40 0ver 40: Meet Sarah Geiger, funeral director turned Head of Talent Management
Our Head of Talent Management, Sarah Geiger, was a funeral home manager, funeral director and embalmer for 24 years before she joined PSP. And just like that, the easiest hook to a 40 Over 40 article I’ve ever had to write! Because the story of how a woman in the funeral services industry wound up as a recruiter is one that always gets attention (usually in the form of a wide-eyed “Wow!” but we’ll just imagine you’re making that face at your computer screen right now).
What if I also told you that Sarah was the warmest, most empathetic, beagle-owning, Americano-drinking, person I’ve ever met? And that she’s so perfect for this job that I’m convinced I’ll only ever hire former funeral directors at PSP from here out? Well, then you’d be here, I guess, because all that sounds pretty darn great.
An interview with an embalmer for a high school essay started Sarah on a journey that led her from North Dakota to Seattle, where her business, Cascade Memorial, revolutionized an age-old industry. Her early curiosity revealed what to her felt like a sad truth: that people in the United States are largely uninformed about death, and thus ill-prepared to deal with it when the time comes. “It doesn’t matter,” Sarah told me, “Who you are, people don’t understand how to process or honor a life.” Her calling, then, would be to help people navigate the stressful, confusing, and often lonely experience of preparing a loved one after death.
That’s how, for 24 years, Sarah found herself in the business of creating memories, making people feel at ease, and honoring wishes. To do so required immense capacity for empathy, an obsession with detail…and 2 phones that rang at all hours into the night. As Sarah recounted, “The funeral home wasn’t just open 9-5, it was a complete role in managing, marketing, and always responding to the families and never missing a beat,” so when someone called “at 2 o’clock in the morning because their uncle passed away and they have no idea what to do,” she would answer.
That commitment to people and the value of personal touch is engrained in Sarah to this day. She brings her skillset from her funeral directing days to every call, email, and interaction she has in her role as a recruiter, and it’s what makes her so spectacular at her job.
But it’s also what would have made her, on paper, look like the wrong fit for recruiting. That’s our lesson for today: to find the right people, you need to look for them in unexpected places. You need to go beyond the CV and the LinkedIn profile and get to know candidates as people with talents that just may turn out to translate perfectly into a role at your company.
I interviewed Sarah so you can understand just how valuable this approach can be – it found me the Head of Talent Management of PSP’s dreams, after all.
GP: What did you want to be when you were young?
A cheerleader, librarian, or a checker at a register. And I did accomplish all three of those, by the way! I was a cheerleader in high school, a checker at Target, I worked at the college library during mortuary school.
GP: What are you passionate about?
Providing care, solutions, and direction to people. That’s really what funeral services – and recruiting – are all about: helping align people with the right thing to make them happy. There’s highs and lows in both areas of work, but when you get the high, and you’ve created the perfect alignment, the feeling is tremendous.
In recruiting, I know that at the end of the day, I’ve done all I can do to help source a candidate for our companies where they’re going to be outstanding. I love being able to help people learn and grow. And, I enjoy the challenge of the hunt! The networking and connection, meeting new people and growing our business, that to me is super fun.
GP: What’s your guilty pleasure?
Iced Americanos with a little chocolate and a little cream. I have one in the morning, and then around 1 o’clock I get another, do a little stretching, and take a moment. Then I’m ready to start talking to candidates!
Let the record show that at the end of our interview, Sarah went off to get her second Americano for the day. In no way, shape, or form did she – at any point – appear as a person who was in need of a second coffee. Her energy and enthusiasm are off the charts even without the caffeine kick, so I may need to con her barista into slipping her some decaf so the rest of us can keep up.
GP: Who inspired you to get to where you are today?
My parents. Early on in high school I had to do a term paper, and I remember my instructor saying it needs to be on something nobody knows about. My parents said, “Go interview this funeral director.” I got an A, but more memorably, I learned about the science and the industry.
When I started, there weren’t many women in the industry. After graduating from college in Portland, I submitted my resume to every funeral home back home in North Dakota and every one of them rejected me, writing back that they don’t hire women. One of them even had “No women” on the bottom of their job posting! I still have that, because it has given me ambition to make an even bigger difference and be open and aware of hiring women. My parents never saw that as limiting for me, so I owe them for giving me that initial drive.
GP: What advice do you have for the under-40 crowd?
Stay active, stay healthy, take time for yourself. Stop and smell the roses. And go to the beach.
GP: How do you balance work and life?
I have just learned how to do that in the last two years. I’ve learned to manage my time by doing all that I can do in a day, and then accepting at the end of the day that there will always be more tomorrow.
And I have a boss that insists I log off. It’s a rule at PSP that you never miss a massage for work. Self-care is important!
GP: What book is on your nightstand?
There is no book on my nightstand. I can’t sit still long enough.
GP: So how do you wind down, then?
I like to work out. I like a good glass of wine. I like to walk the dog. (At this point, Sarah runs off screen and comes back with a squirming, wiggly beagle named Bella. I decide right then that their energy levels make them a perfect match.)
GP: What superpower would you want?
Oh my gosh! I would want to be a famous tennis player. That is a superpower. They play tennis in the sun, in great places, and are in great shape. And they get to wear skirts!
GP: Do you have a favorite movie?
Breaking Bad. (I tell her this is a series, not a movie. It does not register, she’s too excited.) The stress! The action! It’s go! Go! Go!
GP: What would you still like to achieve?
So many things. I would like to live a long, healthy life.
GP: Who, dead or alive, would you want to have dinner with?
Michael Jackson. He was talented – singer, dancer, and so far beyond his time.
Sarah, thank you for letting me share your story. Thank you for proving how an open mind can lead you to the perfect candidate. Most importantly, thank you for bringing empathy and care to every client and candidate that comes through our (Zoom) doors.
I hope you have the opportunity to cross paths with Sarah. If not, I hope at least that her story has inspired you to look beyond the CV and get to know the people applying to your open roles. You just might find that the perfect fit is more than what meets the reader’s eye.