with backgrounds and experience in finance and accounting. I find out what would make them consider looking outside of their current job. Maybe they would be motivated by more interesting or increased job responsibilities, closer to home, more money, growth potential, etc. Second, I identify and meet with hiring managers and establish relationships with them so that when they need to hire for very specialized skill sets (within accounting and finance) they can utilize my team and me to assist them with the recruiting.
The art of my job is the match making. So, when a company (and we work with LOTS! of them) engages us in a search, it is matching the candidate to the job. We help facilitate the entire process from setting up the interview to prepping the candidate for the interview to helping them get an offer.
What do you enjoy most about your current position?
The best part of my job is the opportunity to put people in better situations and help them along in their career. Also, I like helping hiring managers get more qualified talent…faster.
Why did you choose to major in finance in college?
I was originally a biology major with thoughts of pursuing med school. After learning more about what it would take to get there (e.g., grades, classes, etc.), I decided to change majors. I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I changed my major to finance. At the time, I figured regardless of what I end up doing, I’ll learn how to make money on the money I make. It ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made.
What was your first job after college and how did you land it?
I worked part-time through college at MBNA bank (now Bank of America) in the Investor Services department. After I graduated, I took a full-time position with them. Then, I moved to a Corporate Treasury role within MBNA for a few years before I landed where I am today.
What is one thing you believe helped you advance and be successful in your career?
Work ethic and focus. I don’t spend hours on social media or watch TV. Those things are time suckers.
What is one piece of financial advice you know now that you wish you knew when you were 25 years old?
Because I majored in finance and worked in finance, this was always my sweet spot. Save and invest – even if it’s just a little out of every paycheck. If your company has a 401K, make sure you contribute a minimum of what they match. Don’t get in credit card debt, but have credit cards. Use them to your advantage. Points, cash back, and other awards, but pay it off every month.
Don’t jump into feeling like you need to buy a house to feel like a grown up. While a home is still a good investment, it might not always be the best one. It used to be a safe assumption that housing prices will always go up; however, we now know that this is not always true. Markets can crash. Plus, the average time someone stays at one company is 5 to 7 years. You usually have to be in a home for a minimum of 5+ years to break even. If you are approached for an amazing opportunity that is not commutable, owning a home can tie you down.
Looking back on what you have learned in your career – and in life – what is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who is just starting out?
Don’t have expectations about what you think something should be – especially a position or job. I find a lot of college grads have expectations of what the company or job will be like, and they end up disappointed.
Know that every setback is a learning opportunity.
Set big goals, and then set smaller goals and plan how you’ll get there. One of my favorite quotes is “a goal without a plan is just a dream.” There is nothing more that annoys me than the person that talks about what they are going to do and doesn’t execute. Don’t talk about it…be about it.
If you’re looking to place an entry-level candidate in an open role, what are you looking for?
The biggest things I look for are top accredited universities, internships, high GPA, leadership activities, and/or sports. Networking plays a huge part in the industry though, so take advantage of that if other areas of your resume are not as strong!
What are the best job-searching strategies and tactics?
Networking. You can be a mechanic with zero finance experience and apply to a CFO role. Applying online often puts you in a database full of thousands of applicants. You should apply but also find the contact and call. Yes that’s right, I said CALL – don’t just email. It may take research to find the contact.
I’m getting ready to head into my senior year of college. What do you recommend I do to land the job I want post-graduation?
I’d break it down into four parts:
- Don’t expect you’ll get the job you want right out of college. Apply to a lot of jobs and keep an open mind. There are pluses and minuses for working for a big well-known company versus a smaller unknown company. Sure, those big name companies may be good for resume branding but often times you don’t get the same experience as you would in a smaller company because the roles in larger companies are often very siloed and a very small piece of the overall picture. In smaller companies, you often wear more hats, which means more knowledge/experience.
- Network. Make connections.
- Be humble. Do not have a sense of entitlement.
- Know that often there is not a straight path to get to where you want to go. Sometimes it is a long, curvy one.
What do you recommend high school students do to identify majors and careers of interest before going to college and taking classes?
When we’re in high school, or even college, we often only hear about a narrow list of career choices like doctor, lawyer, teacher, policeman, etc., but no one ever talks to us about the less well-known jobs like a brand analytics manager, nuclear medicine technology, QA analyst, or aviation safety inspector.
So here is my proposal – my advice for all students out there is to conduct 50 interviews during their junior and senior year of high school. Start by interviewing friends and family and move to friends of friends or even strangers. Go into the interview prepared with questions and keep a notebook or journal of all the responses. Be sure to take in all of the answers objectively, keeping in mind that most people will try to sell you, or deter you, on their career.
Some example questions could be:
- Can you explain the day in the life of a [insert job]?
- What kind of hours do you work?
- What do you like about your job? What do you dislike about it?
- If you could have gone to any college, which one would you have chosen? Why?
- What was your starting salary out of college? What is the earnings potential of this job?
- What do you wish you knew before you started?
Once you complete your interviews, narrow down your list to the five that you would most like to learn more about, and conduct additional interviews with others in the same field.
Doing this exercise will help you gain an understanding of what jobs exist and which ones might be a good fit for you. Making a career change isn’t a bad thing, but it can be expensive. So, do your research early on!
What are the most important qualities employers are looking for in candidates?
Work ethic, positive attitude, and enthusiasm (“fire in the belly”). If you have two equally qualified candidates for any given job, a hiring manager will always go with the one with these characteristics.
A lot of coursework and studies are focused on the roles and responsibilities of experienced positions. What’s the best way to find entry-level jobs that will eventually lead to said positions?
It really depends on the role in question. In general, you really need to interview as many people in that field (or specific role) as you can. I’d say 10 to 15 interviews. Ask them how they got to where they are today. Keep a journal and take very objective notes, and then go back and look at your notes once you have gathered them all. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, there is very set path you take to get there. If you want to be a portfolio manager, marketing manager, or a project manager, you can take several different paths. Or maybe you have aspirations to be an entrepreneur, then there are thousands of ways! Choose a job with great people who will inspire you and that you can learn from.