Sarah has worked for Tesla for 3.5 years and specifically focuses her efforts on workforce development & the skilled trades. Growing up, the messaging was always: go to school, get accepted into a 4-year college, get your degree, and there will be a fantastic job waiting for you. Upon exiting college as the Great Recession was wrapping up, this was no longer the case and led to a rude awakening. Sarah had multiple industry changes that eventually led to her Tesla. Today’s conversation talks about this journey, her career moves, and how failure isn’t always a bad thing.
Ready for Part 2? Click here to hear the next episode with Sarah Budriunas
- Growing Up in South Bay with the Southern California Pressure of Innovation
- Sarah’s Definition of Success and Impact of Her Family in Her Career
- What Sarah Says to People Doubting Careers Moves and The Coffee Order That Changed Everything
- The Epiphany and Connections that Led Sarah to Tesla
- The Top Mistake Sarah Has Seen Job Seekers Make
- What Research Job Seekers Should Do About Companies for their Next Career Moves and What Tesla Looks For
Editor’s Note: We provide a transcript of each episode to make it easy to search and read. Since robots are not ready to take over the world yet, the artificial intelligence isn’t perfect. There may be some typos in the automated transcript.
Sarah Budriunas (00:04):
That was one of the wake up calls for me to realize it was not fulfilling. Something that really made me passionate and excited to go to work. We all need a paycheck, but this was something that was just, it was sticking with me. It was jarring. And it was a moment that I realized I needed to start shifting directions and figure out how to, how to get somewhere, that was really going to make a difference in my day to day,
Vincent Phamvan (00:30):
From Vyten Career Coaching, it’s How I Got Here, a show about business leaders, their resilience, and the stories behind their career. I’m Vincent Phamvan, and I’ve interviewed thousands of job candidates over the years in both recruiting and as a former corporate executive. Now, I’m on a mission to help you take the next step in your career. A corporate job opening attracts an average of 250 resumes, and just one person is going to get hired. It wasn’t all that long ago that I was nervous and frustrated by my job search, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can navigate your career with confidence, spend everyday learning, and drive to better yourself. You can be excited about the future.
In today’s show, we meet Sarah Budriunas, a Senior Project Manager, and Recruiter at Tesla, a company that needs no introduction.
Vincent Phamvan (01:23):
Sarah has worked at Tesla for almost four years, focusing on workforce development and the skilled trades, but we share a lot in common where growing up the message was always go to school, get accepted into a four-year college, get your degree, and then start a great job, right? But we both graduated about two years apart, right towards the end of the Great Recession. And that led to something else that Sarah and I both have in common. After we graduated from a University of California school with that coveted four-year degree, we both had a job where it was our responsibility to remember somebody else’s coffee order.
Sarah Budriunas (02:03):
They had wanted coffee, which is one of my administrative duties was to give everyone coffee when they came in and, you know, they were probably not aware of how their tone sounded, but they were barking around. They wanted three creams, four sugars. And I had the summit when I stepped out of the building after that. And I said, what am I doing?
Vincent Phamvan (02:20):
Sarah, like many of my friends, I know that graduated around the same time, had multiple industry changes that eventually led her to Tesla. She started though in healthcare, after college transitioned into sales and operations for a high-end fitness company, and then became a project coordinator for a new construction project in San Francisco, but nothing was aligning with her life mission until she started working at Tesla. The story starts before then though. So let’s back up a little bit.
Growing Up in South Bay with the Southern California Pressure of Innovation
Sarah Budriunas (02:52):
I grew up in Campbell, California, which is in the South Bay of the Bay area. And at the time what really strikes me was it was all orchards when I drove to school every day in the morning with my mom and my brother, once he was old enough, we were passing small businesses called Car Dealership and Orchard. And that’s not something that you really think about when you hear the Bay Area these days. So growing up in that location in the nineties, it was truly a different sort of way of living.
Vincent Phamvan (03:29):
I can relate to this growing up in Orange County, California, seeing strawberry fields every summer as we drive a few miles away from home. These large plots of land actually serve as offices now for companies like Mazda, Toyota, Kia, Mitsubishi, and Hyundai, and 20 miles away from Campbell. California is Palo Alto where Tesla is located. Earlier this year, the company announced that it produced its 1 millionth electric car becoming the first automotive maker to achieve this milestone. So there’s definitely been a change in the South Bay in the past 10 years.
Sarah Budriunas (04:03):
And what, what came from it with the .com bust and all the rules and engineering and the large tech companies coming in overtime and evolving and into what it is now was not something that we as a family anticipated when my parents were, were living there having us, and we were growing up.
Vincent Phamvan (04:23):
Tell me a little bit about how your parents impacted who you are today.
Sarah Budriunas (04:26):
My mother is New York-born and raised and was the former editor of the Silicon Valley Business Journal. So she was an amazing idol and person to look up to and emulate growing up, you know, really strong, independent, fierce Jewish woman. And a lot of my traits definitely come from her and I’m, I’m certainly proud of it. And then she had eventually come out to California when she met my dad when they were in their twenties. And she came out because she had she’d come out for a wedding and she was doing her graduate work at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland at the time was snowed in constantly. And all of a sudden saw sunshine and Palm trees and literally packed up her car and made the move. So it was, it was something for her where she just said, I’ve always wanted to live in Southern California and what am I doing in Cleveland?
Sarah Budriunas (05:19):
And so she, she made the move, met my dad and my dad actually was originally born in Canada and he’s a twin he’s an identical twin. And when they were about six or seven years old, the family made the hop over the border and came to Arizona and then eventually landed in Santa Monica, California. And that’s eventually where my parents met, but I am the first-generation college for his side. He does have a high school diploma but his, his dad, my grandfather worked in the trades. He was kind of a, a handyman Jack of all trades. He did everything from carpentry, to plumbing, construction, you name it. And then my, my grandma on that side was a homemaker. So, and then they, I think they worked at a drugstore together. So, you know, really just seeing that hustle for them being able to provide for him and his brothers, there were four of them. And you know, it’s just, it’s been incredible to be able to make them proud, quite honestly.
Vincent Phamvan (06:17):
And as you were growing up in this family with influences all around you, what did you think you were going to do with your career?
Sarah Budriunas (06:23):
I, at one point, wanted to be a veterinarian and then I wanted to be a teacher. And at one point I wanted to be President, which I don’t know anyone that wants to do that my hats off to them. That’s a tough job these days. And then you know, I kind of found my way as I went because I had basically three other industry changes before landing at Tesla. So I had to spend a lot of time figuring out what I didn’t like to really fully understand my life’s purpose and what made me want to get out of bed in the morning?
Vincent Phamvan (06:52):
How do you feel like your parents shaped who you were growing up in the, I guess who you’ve become today?
Sarah’s Definition of Success and Impact of Her Family in Her Career
Sarah Budriunas (06:58):
I was shaped by my parents living in a place that a lot of times was predicated. Your success was predicated on how many initials are after your last name, meaning how many degrees you’ve gotten, how much extra schooling you had done. And I was never raised like that. And I, I really commend them for, for taking the time to make sure that it was important for me to understand who I needed to be as a person. And that education wasn’t the catchall that would determine that. Now education was still extremely important coming from a Jewish family. You know, you always have the stereotype of Jews, always becoming lawyers, doctors, or bankers. But it was never forced on me. There was never any pressure to go down one of those paths, it was learn who you are, be your own person, and no matter what you do, when no matter what you do, we are proud of you.
We support you and we want you to shine. And I feel so fortunate. I was raised in an environment like that, especially in a part of the country where there’s so much constant pressure to innovate and create and be the top student in the class. And you know, it just, it never really ends it’s. My mom always says, “It’s a Rat Race, and the rats are winning”. And it really is true in the Bay Area. It can be really hard. So I never felt that pressure from them. And, and I think it’s pretty extraordinary seeing what, what that area has turned into and how I don’t feel like I, I had to stay, you know, constantly chasing after something, you know, that might’ve been a goal of theirs that might not necessarily have been a goal of mine.
Vincent Phamvan (08:46):
What do you think the most important thing is that you’ve learned in your life and, you know, before you knew that, like, what was your life like?
Sarah Budriunas (08:56):
It’s okay to fail. And it’s okay to not make the right decision the first time, as long as you’re learning a lesson from said decisions or from the outcome that came from whatever you did. I think sometimes people almost have a route analysis paralysis these days where they’re so concerned that they might be making the wrong choice, they’re almost stuck in the middle and not making a decision is making a decision incidentally. So it’s okay to dive in and learn and see if maybe there was something there that stuck that you can carry with you, whether it’s a lesson, something in your career you liked or didn’t like, something in a relationship that doesn’t feel healthy or good or did feel healthy or good. These aren’t, I feel like failures are always painted in a bad way and it’s really not true because you cannot become who you will be in that really amazing best version of yourself unless you have these experiences and these moments.
And I think it’s very hard also when you’re younger to have that confidence to know it’s okay, unless you happen to be lucky enough to be surrounded by friends, family, or mentors that tell you that, and then you have your first speed bump and you stumble and you fall on your face and you get up, brush yourself off and go, “Oh, I’m okay. Yes, you were right.” So I, you know, I just, I’m so thankful I’ve had that. I would say that before I knew that, you know, you and I have talked about how you, it was very challenging coming out of college for undergrad after the recession. And that really compounded understanding who I was, understanding how to learn and make mistakes and grow. And what I got out of college, I went out to Washington DC, and I grew up a lot because I was out of my California bubble. I was living in the place I really didn’t know a lot of individuals, family, friends, or otherwise. And I was in an industry that was challenging because it was healthcare. And I worked in ophthalmology where, when people are that sick, it’s in their eyes, they’re unfortunately, typically very ill and it can be a challenging workplace to go in day in, day out. But you’re also helping people, which I was always really passionate about.
Vincent Phamvan (11:06):
You know, something that like really stands out to me is you put so much thought into the direction that you’re going to go in, in your career. And the reality is, is that it’s kind of one stepping stone that gets you to the next, but at the moment, it almost, at many times it feels like you’re making a forever decision.
What Sarah Says to People Doubting Careers Moves and The Coffee Order That Changed Everything
The Epiphany and Connections that Led Sarah to Tesla
Sarah Budriunas (15:44):
Yeah, well, incidentally, this was similar to the same time as the 2016 election. And that was really the last nail in the proverbial coffin for me, once I said, okay, everything can change at the drop of a hat. I have to go somewhere where day in and day out, I’m making a difference. So with that factor, compounding that one moment I was having in my role in my job at that point in time, within probably a few weeks, I was scouring LinkedIn to try and figure out what my next move was going to be. I was checking to see what my connections were doing and sure enough, someone I’d worked with at Equinox had recently gone over to Tesla. And I mean recently, like within a week, she had just changed her headline on her LinkedIn. And I immediately thought Tesla, Elon. I never really thought about that.
And he’s cool. Those cars are cool. I would love to see what that looks like. And I sent her a message on LinkedIn, and we were able to connect about what those opportunities might be like, at least on the recruiting side, because she had seen me work and she knew what I was capable of, but also knew based on my experiences that I didn’t have certain job titles on my resume that were going to not allow me to potentially go into roles that I would eventually be capable of. But given the amount of external interests on top of everyone looking to go into potentially one role that only has one opening I knew I had to come an entry-level. And so that’s what we’re trying to figure out. And that’s how I ended up interviewing for the recruiting coordinator role for that old colleague’s team.
Vincent Phamvan (17:20):
Yeah. And these experiences along the way, because as you link kind of one experience to the next, then your relationship, or ultimately what led you to working at Tesla. And I think a lot of people are feeling that way right now if they’re graduating from college in the Class of 2020, where, you know, when they started college is like one of the best economies that the US has had in a while. And then, you know, the dichotomy of, you know, literally months before graduation, everything changes and you had kind of alluded to, you know, it’s this premium retail and nobody goes to college to plan, to go into a job in retail. I had a similar experience where I found myself after graduating from UCLA, taking an hourly role, working a customer service counter, not too different than your front desk at Equinox, but I worked at a customer service counter at a Best Buy. And you know, it was kind of funny looking back, and I guess it’s taken 10 years of pain over the course of 10 years to now like come to this realization of yeah. But that’s what allowed me and unlocked like these different opportunities and relationships that really paid off later on in the career. Do you feel that way now today looking back on it, because I’m sure at the time, you know, it, wasn’t fun getting these certifications, learning these specific languages and thinking that you were on a specific, a specific path?
Sarah Budriunas (18:47):
Yeah. I would not be where I am now. If I had not taken all of those certain steps, specifically spending the time at Equinox and working my way from front desk associate to kid’s club manager on duty and then front desk manager on duty. And then I went into sales and I sold memberships. And then I actually transferred with Equinox up to San Francisco and worked there as an operations manager for my last six-ish months of tenure with the company before then going over to the project coordinator role while still being in San Francisco and whether I was at three different locations for Equinox. And, but all out of all those three locations, I still have contacts there that have led to whether it was getting me into Tesla, me actually getting some of these folks into Tesla after the fact once I was there.
You know, that one of those contacts in San Francisco actually got me my first apartment in San Francisco that allowed me to, you know, not have to be commuting a hundred miles round trip from the South Bay into San Francisco. Because when I moved back from LA while I was still trying to figure out my transport Equinox, I was living at home and that was really tough. I was never the person I thought that was going to be 27 and living at home that is a hard pill to swallow. And but all those contacts and those people from those locations, from the same company, I look back and I can literally pinpoint exactly how I got to where I am because of them.
Vincent Phamvan (20:21):
And, you know, a lot of people get really frustrated by networking. They find the job searches and networking as really frustrating. They think that they have to, you know, dress in business casual, go to these formal networking events, cocktail hours, you know, this during non coronavirus times. But the reality of it is like the network that you used was literally like the people around you day to day.
Sarah Budriunas (20:42):
Yeah. You know, it’s funny you bring that up because that almost reminds me of what I felt was required me when I lived in DC and I never felt like I quite fit in, in the city per se, because I was in healthcare and I wasn’t working on the Hill. I wasn’t in politics. I wasn’t working for a Think Tank and I had so many friends or just acquaintances or peers, or what have you that were spending time doing that, you know, putting on a cocktail dress, going to a gala. It was something that never really spoke to me. It didn’t feel authentic, but I also recognized it was important for them to continue to progress in their careers, but I didn’t know how to make it work for me. And I knew that it just, it wasn’t what I was looking to do. In the longterm, you know, if a role required me to put on a cocktail dress and schmooze at a gala, I don’t know if I was in the right place. And I took that really to heart. And I really tried to be authentic with when I was applying to places based around their mission statement and what they stood for and what industry they were a part of before. I really even look to just try and get my foot in the door.
Vincent Phamvan (21:47):
So tell me about, you know, you’ve been on the other side of the table now in the recruiting coordinator role as a recruiter in a more senior recruiter role. And now in your senior project management role, like what are the top mistakes that you’ve seen job seekers make in a job search?
The Top Mistake Sarah Has Seen Job Seekers Make
What Research Job Seekers Should Do About Companies for their Next Career Moves and What Tesla Looks For
Sarah Budriunas (25:44):
I think it’s really important to a few things. The first was obviously understanding the history of the company when they were founded. Are they private? Are they public? What are some of the stories that might go around them going public or saying private, if you can find that information, there is so much floating around these days on the internet. This was really hard, you know, 10, 15 years ago, even when there just was, there was obviously Google, you know, we’re not that old, but it was still not quite as readily as accessible as what we’re seeing from search engines today. And, you know, I think it’s really important then to take the time to do the homework regarding the history of the company if you have a list of the interviewers or even, you know, sometimes LinkedIn lists the recruiter who oversees the role, just getting some background on who they are, whether it’s looking on their LinkedIn, doing a quick search and seeing what comes up, maybe what other companies they were at and getting a sense of what their path looked like, and also being mindful about how you fit into that.
Because that’s typically a question that gets asked is, you know, why do you want to work here? And, you know, for example, we get the question or we get the, we get the response frequently. Why do you want to work for Tesla? Well, electric vehicles are the future. That is not wrong, it’s just extremely boilerplate. So what we’re really looking for is someone that can go into a little more depth about personally, how working for Tesla speaks to them or how Elon’s mission or how the company was founded and how it’s been enabled to still stay alive through a lot of turmoil and adversity, adversity as the underdog. Those are the areas that we’re typically looking for because it shows enthusiasm and passion and boy, you cannot work at Tesla if you are not passionate, because everything boils down to the mission, which is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
Vincent Phamvan (27:41):
And the story there is just so important, right? Your your ability to be able to convey that passion. So I think about the Equinox story that you told before, where the, the day that you literally walked out and you had that light bulb moment that you were looking for the next thing. And I think that, you know, those are the types of things where even as you’re speaking to people at companies, if you can get really visual about why you’re excited and to be able to articulate that it’s so much different than just saying, Oh, I’d be really excited to work here and not really bring that to life, as you’re saying.
Sarah Budriunas (28:22):
Yeah. And there is a difference there between those two nuances. And I know it’s just sometimes just subtle enough where that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it truly shows up in spades. I see it in hiring manager feedback pretty frequently when someone is so excited about an opportunity or about the company or the mission or whatever it might be, it comes through. And if it’s just, I’m looking for another job, we all need a paycheck. I truly understand that I have had some very scary times where I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay my bills other than my rent, you know, out of a given month. And there still has to be something though that’s propelling you in that interview or in that discussion that showing at the end of the day, if you were to be hit with something very hard, you know, from that company in any sort of capacity, how are you going to deal with it? Is that positivity and optimism gonna shine through, or are you going to find the silver lining? And those are truly things that interviewers really look to pick up on and being really excited can truly help show how you would be in the environment. Even once some of the initial magic wears off for the company.
Vincent Phamvan (29:32):
That’s a great point. I’ve been, you and I both been in a recruiting coordinator role. I don’t think I’ve ever sat in a debrief and had somebody go, you know, that candidate was just way excited about working here. Like that is, that has never happened, but it’s completely different than like dating, right? Because in dating, like you can definitely be over anxious and a little bit too excited, but that really doesn’t apply in the job search.
Sarah Budriunas (29:55):
I know, and people often equate going on a date to a job interview. So I understand how sometimes that gets a bit muddled, but it’s so true. You know, I have talked to hiring managers after they go, Whoa, that person was really excited or really enthusiastic, but we’re going to hire them. You know, it’s never been like, they’re too enthusiastic. I don’t want to hire them.
Vincent Phamvan (30:17):
All right. So two myths. We’re going to dispel right now in a job search in dating, you can absolutely be too excited and show too much excitement early on that doesn’t apply in a job search. The other place where I think it doesn’t apply is research in dating. If you’re doing a ton of research about the person that you’re about to go on a first date with that’s could get a little creepy, like everybody does it, but it’s like, not something you show, it’s not something you admit, but in a job search, the opposite holds true. Like if you’ve listened to the last earnings call and you’re going, Oh yeah, you know, so-and-so was talking about on the last earnings call, this initiative to do X, Y, and Z, like that doesn’t show, you know, a creepy level of research. If anything like that, those are the things that really stand out.
Sarah Budriunas (31:01):
Yeah. It’s so funny. You bring that up because I, my boyfriend and I have been dating for over a year and just the other week, he just told me that he had been looking me up on LinkedIn and trying to find me like on Facebook before our first date. And I had no idea. And I was like, wow, you know, I love you. that’s a little creepy. I’m glad I didn’t know that until recently. But you know, that’s the other thing too of accompany has so much public material out there. It’s yours for the taking it’s public. It’s been vetted every way possible, you know, over and under, go look for it. And it’s typically even with us, sometimes it can be almost too overwhelming. You really go down a rabbit hole, how much information there is. So the other piece I would say is, think about the role and what relates to the role, because some of the other feedback I’ve gotten is someone’s excited and that’s great, but they’re also then rambling on about like, let’s say for my, for my program, you know, we’re looking for service technicians that are going to work on customer cars.
Someone comes in, they don’t say anything about the cars or the products on the road, and they only talk about solar and that’s important. That’s a huge piece of the business. However, the role we are looking for has absolutely nothing to do with that. So I would just also be mindful of what research you are pulling in when you are having those discussions in the interview.
Vincent Phamvan (32:17):
Today’s episode has just flown by, but Sarah and I had a chance to sit down for almost two hours. And later on in our conversation, Sarah went deep, really deep, on step-by-step how she’d get a job today at Tesla, including how to apply, how to reach out, how to stand out and what it’s like working for Elon. But one of my favorite parts of the next episode is when Sarah shared exactly what her life purpose is and how she came to realize, and not only to understand her purpose but to ensure that her career moves are aligned with it. So check back tomorrow for part two of this episode with Sarah Budriunas. Okay. We’ll see you back here soon.
Thank you so much for listening to the show this week. If this podcast was helpful to you, the best thing that you can do to support is please consider rating and reviewing this show on Apple Podcasts. This helps us help more people just like you move towards the life that they desire. Visit our podcasts on Apple Podcasts, then scroll to the bottom, tap the rate with five stars and just leave a sentence or two about what you loved most about this episode. You can subscribe wherever you listen to your podcasts, or you can write at email@example.com. I’m Vincent Phamvan, and you’ve been listening to How I Got Here.