Abby Sutton didn’t know it yet, but her career plans were fated to veer off in a new direction the moment she signed up for a college class in Russian fairy tales.
“It was a random thing,” says Sutton, who is now an account strategist for Google.
She was a pre-med major at the University of Pittsburgh, but the fairy tales course sounded interesting enough to round out her class schedule as an elective. One day in the class fairy tales took a backseat as someone made a presentation about College Works Painting (www.collegeworks.com), an internship program that provides practical business experience for college students.
Sutton was intrigued.
“I realized this could help make my medical school application different from everyone else’s,” she says. “I would have a better chance of getting into med school.”
She signed on and soon the undergraduate student was learning to run her own business, and managing a crew painting houses in Pittsburgh neighborhoods. She learned to sell her services to homeowners, plan a budget, estimate expenses, and hire and manage employees. It was such a life-changing experience that Sutton switched her major to business administration, happily giving up her plans to become a doctor.
“What we try to do is give students a truly entrepreneurial experience,” says Matt Stewart, co-CEO of College Works Painting. “For employers, the most impressive recent college graduates are those who are both ambitious and have a proven track record through hands-on leadership experiences.”
Based on her College Works Painting experience, Sutton offers a few career tips for college students and for young adults just getting started in the workforce:
Be open to alternatives. College students often are just 18 years old when they choose a major and begin mapping out their careers. But those decisions are based on limited life experiences, so students should never close the door to other possibilities, Sutton says.
Make the most of every minute. Time management is critical for any job and something many college students and young professionals struggle with. Sutton says she learned to make good use of what others might consider downtime. She even scheduled business phone calls during her 10-minute class changes at college. “You learn not to waste any seconds in a day,” Sutton says.
Don’t underestimate yourself. Sutton was 20 when College Works handed her the responsibility of being a district manager overseeing other interns, which meant she would mentor people her own age – or in some cases several years older. That was daunting – but not for long. “I was more worried going into it, but I came to realize their age didn’t matter,” she says. “A lot of times they had more respect for me because of it. I would be talking to a 26-year-old guy who would be blown away that this was a 20-year-old girl doing this. They wanted to figure out what they could be doing differently so they could be in that spot.”
Sutton’s medical school plans and those Russian fairy tales are just memories now, but the College Works Painting experience still influences her every day.
“It was the best decision I’ve made and it changed the course of my life,” Sutton says. “I realized how much I loved sales and business. If I hadn’t done that I would be miserable reading science books right now.”
College Works Painting (www.collegeworks.com), founded in 1993, provides real-world business experience for thousands of college students each year. The award-winning internship program also offers high-quality house-painting services for homeowners.