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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


How can I find an internship/co-op that matches my skill set?

Jeff from Capital University asked:

I’m 32 years old and have been working in commercial real estate my entire professional life.  About 6 months ago I decided to back to school to complete a BA in Business Administration, and I plan to attend law school soon after (about a year from now).   I am having trouble finding a company/position that is right for me.  I want an  internship/co-op that allows me to learn the business side of the company then allows me to transfer into a legal department.  Is anyone interested in my skill set?

Hello Jeff

Perhaps you saw my recent response to another question about internships – How can I find an internship when I’m not enrolled in school? 

I am going to be perfectly honest with you – finding an internship is going to be a serious challenge given your circumstances.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try- you just need to understand the obstacles you have to overcome.

You state that you are “having trouble finding a company /position that is right for you.”  How clearly can you articulate what you mean by that statement?

Knowing what you are looking for is very important. Knowing what you offer to those employers you are targeting is equally important.  You need both to demonstrate a good fit. Every search for a job, internship or co-op must seek a win-win result.  That is, the company and position have to fit you (you win!), and you have to be a good fit for the company and the position (they win!).  You need to build your search on that Win-Win Principle and use it to decide which positions you will apply to and which you won’t.

Also, it is not very common for a business to hire someone into one part of the business and then transfer them into a legal department after working in these other areas of a company.  It is more typical for a company to hire a lawyer (or put one on retainer) when they need a lawyer. So – I’m not certain that your strategy is a great one (of course, I don’t have all the details of your situation, either!)

Be sure that Law School is the right decision for you.  Law School is a huge investment of time and money – guaranteed.  However, there are no guarantees that you will make a lot of money as an attorney.  If you are going to spend that amount of time and spend (or borrow) that amount of money, be sure you know what you are getting yourself into.  And, if you want to go to Law School, why wait the year to do so?  If you need that year to prep for the LSAT, get applications in, etc., then I recommend looking for temporary/contract work in a law firm or in a corporate legal department and being up front about your plan to enter law school within the year.

You mention the possibility of a co-op.  These days, co-op positions are most typically offered by technology and engineering companies seeking technology and engineering students, and they tend to be coordinated through the college (because they are part of the curriculum).  Does your college have a robust co-op program for business students?  If not, the co-op path may not be a viable option.

Lastly, you asked – “Is anyone interested in your skill set?”

The easy answer is probably. The real path the right answer begins with another question: “To what extent are  employers fully aware of the skills, experience, education and qualities you offer?” Answer this question, and you will be able to answer your original question.

Looking for a job or internship is just like being a sales.  Effective sales people understand their product/service really well, and they study the market looking for likely buyers.  They don’t try to sell to everyone because, in most cases, everyone is not a likely buyer.  Once they identify likely buyers, they invest time presenting their product/service to these likely buyers in terms aligned with the buyers’ wants, needs and motivations. Effective sales people follow this strategy to identify potential customers, win new business, and keep existing clients.  Ineffective sales people try to sell to everyone and hope they will make a sale (which is frustrating for them and the people they are selling to and not very efficient).

Effective job seekers do the same things effective sales people do, while ineffective job seekers simply send out lot of applications and hope someone will call them in for an interview (which is also very frustrating for them and for employers getting the applications and not very efficient.).

If you approach your career transition the same way you approach a business opportunity and apply the same principles, you should find success in you search.

Good luck!

How can I find an internship when I’m not enrolled in school?

Jahanara from Stonybrook University asked the following question:

I recently completed a Business certification and have have more than 12 years experience in Credit. I want an internship in this field but not being a recent graduate, I am having difficulty finding one. Most unpaid internships require I get college credit, and other paid internships to which I have applied have not responded.

How should I approach  this hurdle so that I can get an internship?

Hi Jahanara –

Thanks for your question.

Just out of curiosity, with 12 years of experience in credit already, why are you looking for an internship in the same field and not a job?  I imagine employers are asking the same question when they see your application:  Why is someone with so much experience looking for pre-entry level work?

Most internships are designed and targeted for pre-level candidates, and most employers define pre-entry level candidates as enrolled college students and/or students who just completed a degree. Internships give them an opportunity to sample new talent without having to make a commitment to hire; and internships give the student interns some hands-on experience sampling a potential career path.  The motivations and pay-offs for employers and students are very clear.

Employers offering unpaid internships are requiring that you receive college credit because that is the only legal way that a for-profit company can have you work/intern for them and not pay you. It has to be part of your formal education.

Why have employers offering paid internships not responded to your applications?

I really don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that employers consider candidates that do a good job (in their resumes, cover letters and other communication) of telling them why they want the internship, why they believe they are a good candidate for the internship, why they want to work in their industry, and why they want to work for their company,  Those are four very important questions you need to be able to answer as a job/internship seeker, because you have to make yourself understandable to employers.

So with that in mind, can you answer the following questions?  If you can, you are in a good position to be successful in your search.

  • What type of internship are you seeking?
  • What qualifications (skills, qualities, education and experience) are needed to do that work?
  • Do you possess these qualifications?
  • Does your resume highlight/emphasize these qualifications?  Does it market you for the kind of internship you are seeking?
  • Do your cover letters present your qualifications in relation to the qualifications being sought by employers?
  • What employers in your area offer the kind of internships you are seeking?  How many are there and how much do you know about them?
  • Who do you know that might be in a position to assist you with advice or referrals, and how well do these people know what you offer employers and what you are looking for in a job/internship?

I am not going to lie to you – trying to get an internship when you are not a current student or recent graduate is hard to do.  You have to convince an employer that you are worth the investment of their time and energy, and that takes more than searching job boards and submitting applications.

Perhaps you should consider looking or a job in the field that interests you to get you foot in the door with a company and they work your way up from there.  This may be a viable alternative.

Check with the career center at your university to see if you have access to any kind of alumni career services.  Even more importantly – spend some time really understanding what you want and what you offer so that you will be prepared to sell what you offer to potential employers.

I hope this advice helps.

You are what you post . . .

. . . on Social Media

I’ve thought a lot about the topic of social media and the job search and advised a lot of job seekers on how to effectively leverage social media in their job searches, and I have come to two conclusions:

Most people do not realize the impact their online personalities and profiles will have on their employment and employ-ability

Most people do not fully leverage the resources available to them via professional and social networking sites

I cannot understand why this is the case!

Before you post anything to any online site – whether it be Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube or any other social networking site – be aware that:

Employers do look at your Facebook & LinkedIn profiles and other social media you make available

Employers do make judgments about your decision-making, maturity, professionalism and, ultimately, your desirability as an employee

Is this fair? You might say no – I would argue YES.

You posted the photo, quote or URL on your profile, so you made the information available publicly on the web. Even if you only meant for your friends to see that photo, it became fair game when you put it on the net.

I am often amazed when I read newsfeed comments or see some of the new profile photos my Facebook friends and acquaintances share:

People complaining about jobs, bosses and co-workers; sharing personal problems; spending what looks like their entire day responding to and commenting on various polls, sharing applications, and requesting that I do the same.

Sure, I know – this is just personal; it’s only for your friends to see. And yes, I know you are vigilant about monitoring your privacy settings.

Well, look at your list of Friends.  I’ll bet it includes current and former co-workers and classmates, family members, acquaintances, and (probably) a current or former boss or two. Do you really want to share all of your personal commentary with all of these people?  Do you need to?  Just because you thought about something doesn’t mean you need to share that thought, observation or comment with everybody.

If you post something to Facebook, essentially, you are sharing it with everybody in your world – whether you mean to or not.

So, follow my advice:

Be very careful in what you post online, who you “friend” and with whom you “link”.

Just because someone has requested to be your friend on Facebook or connect with you on LinkedIn does not mean you have to say yes! Just as you have to be cautious in deciding what to post, you need to decide who you are going to welcome into which of your online worlds.

If you really just want Facebook to be personal, don’t friend or accept friend requests from professional colleagues. At a recent networking luncheon a gentleman asked if I was on Facebook and if we could be come Facebook friends. My response: “Yes, but I really only use Facebook to communicate with my family and friends. If you would like to connect with me online, please do so through LinkedIn. I use LinkedIn for business, and I’ll be happy to accept your invitation to connect.” Now, I don’t have any compromising pictures or comments on my Facebook page, but it is not a tool I use to communicate with business professionals.When I am on Facebook for business, I use the Facebook page I created for TheCampusCareerCoach.

Make some rules about how you are going to communicate online, follow these rules, and share them with people who wish to connect with you.

Because, used correctly . . . . .

Online resources like LinkedIn can be extremely powerful tools for professional networking, job hunting, and relationship building. 

Simply having a LinkedIn account will do nothing for you – it does you no good just to be there.

It’s just like going to a networking reception:If you show up, sign in, get a drink and then hide behind a fern in the corner of the room to avoid talking with anyone, you did not network! You wasted your time.

So, how do you do leverage a tool like LinkedIn? I don’t have all the answers, but LinkedIn does provide some good tutorials for getting started. For example,

What ever you choose to do . . . .

Think before you post, friend, link, or tweet!

Simple advice,  isn’t it?

Realize this: What you meant to do won’t matter, what you actually did will!

How you use social media sites will provide potential employers with some insight into how you will represent them if you are hired, how you will make decisions, what you value/deem important, and how you interact with others publicly and privately.

Are you delivering the online messages you want?

Check, because employers are online, too, and they are checking!