Company: General Mills
Best Companies rank: 64
Role: Community host, Larabar
In 2010, Annie Parsons unknowingly submitted to General Mills as unorthodox a resume as it gets. The food company had just announced that it officially had retired its Cocoa Mole Larabar flavor. It had just a few dozen boxes of the fruit and nut bars left and invited fans on Facebook to vie for the limited supply. Parsons, a country music songwriter, submitted a song.
Cocoa Mole, Parsons wrote in the song, is the "best Larabar I ever tasted."
The company responded by sending Parsons several boxes of the discontinued flavor. "I thought that'd be the end of it," says Parsons.
But a few months later General Mills asked Parsons to write several more songs about its Larabars and perform them at a natural foods trade show in California. A job offer followed in late 2011. General Mills wanted Parsons to work as the Larabar community host.
"My first reaction was that I wasn't looking for another job," recalls Parsons, who had no marketing experience at the time and was happy with her day job in tech support at an email marketer. But the opportunities associated with being the consumer-facing voice of the Larabar brand—like traveling to a fair trade cocoa farm in the Dominican Republican—won her over.
Before she worked at General Mills, Parson was already eating several Larabars a week. Now, she says, "it's one a day," all for the sake of the brand, of course. "It's a lot easier to be enthusiastic about a product that you personally love."
Company: David Weekley Homes
Best Companies rank: 13
Role: Sales consultant
Jim Barton had loved home design for as long as he could remember, as far back as when he played with Lincoln Logs and Legos. But the math skills he'd need to be an architect weren't nearly as prevalent. He worked in advertising after college, but on a drive through New Jersey, his love of construction and home building resurfaced. After passing a site for new home construction and having a conversation with the developer, Barton decided on somewhat of a whim to purchase two lots and try his amateur hand at his life-long dream.
The risk was worth it. After building his first home on one lot and flipping the other, Barton started his own home building company that specialized in historic reproductions. It was an outlet for his design ideas, minus the math. He'd draw up the plans; an architect would execute them.
After 18 years of working for himself in the northeast, Barton decided in 2006 he needed to be closer to his parents in Houston, so he closed his business and moved. In 2013, Barton felt the itch to get back to work. A longtime friend said Barton would be a perfect fit at her former employer, home developer David Weekley Homes. "It was sort of like getting set up on a blind date. Your friend tells you how wonderful Sue is, but you never know if you're going to feel the same way," Barton says. After three months of interviews, Barton and DWH turned out to be a perfect match.
DWH hired Barton as a sales consultant in August 2013 in its build-on-your-lot division. He works with customers who already own a lot of land and want David Weekley to build a home on it. And he still gets to tap his creative side by customizing a home's finishes to the customer's specifications.
Best Companies rank: 54
Role: Sales Manager
Just prior to graduating college in 2010, Jacobson was looking for a job. With a degree in financial services, her goal was to land a gig as an advisor at a financial firm. As the hunt grew fruitless, she decided she'd look for an interim position -- one with benefits -- to pay the bills as she continued her search for her dream role.
At the urging of her dad, she applied online to a business office opening at CarMax in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio. "Mentally, I was considering it a stepping stone," says Jacobson. She had a job offer within five days.
Though she applied for a business office position, a sales manager convinced Jacobson into taking a sales consultant role, given her prior experience at a summer job selling pools and spas.
About six months after starting as a sales consultant, Jacobson was promoted to a sales mentor, a job that allowed her to help train new hires. A little more than a year later she became a sales-manager-in-training, and in August 2012 she graduated to the sales manager title, which means she oversees other sales consultants.
More than three years and three promotions later, her interim job has turned into the career she'd always wanted. Jacobson's goal to be in financial services was based on her desire to help people, and that's what she's doing now, she says, by helping customers find the right vehicle and appropriate payment plan.
Company: Quicken Loans
Best Companies rank: 5
Role: Desktop Tech Support Specialist
A native of the Detroit area, Darren Campbell had long heard friends and acquaintances brag about how great it was to work at Quicken Loans, the online retail mortgage lender based in the Motor City. After a few rejected applications, Campbell would finally get to experience the Quicken workplace for himself.
It took Campbell four tries to get a job at the lender. He applied three times with no luck. "I moved on and got a different job. I'd forgotten about Quicken Loans, but they didn't forget about me," he says. Then in May 2012, he received a call from a recruiter whom he'd talked to before. "[The recruiter] called me out of the blue and said, 'Hey, I have a position that's going to be perfect for you.'" Campbell says.
Quicken Loans hired Campbell, who left college a year short of graduating, to a six-month temporary position in its IT department. Two weeks later, Campbell's supervisors told him that the company wanted to hire him full-time and encouraged him to apply for its head desktop tech support position in Arizona. He landed that job and moved to Arizona, and he now holds the same position in Detroit, his hometown, where he lives with his wife and young son.
Best Companies rank: 69
Role: Sales specialist, action sports
As an action sports junkie—think biking, mountain climbing, skiing—you'd expect Jerry Hapgood to be fearless, but even he admits that the risk he took in 2007 at age 50 was a little terrifying. He quit his job as the director of a YMCA in New Hampshire. With a newly empty nest, he and his wife decided to move—without jobs—to Reno, NV. "We loved its proximity to everything outdoors," he says.
But those outdoor hobbies don't come cheap. In the midst of his hunt for work, Hapgood came across a Craigslist posting for a job in the bike and ski shop of the Reno REI—a rare full-time retail position. Hapgood landed an interview, during which he emphasized the outdoor experience he had gained during his 25 years at YMCA. He'd been an adventure director and led cycling, climbing, skiing, and snowshoeing trips. Hapgood harped on that knowledge since his retail resume was thin: he'd worked only briefly at a ski shop in the 1980s.
"This is not a direction I thought I would've gone, but this particular retail environment is unique," he says. As a sales specialist in the action sports division, Hapgood spends his days talking with customers about their big bike rides, powder ski days, and backcountry trips. "For me it's a rewarding experience, to have these conversations and give [customers] advice about products and relate some of my knowledge having been a user of all these things."
Best Companies rank: 89
Role: Director of Talent Development, Canada
In 1985, after a year of college on the East Coast, Ferdie Lopez wanted to move back home to San Diego. "I wanted to go to school part-time and work part-time," he says. Applying to Nordstrom was a no-brainer. A fashion fanatic from an early age, Lopez recalled with fondness the shopping trips he made to the Seattle-based retailer with his parents: the friendly sales people, the cozy café, even the way items were gift-wrapped. "It always stuck with me," he says.
Nordstrom hired Lopez as a sales person in the young men's department. It quickly became apparent that the job Lopez had taken to supplement school was a career path unto itself. In the new-hire orientation, he learned about Nordstrom's culture of promoting from within. "You feel completely supported by the people you work with," he says. He soon left school to work at Nordstrom full time. Fast-forward 30 years, and Lopez has climbed up a good swath of the company's ladder. He moved from sales to department manager to buyer to the store manager of five locations in California. He then worked a stint as general manager of the Manhattan outpost of Jeffrey, the luxury boutique Nordstrom has had a stake in since 2005.
The experiences Lopez has gained in his three decades at Nordstrom prepared him from his current job: creating and implementing an immersion program for the managers of Nordstrom's five new stores in Canada, which are set to open by fall 2016. "I really love developing a team and seeing them succeed. And at Jeffrey, I gained an understanding of how to sell and create a customer experience," Lopez says. When the Canada opportunity arose, he says, it was the perfect match.
Company: Bright Horizons Family Solutions
Best Companies rank: 77
Role: Toddler Teacher
"As silly as it sounds," Kathryn Monahan says, "I believe I was born to work with children."
It's that passion that made up for Monahan's lack of experience when she interviewed at the Bright Horizons childcare center in Boston's Prudential Center.
Monahan's sister is also a Bright Horizons employee and had spoken highly of the company. Monahan applied to the company's general job portal, listing her sister as a reference. At the time she was working at a social center helping kids ages 6 to 7 after school with homework, a job she'd held since graduating high school.
A company recruiter received Monahan's application and put her in touch with the director of the Prudential Center Bright Horizons, which was hiring. It took two interviews and two days of waiting by the phone in early 2008 for Monahan to land the job. "My boss says she hired me more for my attitude than my experience," she says.
And six years later, Monahan now has the training to match her enthusiastic nature. She earned her early education certificate by taking Bright Horizon-sponsored classes in the evenings for several weeks. She then earned her Child Development Associate certificate at the urging of her director, which qualified her for a lead teacher role—a job she now holds.
Those evening classes pay off every time she goes to work. "Walking through the door and hearing the kids shout my name is the best part of my day," she says. "They're like leeches on my legs."