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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


What jobs can I get with a Psychology degree and Spanish/Business minors?

Oh-the-places-you-can-goKayla at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse asked:

I’m pursuing a degree in Psychology with minors in Spanish and International Business.  What kind of careers can I find that utilize these skills?

Hi Kayla –

To paraphrase the immortal words of Dr. Seuss – “Oh the places you can go!”

The good news is that you have a lot of options!  Your degree is not preparing you to do one specific thing in the same way an engineering degree prepares you to be an engineer, an architecture degree prepares you to be an architect or a social work degree prepares you for a career in social work.

The bad news is that you have a lot of options!  That is, there is no clear linear career path that all Psychology majors follow, nor are  there specific paths for those who study Spanish or International Business.

So – what’s a girl to do?  Explore – Be Curious – Ask Questions – Test Drive Careers – Connect the Dots!


Use your entire educational experience and all of the resources at your disposal to explore your options.

The staff at your University’s Career Center will be able to help you with your exploration.  They even have an online resources called “What Can I Do With This Major?” which includes specific information on careers for Psychology majors.

Use LinkedIn to keyword search for UW-LaCrosse alumni who majored in Psychology.  You will find a wide variety of people in a broad spectrum of career areas at various stages in their careers; each offering a different career path with different stops along the way.

Use your coursework to explore careers.  In your Psychology, Spanish, Business and general education  courses, you will be required to do research projects.  How can you complete these assignments and learn something about potential career areas? When ever you have a choice about the research you will do, choose in a way that will allow you to complete the assignment and explore your career options.

Be Curious

Exploration requires some degree of curiosity.  Anytime you see someone who really enjoys their job, try to find out and understand why.  Anytime you see a job and think “that might be fun” or “I’d love to do that,” try to figure out why you think it would be fun and what about it is so appealing to you.  Recognizing that a career path might interest you is great!  If you take the time to find out why, you will start unlocking a world of possibilities

Ask Questions

133143076_mr-ed-24x36-bw-poster-printWhen you find careers you would like to consider, get some first hand advice!  Ask people doing the jobs that interest you about their experiences.  Ask them what they like and don’t like about their jobs. Ask for their advice on your career.  Do as many informational interviews as you can. Want to know what a job is really like? Go straight to the horse’s mouth!

Test Drive Careers

Do internships – as many as you can! Learn from each one and use what you learn to decide what internship to do next.  build upon your experience.

Volunteer.  Many volunteer opportunities also the chance to explore careers, get experience and develop skills.

Get a part-time job. The more workplace experience you have, the more valuable you will be to future employers.

Connect the Dots

Process every experience, every bit of advice and information, and every contact you make to see what they tell you about yourself and your options.

What does all of this information tell you about your likes and dislikes; skills, gifts and talents; industry preferences; work style and workplace preferences?

Connect the dots between what you are doing in the classroom and what you are doing outside the classroom and you will begin to reveal of picture of what you might do when you graduate.

As you do all of this, take full advantage of the career services, on-campus interviewing opportunities, job and internship databases, career fairs and other events and resources provided by your university.  The career services team is there to help you.  They won’t tell you what you should do, but they will help you identify what you can do and take steps toward getting there.

Oh, the places you can go!  Just remember, the journey to where you might go begins with a first step.  So, take that step and  . . .

Explore – Be Curious – Ask Questions – Test Drive Careers- Connect the Dots – and discover what you might do next.

Good luck,


PS – You might also want to read a couple of my earlier posts.  You may find them helpful:

What can I do with a degree in University Studies?

What can I do with a degree in Liberal Studies?

I am frustrated with my job search. Can you provide insight or new ideas to consider?

frustrated-businessmanRalph from Wright State University asked:

I am growing extremely frustrated with my job search.  I recently completed my MBA and I haven’t found a job. I continue to search high and low for employment opportunities but I haven’t had any success. I also have an MPA degree and a BS in Family Resource Management with a minor in Economics.  My goal was to obtain my MBA and transition into the private sector since I do not have a lot of experience. 

I decided to apply for jobs that were entry level positions just to get my foot in the door, but I think I am being viewed as overqualified.  I apply for positions that are commensurate to my experience and education as well.  I thought since I was going for entry level positions I would at least get interviews.  This job market really have me questioning why I even attended college since I am not reaping the benefits and have a pile of student loans to repay.

I am considering eliminating some of my education from my resume depending on the job and including some only when it is necessary or relevant to the job.  I think this may be unethical, but I am not sure.  

The reality is this: I have mouths to feed and bills to pay.  I have to work and working part-time without any benefits or unsatisfactory pay is not cutting it.  I have even applied/registered at temporary agencies to enhance my job search. Can you provide me with some feedback or your thoughts?

Hi Ralph –

I can sense your frustration and will do my best to offer you some advice:

You must give employers a compelling reason to consider you

The fact that you need a job is not – in and of itself – a compelling reason for an employer to hire you.  As a candidate you must possess a set of qualifications (education, experience, skills and qualities) that match those the employer is seeking in candidates.  Further, you have to communicate your qualifications clearly and effectively to potential employers.  Looking for a job is like being a sales representative, and the product you are selling is you.  When you are in sales, you know that potential customers will not buy your products just because you are selling them.  You know you have to demonstrate that the products you offer meet a need the prospective customer has   When you have established the fact that what you offer might meet their needs, prospective customers have a compelling reason to listen to what you have to say.  A job search is no different.

You do not have to list all of your education on your resume

Your resume is a marketing document.  As such, it should include and highlight the elements of your qualifications that are relevant to the opportunities you are seeking.  So, if the fact that you have an MPA is not relevant to your search, don’t list it!  Rename your education section RELEVANT EDUCATION and list only your relevant degrees.  The same goes for other information on your resume.  You not have to give “equal time” to all aspects of your experience.  It is perfectly okay to emphasize some experience and de-emphasize other experience.  Applications for Employment are comprehensive informational documents, resumes are targeted marketing documents.  Be sure you are treating your resume like a resume (a marketing document) and not an application for employment.

You have to be ready to answer the difficult questions authentically

You know those questions you hope they won’t ask?  They WILL ask them – at least some of them – so you must be prepared to answer them.  You have to make you make sense to them.  A potential employer is going to look at your qualifications and ask questions like:

Why did you get an MPA?  Do you want to work in accounting? 

Why did you choose to pursue an MBA after getting your MPA?

What types of positions interest you most and why?

Why are you a good fit for this position?

Why are you interested in this position?

Why do you want to work in this industry?

Why do you want to work for this company?

How do your qualifications match up well with our needs?

You need to focus on high payoff activities in your job search

If scanning the online job boards and applying for everything you can find is your primary job search strategy, you are not focusing on high pay-off activities in your job search.  I suggest you follow the 80/20 rule when it comes to your job search:

Invest no more than 20% of your time in the reactive part of your job search (checking the online ads and responding to what you see).

Invest the 80% of your time in the proactive part of your job search (building and nurturing your network of contacts, researching the industries you want to enter, getting to know and getting known by people who can help you find a job).

You should set weekly job search goals that are challenging but attainable

Looking for a job when you really need a job is no fun.  I know from personal experience.  I have been in a situation similar to yours twice in my life.

The best way to manage the process is one day and one week at a time.  At the start of each week, set some goals that are challenging enough to keep you focused but attainable so that at the end of the week you can celebrate your success (or hold yourself accountable for not meeting your objectives for the week).  Each week, assess how you did versus your stated goals for the week and set your goals for the next week.

If you treat your job search like a full-time job – that is, invest at least 40 hours per week (when you are not employed) – you have to hold yourself accountable for how you are using your weekly 40!

Ask yourself, “Am I investing a full 40 hours per week in my job search and what am I doing with that time?”  If you don’t like the answer to that question, you have to change course.

Ralph, you have a lot of very big questions that are hard to address thoroughly in a forum like this.  I hope that my responses have been helpful.

Keep plugging away.  Search hard and search smart, and you should experience more success.

Good Luck!


How do I pursue a career in sales when my degree is in political science?

Jake at Texas Tech University asked:

I recently graduated with a Political Science degree with a minor in English. My original intention was to go to law school, but I no longer want to do that. I have gotten some experience in sales and  have decided to pursue a career in sales. Unfortunately, I’m finding it difficult getting my foot in the door. I believe I am a leader, I am personable, and I am an extremely hard worker.  I believe I have great salesmanship qualities. Despite all of this, I think companies are taking a look at my resume and moving to the next one because of my limited experience and my degree. My question is: How do I sell my qualities beyond an application and resume? How do I pursue a career in sales and management with a degree these types of companies are not interested in?

Hi Jake –

Before I start, I want to call your attention to three related questions that have come in (along with my responses to them):

How do I improve the appearance of my resume?

How do I write a resume when my skill set is diverse?

Should my resume have an objective statement?

Now, let’s get to your specific question.

You want to work in sales.  Great – your sales job starts now. You have to sell yourself to employers. You have to convince employers that you are worth their investment.  You have prospect the clients, market your services, communicate your value proposition, and close the sale.

The parallels between selling a product or service and looking for a job are many.

In both instances, you need to know your product, you know your target market, and you must position your product in ways that are meaningful to your prospective buyer.

In your question to me, you stated that you are a leader, you are personable, you work hard, and you have great salesmanship skills.  These are all things recruiters want in candidates for sales positions.  To be honest, unless a specific technical expertise is required, most recruiters for sales opportunities don’t care what your major was; they care whether or you can and want to do the job.

Here is my question to you:  To what extent does your resume current illustrate your sales skills, qualities and characteristics to prospective employers?

If your resume simply presents you as a recent political sciences grad with limited experience, you are missing a great opportunity.  Your not giving them any reasons to be interested in you.

You see, employers will not know what you offer unless you make it very clear to them, and they won’t find it relevant or interesting unless it sound like it will meet their needs.

If you present yourself as a recent political sciences grad with limited experience; employers will believe you and move on to the next candidate.

You are in sales right now!  Show you are a good sales person by effectively marketing yourself as a job candidate to prospective employers.

My resume handout provides a lot of good advice, and our resume gallery has a lot of good examples.  I encourage you to check them out.

Also, seek out the advice and assistance of your campus career services offices.  They are good people and they want to help!

Good luck!

How can I build up my managerial skills?

Elizabeth from Texas Southern University asked:

I am a freshman, and I need to get a part time job  while in school where I can build up my managerial skills. What should I do?

Hi Elizabeth –

I actually see two questions here:

  1. How do a find a part-time job while I am in school? and
  2. How can I build up my managerial skills.

To the first question:

How do I find a part-time job while I am in school?

The first two places I would go are your college career services office and your student financial aid office.

Your career services office will be able to advise you where to find jobs and internships through which you can gain experience, explore your career options, put some money in your pocket and maybe even develop your managerial skills.  They may not have all the final answers, but your career advisers should be able to tell you where to find the answers you seek.

Your student financial aid office will be able to tell you if you qualify for work-study employment and how to access work-study job opportunities on and near your campus.  Most colleges hire a lot of their own students on financial aid through work-study programs.  I did when I was running career services at the UT College of Communication.  Work-study student employment is typically coordinated through the financial aid office, so they should be able to answers most of your questions.

But don’t stop there!  If there is a specific department on campus that interests you, go to it.  Ask if they have any openings for work-student students.  Ask if they have other needs for part-time employees.  When you take the initiative, you often find opportunities you otherwise would not have discovered.  The best opportunities are often found through personal outreach and networking, so go beyond just looking in the online  jobs databases.

Now, to your main question:

How can I build up my managerial skills?

This one is a bit more challenging to answer.  It has a What comes first: The chicken or the egg? aspect to it.  How do you effectively manage if you don’t first know how to be managed? Following is my take.

The best way to start developing your managerial skills is by being a good employee.  Learn first how to be managed and you will learn how to manage.  You will have a lot of bosses during your career.  Some will be really good; some will be really bad; and others will fall between those two extremes.  My advice is this:

Observe the management styles of your bosses.  What do you admire?  What do you dislike?  What do you find motivating?  What do you find disheartening?   Take what you observe and try to incorporate the stuff you admire and find motivating into your own management style, and consciously seek to avoid doing the things that you yourself dislike and find disheartening.

Good management is not about bending people to do things the way you want them done, regardless of what they might think.  Good management is about getting your team to buy in to what you want them to do; getting them to want to do the work.  It’s about motivation, coaching, mentoring and leading. It’s not about fear, intimidation or force.  That’s my opinion, anyway (and I am sure you will find some who disagree with me!)

Being a good manager is not easy, mind you.  It is a lot easier to manage in a “my way or the highway” manner, particularly in the face of conflict.  It might be easier, but in the long run, it will come back to bite you.

I have heard the question asked of managers – Would you rather be feared or loved by your team? – and I think that question is flawed.  I would suggest you consider the following question – Would you rather be feared or respected by your team?  Personally, I would rather be respected, but it’s a lot harder to earn someone’s respect than it is to instill fear.

To build up your management skills, I recommend you do the following:

Be a good employee

Do your job. Do it well.  Ask for more responsibility as you go and deliver on what you promise.  Do this and greater levels of trust and reliability will come to you.

Seek out leadership roles on your campus

Whether it’s taking the lead on a group project in a class, becoming a committee chair or officer in a student organization, or leading a service initiative, seek out opportunities to lead your peers.  Do so with humility and a desire to learn.

Ask for work

No one is going to knock on your door asking you to take a job.  You need to take the initiative and ask.  Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and the proactive job seeker get the job.

Demonstrate integrity, reliability and maturity

You can do this in all aspects of your life.  In completing your homework. In showing up on time. In delivering on your promises.  Develop a reputation for dependability and people will depend upon you.  Exhibit professionalism, integrity and confidence, and people will have confidence in you.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately it’s not that easy. You have to practice being a good manager.  You must accept that you will make mistakes along the way.  When you make mistakes, you have to own them (not blame them on someone else), address them, and then move on.  THAT is being a good manager.

Okay – I’ve gone on long enough.

Hope this helps,