As a newly single mother just laid off from a retail job in fall 2017, Barbara Jimenez was feeling very discouraged about the future of her career. She was determined to get a position to help support her and her family, and knew stable scheduling, a chance to use her customer service experience, and opportunities for growth—along with a consistent paycheck and full benefits—were priorities. When she discovered BankWork$ in January 2018, she realized the program could be her pathway to success.
Barbara, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, applied for instructor Michelle Branner’s inaugural BankWork$ class, then at JVS Bay Area. She faced obstacles from the beginning
, when she couldn’t afford the business professional attire required in class—but got a push to go. “That first morning I wanted to go, but I didn’t meet the dress requirements. My mom encouraged me to attend anyway,” says Barbara. “I met Michelle, and she encouraged when I felt like I was completely alone and underprepared. She helped me find a thrift store where I could find professional clothes I could afford.”
Barbara appreciated the diversity of her classmates, which included a wide range of age, gender, and nationalities: “We had lots of people coming from different countries, and several of them had degrees. I became friends with Sandy, a fellow single mother. We helped encourage each other. By the end of the class, I was giving students rides. All of our stories were different, but our goal was the same—to get a job in this field.”
Upon graduating, Barbara, like all BankWork$ graduates, interviewed with several different financial institutions looking to hire following a job fair hosted by the program. She felt most connected to Bank of the West, where she accepted a job as Relationship Banker. “I had a great connection with that manager. I knew that I wanted to work with him. He hired me as a banker, and I was so terrified—but excited!”
Barbara has continued to grow in her career—and has her sights set on even more growth. “Now, years later, I’m the Senior Relationship Banker, and we’ve been meeting our goals. I’m proud of myself. When I first got hired, I read everything. I learned how to process everything. I felt like I knew a lot more than some of the older bankers did. For example, I learned how to process international clients. My managers have told me that I’m going to be a manager someday. I know I’m not ready yet, because I still have some growing to do, but I’m excited to go down that path.”
Barbara is thankful for the support of her instructors and the skills she learned in class. “BankWork$ helped give me the confidence to walk into a bank and know all my abilities. The banking side of things was just a little bit of it. Michelle taught me how to put numbers on my resume, stand out as a candidate, and negotiate a counter-offer. She is just phenomenal; she talks like your mother, sister, or friend. She gets to know you on a personal level. She gets to know your good and your bad. She will say things like, ‘this may not work for you, because you’re better than that and you should do this other opportunity.’ Michelle is a truly special and unique woman.”
Michelle, who is now the BankWork$ instructor at Fremont Adult and Continuing Education (FACE) also spoke highly of Barbara, saying, “Barbara was the first person I interviewed at BankWork$. I saw her potential from the first day I met her. She was eager to start a career in banking. She showed up every day with enthusiasm and a willingness to help others to learn. All of her hard work has paid off and now she’s been in banking for almost five years. I am so proud of her accomplishments.”
When Barbara reflects on her time with BankWork$ and her life situation prior to applying, her advice to anyone in a similar situation is clear. “It took a lot of guts for me to apply, but I knew I had people counting on me. Good people want to help you. Programs like this are flexible and understanding, and want to help you become a better version of yourself. Be honest about your situation, I know that’s what I needed to do.” Barbara excels in perseverance and her willingness to learn; throughout her career, her success will only continue to grow.