Interview with Sarah Johnston: Resume & Job search coach

Sarah Johnston is a resume and job search coach who helps professionals break out of antiquated job search moulds so that they can reach higher levels of earning potential and career satisfaction. With over 10 years of career consulting, resume writing and recruiting expertise, Sarah has advised professionals across diverse industries and at all career levels in developing resumes and personalized career strategies that start out in today’s market. She sees her mission as placing people in positions she she’s them flourishing in. Sarah is a top follow on LinkedIn. More about her work at


You say you’re one of only a few job search coaches who has been a recruiter. Why is that transition that rare and why did you decide to switch?

I’ve always been passionate about helping job seekers.  I have memories from as early as sophomore year in college of helping my friends get interview ready. The transition from recruiting to job search coaching is pretty rare because recruiting is viewed as a more “stable” career option.  As a recruiter, I got great benefits including health insurance, vacation days and even tuition perks. As a self-employed entrepreneur, all business-related expenses and overhead costs are my responsibility.  The work is more transactional (because my job seekers find jobs!).

I genuinely loved recruiting– I loved the high of finding the “purple squirrel” job seeker.  However, the cost of physically going to work was too great for me. After having my second child, I was paying $148 a day for daycare.  Once I added up the cost of sick day coverage, the cost of gas to get to work, professional attire and technology, I estimated that it cost me $200 a day (after taxes) just to sit at my office job. I realized that the “stable” job actually wasn’t paying me all that much and some months I even lost money going to work. This realization gave me the freedom to try something new, something where I could truly make a difference. After lots of prayer and grit, I started my resume writing and job search coaching business Briefcase Coach.


Your target niche is high achievers. Who qualifies as a high achiever and how does one typically get there?

The definition (thanks to Merriam-Websters) is “someone who is hardworking and successful”.  I work with all career levels from new graduate to executive with the common thread being high performers who are looking to climb the ladder.  High achievers are often focused, work harder than their peers and are willing to accept help from others.


You are happy to refer a potential client to another coach if you conclude that you’re not the right fit. How do you make that judgement that someone is not a good fit?

Great question.  I do a 15-minute discovery call with potential clients before mutually agreeing to work together.  If I feel like the job seeker is lacking clarity in their search, then I refer them to a colleague who specializes in strengths based coaching for career changers.  If the job seeker has unrealistic expectations for what I can do with them as a coach, I’ll let them know that I’m not a good fit.


From your work, what would you say is the most difficult interview question for most people, even for accomplished people like the ones you help?

Even the most seasoned job seekers struggle with the question “Tell me about yourself”.  It’s an open ended question and most people don’t know what the interviewer is looking for in the response. I wrote this article with 4 other job search experts ( ) to help job seekers answer this dreaded question.


Some say job search services will always be in high demand. What’s your take on what the future of work may look like in say 5/10 years and how job seekers should prepare? 

There will be jobs that will become automated – that’s a harsh reality. A report released by McKinsey & Company indicates that by 2030, as many as 800 million workers worldwide could be replaced at work by robots.  Many of us will have to learn new skills and retrain. Learning doesn’t end when we finish school— job seekers will have to personally commit to continuing education.

I also think how we search for jobs will continue to evolve.  For example, PepsiCo, is using artificial intelligence software to find and interview candidates to fill vacancies in Russia. The robot recruiter is capable of interviewing 1,500 job candidates in nine hours, a task that would take human recruiters nine weeks.  McDonald’s is making the application process as simple as asking “Alexa”. Other companies are making a push to have job seekers adopt a personal avatar to eliminate hiring biases.


There’s still very much a glass ceiling for women in many industries. Having worked in recruitment/job search and with high achievers, why do you think progress is so slow in seeing more women in leadership positions?

This is a loaded question with many “right” answers, but from what I’ve personally witnessed, working moms face the “motherhood penalty,” a series of workplace disadvantages like lower starting salaries and higher expectations for competence and punctuality.  Not only that, the 40-hour work week is no longer 40 hours.  Offices want you to flex when it makes sense for business, but not when it makes sense for family.  I bookmarked two articles this year that articulate my frustration with the way corporate America treats working women:


Women arguably are less comfortable with ‘bragging’ about their achievements than men are. What’s your best advice for how they can compete favourably for big job opportunities?

Harvard Business Review published a study that women only apply for jobs that they are 100% qualified for. My best advice is to study the job description of the job you really want and ask yourself, “what are they really looking for here— and can my transferable skills meet the pain points of the job?” If the answer is yes, then I suggest looking at your personal network to find connections or acquaintances to champion you or make an internal referral. Anecdotally, I’ve found that men are much more likely to ask for an introduction.  We (as women) also have to get more comfortable with rejection.  One of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard came from Madeline Mann, a fellow career and job search expert.  She said, “no one knows how many times you got rejected. They are just seeing your wins”.


When hiring for your own business, what are your go-to, fail-safe practices?

When I hire, I look for intellectually curious people.  I love to learn and want to surround myself with others who also prioritize knowledge.  I also want to work with people who are simply just kind and honest. Fortunately, I’ve been pretty lucky.


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