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Getting Your Foot in the Door with the Southwestern Advantage Company

SWAdvantageLogoAbout Southwestern Advantage

For over 140 years, college and university students from all over the world have participated in the Southwestern Advantage summer sales and leadership program.

Southwestern Advantage serves as the core company of the Southwestern Family of Companies.  It’s in this program that students are trained in life skills such as independence, confidence, self-motivation and goal-setting.  They run their own business selling an integrated learning system to families throughout North America

Southwestern Advantage was established as a publisher in 1855 by Reverend J. R. Graves in Nashville, Tennessee.  Originally called the Southwestern Publishing House, Southwestern Advantage is recognized as the oldest and one of the most respected direct selling companies in the US helping young people build character, gain life skills, and reach their goals.

Since 1970, nearly 100,000 students have participated in the Southwestern Advantage summer sales and leadership internship program. Many former Southwestern Advantage interns now hold distinguished positions in their respective fields. U.S. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn was part of the Southwestern Advantage internship program, as was Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas.

In fact, there are thousands of doctors, lawyers, authors, pastors, teachers, entrepreneurs, and homemakers who have had the experience.

ralphbrighamAbout Ralph

Ralph Brigham is the Global Director of Campus Relations for Southwestern Advantage.  For the past 11 years he has been traveling to universities around North America, Europe, Africa and Australia coaching hundreds of corporate recruiters and speaking to campus officials.  Ralph holds a doctorate in Adult and Higher Education Administration from Montana State University.

Prior to joining Southwestern, he spent 25 years in higher education, primarily as Career Services Director at Montana State University.  Ralph has served as president of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and is a certified Life Coach.

What kinds of opportunities do you recruit on-campus to fill?

We recruit for participants in our Summer Sales and Leadership Internship Program.

Southwestern interns get the chance to run their own business during the summer, selling educational books, CDs, software and other resources to families in their target communities

After an intensive week-long sales training and leadership development program at the Southwestern Sales School in Nashville, Southwestern interns head to their target communities, secure housing with a host family (we help with housing, by the way), and “start their businesses” selling Southwestern Advantage educational resources.

Our interns pay their own travel expenses, traveling to Nashville for training and to their target communities (most car-pool).  Once they reach their target communities, their expenses are minimal.  The host families charge nominal rent.  Of course, interns have to pay for their own food and local transportation.

Students come to the Southwestern Intern Program from over 340 colleges and universities and nearly 30 countries.  Each summer, approximately 2,500 students take on the challenge to become independent contractors and learn all aspects of running a business.

What about the Southwestern Advantage Internship Program appeals most to students?

Probably, the most important thing to most of our participants is the opportunity for personal growth, as well as to make a positive difference to families and their children. A summer running one’s own business, out of their normal “comfort zone”  causes a person to grow in confidence, flexibility and adaptability, resourcefulness, cultural awareness, and communication skills with all types of people.

The chance to sit down with families and their children and diagnose what some of their educational needs are, then suggest solutions for them, is a powerful and personal interaction with other people. Many students tell us that returning at the end of the summer to deliver their products, and show the children how to best use them, is one of the greatest experiences of their lives.

Another major appeal for many students is the entrepreneurial nature of the work and the opportunity to make a good deal of money.  The potential income the Southwestern Advantage Summer Internship Program offers is very appealing, but the money doesn’t come easy; and we are very upfront and honest about that!

The most successful Southwestern Advantage student dealers choose to work long hours, six days a week. Running your own business can be challenging, but very rewarding. The amount of money you save throughout the summer, however, depends directly on the individual intern. The average gross profit last summer by a Southwestern Advantage intern in their first year was about $8,000. Some first-year interns made over $20,000, while some did not make any money, usually because they discontinued their work long before the summer was over. There is a definite learning curve in this activity, as in most others.

How much you make and save over the summer is directly proportional to your work habits and how you apply the training you receive in the Southwestern Advantage Sales School. Just like any other entrepreneurial endeavor, if you are not working, you are not making any money.

If you need a guaranteed salary or a set amount of income, our internship program may not be right for you. But if you think you are inspired by the challenge and believe you prosper in an environment where there is no ceiling on potential, it may be right up your alley!

Some students are attracted by the opportunity to travel.  The Southwestern Advantage Summer Internship Program gives students the opportunity to see another part of the country, or in the case of participants in our International Program, a whole other part of the world. Our interns gain independence and maturity by relocating to another community. They become part of the community and get to know many fascinating families.

Many students are looking for sales experience. Let’s be honest here: Most students do not go to college to major in “Sales,” and most college curricula don’t focus on sales, but most of us end up in careers that involve selling. Whether it is ideas, information, products or services, we are all selling something.

Our internship program gives students something they aren’t getting in the classroom – sales experience! There are lots of summer jobs for college students that simply offer a paycheck. However, that’s precisely what they are – jobs; not career training. Our summer internship program is not a job, it’s career training, valuable for just about everyone, regardless of major.

Some students are inspired by the challenge.  Life is full of challenges, and our summer internship program is challenging. For some students, our program offers the kind of challenge they seek; to be out of their element, in a new place, getting to know new people, creating their own opportunities.

No one ever said life would be easy – and this program is not for those looking for an easy way to spend a summer. The students best suited to succeed in our program are those who have an inner desire to study hard and work hard, and those who are coachable. Prior sales experience is not necessary, but the willingness and desire to grow, learn and take on new challenges is.

How important is a student’s specific college major for these opportunities?

We recruit all majors, and our program is valuable to students in all majors.  Often, people think that our program is only for Business students, but we have very successful students from Engineering, Nursing, Agriculture, Psychology, Communication, Education, the Liberal Arts, and the Natural Sciences disciplines.

Academic major is less important than program fit.

How do students interested in working in other areas of your company apply/express their interest?

The Southwestern Advantage Summer Internship Program is THE pathway to other opportunities with the company.  Some graduates who have worked with Southwestern Advantage during the summers while in college, come to work for one of our “sister” companies after they graduate.  They love to hire graduates who’ve had several summers with Southwestern Advantage.  Our sister companies offer sales-related opportunities in fundraising, executive search, consulting, training, Insurance and Investment services.

What do you look for in candidates?

Candidates must have the ability and willingness to travel to a different part of the country for the summer.  In addition, we want students who are entrepreneurial-minded and want to develop that aspect of their personality and skills.  We want students who study hard and work hard. They need to be both coachable and persistent and have a competitive spirit

We look for students who want to grow outside their comfort zone, have a track record of trying different things and having success.

Lastly, I look for a firm handshake; that almost always makes a positive first impression.

In addition to their coursework, what do you recommend students do while they are in college to prepare to work for your company?

GET INVOLVED on campus.  Don’t just join a group, though; just “belonging” means nothing.  When I look at a resume and see that a student is involved in a student organization, I want to know how and how much.  The first thing I ask about is their involvement.  How did they make a difference?  Find a way to make a difference; to get some sort of leadership or project management role.  We want interns that get involved and make a difference.

I also think it is beneficial to volunteer your time in service to others. Volunteering builds character, and we want interns of impeccable character.

In general, do whatever you can to develop yourself, your understanding of your career options and your goals.  Find out what motivates you and do that!

If you are motivated to work hard and work for yourself, we’re interested in getting to know you better.

In addition to their coursework, what do you recommend students do while they are in college to prepare to enter the workforce?

Learn how to work with people that are not like you.  There are a lot more people in the world unlike you than there are people just like you.  It is important that you can work and play well with people from different backgrounds than your own.

Take advantage of the career services at your university as much as possible.  And, get to know your professors.  The best thing a couple of our recruiters said they did in college was to form personal relationships with their professors.

Sit in the front row, answer questions in class, and take advantage of office hours.

Do at least one internship; do more than one if you can!

Look for opportunities to step out of your comfort zone.

What are some of the classic mistakes you have seen students make when interviewing with you?

Believe it or not, I have seen students bring food, take calls, and respond to texts during interviews! That is just disrespectful.

Showing up late, not paying attention, not taking notes, not asking any questions; these things show me you’re really not interested in what we offer.

What are some of the most impressive things you have seen students do when interviewing with you?

I love it when candidates show up early, have their resumes ready, and are attentive and “present”  and engaged during the interview.

Candidates who learn my name and use it, that dress respectfully and are clean shaven or not overly accessorized.

First impressions are really important.

SalesCalls6_27_08321-300x199If you knew then what you know now: What advice do you have for college students as they plan for life after college and getting that first job?

Do a Southwestern internship for at least two summers while you are in school!  Learn to run a business, and learn to lead others as they run theirs!

Don’t just take classes! Take advantage of the services, programs and opportunities offered on campus, and get to know your professors, advisors and classmates.

Spend time actually planning how to succeed during your university years and spend time actually planning how to succeed during your career after graduation

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3 Comments

  1. Tim Ritzer says:

    Fantastic advice from a well respected expert in career counseling! Great interview Ralph.

  2. […] Getting Your Foot in the Door with the Southwestern Advantage Company […]

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