Print this page

Inspiring Everyday: Finding your career means taking different paths

From restaurant management to furniture sales, Sarah Cowan knows there’s not always a clear path when finding your career. After jobs in different industries, Sarah is exactly where she wants to be as senior talent program manager. She works with employees to develop their skills and point them in the right direction as they take the next step in their Ascend careers.

Sarah worked at a restaurant for two years and moved her way up to manager. When Sarah moved to Raleigh for what she thought was a better job opportunity, upon arriving she decided the position wasn’t for her. “I walked out of the restaurant, looked down the street and saw a furniture store that was hiring,” says Sarah. “I applied for a job and began working there the next day.” 

Finding the right job means trying new things and being willing to make mistakes, says Sarah. With her previous jobs far behind her, Sarah takes what she’s learned to help others. When Sarah meets with someone, she has one question in mind: how can I help them in their career?

From her home office in Raleigh, North Carolina, Sarah contacts employees when there are internal opportunities that would help advance their careers. Other times employees meet with Sarah on how to develop their skills and she is more than happy to help. “If employees are really serious about what they want to do, I hold them accountable,” says Sarah. “We work together on a plan with steps and targeted behaviors. I then set up a schedule for them to meet specific goals and we check in regularly to discuss their progress.”

While Sarah provides guidance, she knows it’s also important to have job development tools and programs. Sarah is responsible for Ascend’s rotational program, FUEL, where participants rotate to a different department of the company every year for three years. “Through different jobs, I was able to find out what I liked, didn’t like and my strengths,” says Sarah. “FUEL participants have the opportunity to find that out early in their careers while in the program,”

While the participants gain knowledge, skills and experience, they also build their network, Sarah is focusing on where they might excel in the next rotation of the program. 

“Sarah has a presence that is relatable to everyone,” says Rick Hamman, talent development director and Sarah’s manager. “She is able to connect with all of our employees. When Sarah meets with employees, she is taking mental and physical notes. These details give her insight to what the employee is interested in or skills she knows would be a great fit.”

As creator of Ascend’s mentoring program, Sarah has also seen what happens when the right people connect. “A mentor listens to what is going on and shares advice about something they’ve already experienced in their career,” says Sarah. 

The mentoring program has been successful across the company. Now in its second/third year, Sarah has paired more than 280 mentorships. Sarah started a reverse mentoring program where mentees mentor leaders more senior than them, which has also proved to be a hit among employees.

Sarah is passionate about more than her work. She leads our Ascend Cares Foundation for remote employees. As someone who supports her community and local organizations, Sarah saw an opportunity for remote employees to feel more connected to the company and the foundation with volunteer events and projects. 

It’s obvious Sarah has a skill for linking employees with the right mentors and positions in the company. But why limit those skills to work? Sarah also has a knack as a matchmaker among her friends and family. “I can see similar interests in my friends and know if they would be a great match for each other,” says Sarah. “I set up two friends from different social circles on a blind date 12 years ago and they are still together.”  

Whether personal or professional, Sarah is motivated to help others find their paths. “When I joined Ascend, I found my career. I’ve been able to find my talents and discover what I’m good at. Now, I’m able to help others do the same.”