Grocery brand manager reflects on the transition from college to career

By Lottie Watts
Published Jun 2, 2021

What experiences should you get as a student? How do you make the transition from college classes to work? H-E-B Own Brand Manager Grace Dusek – who was a finalist for the NRF Foundation Next Generation Scholarship in 2016 – shares her insights on how to launch an exciting career in the retail industry in this chat with undergraduate students.

Here are a few key takeaways from the conversation with Dusek, who has been with the San Antonio-based grocery company (which operates more than 420 stores in Texas and Mexico) for four years:

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Familiarize yourself with day-to-day retail operations

While you’re a student, try to have a set of diverse experiences. Studying abroad, having participation in things supporting retail – such as getting involved in your campus marketing department or retailing program – if working in a store does not work for your schedule.

Because retail is so dynamic and shifting how we serve customers, one of the most important things you can do is try new things, and not be afraid to put that on your resume and be able to tie that story back to that passion or why you want to bring your talents and your skills to a company.

Anticipate the difference between college and work

Coming out of college I was, for the first time, fully on my own. I went to Texas A & M University, and I’m from a small town right outside, so I was always close to my family. I would be sitting at my desk – I was six months on the job and still did not really know what I was doing. And you look at all these people who were leaving to go pick up their children from school, or going for drinks with friends, and I didn’t have that.

What I wasn’t expecting was that hit of, oh wow. This isn’t just an internship. This isn’t just a semester that’s going to be over in four months. This is the rest of my life, and that realization that it’s not something you can just power through. This was my life, and this was my career, and so realizing that work is not everything and I’m not going to get it all right (or right away), and that’s OK. 

Have “grounded” confidence

The biggest attribute I would encourage is having “grounded” confidence. It’s a bit of a paradox. You want to be confident, but you want to be humble, and so you combine those things together.

You are selected for your internship or your position for a reason. Retail companies are looking for your fresh perspective, so be confident in that. Find ways to speak up respectfully and really dig into your role.

But at the same, be humble. There are people with years of experience and there’s history that you may not know of that should be considered. That’s really that magic where you’re going to be able to come on and be a sponge and soak up, but also be that spark and ignite some new ideas.

Set yourself up for retail career success with our scholarships. Gather your team for the NRF Foundation Student Challenge now to get valuable real-world experience in our business competition with Kohl’s. Learn more about this great opportunity and review the full eligibility requirements here.

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