Meet Our Team

Priority Candidates career coaches are not only experienced in the art of launching students and young professionals into flourishing careers, but founder Lesley Mitler is also a parent of millennials who have been, and are still going through, the process of building their own professional lives. She has a unique perspective on what both parent and student are going through during this difficult transition, and the means to get everyone through to the other side successfully.

Our Story

Priority Candidates roots are in the recession of 2009, when we saw the need to help emerging young professionals who could not navigate that unchartered territory. Due to the realities posed by the recession, these young job-seekers were competing with more experienced alumni, and many did not know how to go about a successful job search.

Seeing this need, we built a strong, successful company to fulfill our mission: helping early careerists develop as candidates and get hired into meaningful jobs and internships to launch their careers. We have firsthand understanding of how to navigate these challenges, as our collective team of esteemed, seasoned coaches have experienced and survived tough economic downturns in corporate America at Fortune 500 companies and organizations servicing them.

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Lesley Mitler

Career Coach & Founder

In 2009, after more than 20 years as a successful executive recruiter, Lesley Mitler founded Priority Candidates and shifted her focus from placing established professionals to helping recent college graduates transition into careers.

Since she had so much experience placing senior level executives, she was uniquely poised to advise younger applicants on how to look at their career in the long term. Lesley works closely as a senior career coach, helping our young adult clients navigate the multiple steps needed to get hired. She also oversees our other coaches, monitoring and optimizing the progress of clients and their individual job searches.

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Judy Panagakos

Senior Career Coach

Judy is a 30+ year Human Resources executive who spent her career at JP Morgan Chase. She coaches our clients to create customized and well-executed career decisions, helping them best position their educational and leadership experiences in a manner relevant to today’s employers. Her senior roles as the Head of Recruiting, global onboarding and off boarding across a spectrum of departments, as well as counseling employees, helps students and young grads successfully navigate the job search process and the corporate environment. Judy has recruited college students for internships and training programs, and advised employees through all stages of the career life cycle. She has worked with thousands of candidates and hiring managers to find the best fit jobs, and counseled employees on making internal transitions. She has reviewed thousands of resumes and cover letters personally from Undergraduate, Graduate, PhD and experienced professionals. As our Director of Professional Development, she leverages her corporate experience designing and building onboarding and training resources to aid our clients and our coaches. Judy is a graduate of Lehigh University with a BA in Economics/Urban Studies and has a Master’s in Information Science from Rutgers University.

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Deborah Carroll

Career & interview skills coach
Advertising / Media / Communications Specialist

Deborah’s experience in executive search has been spent coaching candidates and hiring managers to make strategic career decisions. Her background in executive search, notably with Heidrick and Struggles and WPP, includes recruiting for digital media, marketing, advertising, data & analytics, and publishing. Deborah’s clients seek her expertise to source and identify ‘right fit’ candidates to meet their hiring needs. She has helped companies like Twitter, The Guardian, and Live Nation hire their ‘first of its kind’ in new niche business areas. Deborah coaches candidates on interviewing and how to focus on and deliver the right message to secure the job. She creates resumes to emphasize the qualities and experiences that optimize their chances to be selected. Deborah has her BA from Marymount Manhattan College and her MA in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. She has been a panelist on the Harvard Business School’s webinar, “Interviewing Tips.”

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Terry Walton

Career Coach

Terry has over 25 years of experience in executive search, career coaching and development. Terry spent 10 years as a Partner and Consultant with Heidrick & Struggles, an international executive search firm, where she focused on the Consumer / Media, Industrial / Manufacturing and Education / Not-for-Profit sectors. Her clients were guided by her understanding of the search process and her ability to identify the best and most qualified candidates for each role. Terry understands how to prepare candidates to stand out in the hiring process, providing her coaching clients with professional resumes, outstanding interview preparation, and targeted job sourcing capabilities to help them secure their desired role. Terry focused on early career development as Manager of College Recruiting for First Union - Florida, and as founder of 20’sEmpowered, a non-profit focused on educating young adults to improve job opportunities, hiring potential, and career success. Terry has her BA in Psychology from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

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Sarah Birdsong

Career Assessment Specialist
Transition & Life Coach

Sarah is a certified executive coach from the ICF accredited Center for Executive Coaching. She is a career assessment specialist, focusing on assessments for people beginning their careers. She is certified to provide these specific assessments, evaluate results and channel job direction.

Additionally, she specializes in career coaching, guiding career and life focus, for people in a career transition phase. Sarah is a strategic partner with Priority Candidates, determining how a person fits within an organization and helping clients match their natural talents to work they love. She brings 15+ years of internal and external executive recruiting experience, most recently as a senior consultant to the office of the CEO for Korn Ferry. Additionally, she has experience in academia in both Development and Undergraduate Admissions. She holds a BA in Psychology and a MEd in Counseling with a specialization in Higher Education from the University of Virginia.

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Matt Essert

Management Consultant Career Specialist

Matt specializes in helping college students and young professionals demystify and prepare for the management consulting interview process. Matt’s career journey provides him with the experience and understanding needed to crack and conquer consulting interviews. Matt has conducted hundreds of hours of case interviews and worked with numerous students and graduates to help them break down the case interview process and effectively prepare to secure internships and full-time roles in both major and specialized consulting firms.

Matt began his career in the digital media and communications industry before earning his MBA at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. While completing his MBA, he was a career coach for the Tuck Business Bridge summer program, working one-on-one with college students and recent graduates to help them think through career options, workshop cover letters, resumes, and LinkedIn profiles; as well as held webinars about recruiting/interviewing for various industries, and conducted mock interviews. At Tuck, Matt pursued post-graduate employment in management consulting and joined EY-Parthenon’s New York Office. At EY-Parthenon, he was active in on-campus recruiting, both in identifying potential candidates as well as the interview and hiring decision process. He is currently Director of Strategy & Transformation, Global Commercial Services, at American Express. Matt also holds a BA in Philosophy from McGill University.

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Cheryl Lambert

Interview Skills Specialist

As a communications expert, Cheryl provides interview skills training power sessions for Priority Candidates clients. In addition, Cheryl teaches presentation skills at Fortune 500 firms as well as not-for-profits. Previously, she held top-level executive positions on Wall Street where she was responsible for creating processes that developed talent and increased responsibility for 600+ personnel. Having interviewed countless individuals, she knows what it takes to have a winning interview. Cheryl completed Harvard Business School’s Program for Management Development, and leads the Harvard Club’s Public Speaking Special Interest Group. She earned her BA at Rutgers University. She served as Chairman of Boys Town NY Board of Directors, and created and leads a workshop at the Center for Employment Opportunity in New York City.

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Elle Pak

Tech Startup Career Specialist

Elle specializes in helping college students and young professionals understand the recruitment and hiring process at tech startups and organizations, including those impacting the environment/climate change. Elle’s career journey provides her with a unique perspective on how to navigate a job search in the tech start-up space. She provides clients with an inside view of work life and culture at these organizations, and the necessary skills to showcase and succeed in the hiring process. Together, clients can identify target sub-sectors and roles, and how to prepare for case studies/presentations.

Elle began her career as an Investment Banking Analyst at Credit Suisse before working at high-growth startups that later IPO’ed, including HelloFresh on the Growth Strategy & Analytics team, and DoorDash as a Strategy & Operations Manager. Elle returned to graduate school to earn an MPA in energy and environmental policy from Columbia University, pursuing her passion. She completed graduate internships at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Climate Policy and Programs, and at Bessemer Trust on the Philanthropic Advisory team. She now works as a Vice President at Purpose Venture Group, advising growth-stage companies and nonprofits impacting climate change. Elle earned a BA in Economics from Yale University.

“The job search, interpersonal, and career management skills I learned through working with them helped me succeed far beyond my first job.”

Charlie, George Washington University