Seeking part-time employment to help offset costs associated with college or as a means for funding living expenses may be what motivates some students to take a job while attending school. For three particular student booksellers working at the Texas Southern University (TSU) Bookstore and the Barnes & Noble at the University of Houston bookstore, that part-time work has lead to full-time careers.
For recent graduate, Desiree Hightower, working at her college bookstore not only helped to meet financial obligations while attending school, but also paved the way to a promising career – doing a job she loves.
A 2014 graduate of Texas Southern University with a degree in Business Management, Hightower began working as a temporary student bookseller as a freshman. After graduation, she was successfully placed into a permanent full-time position as Assistant Merchandise Manager at the Barnes & Noble at the University of Houston Bookstore, then, quickly promoted again to Department Manager for Store Operations.
Another promising bookseller and current senior at the University of Houston is Jamal Hicklen, who is currently enrolled in the Bestseller Program, a management development track for employees recognized for their high potential. As a Corporate Communications major, minoring in Business Foundations, Hicklen’s future aspirations are to become a corporate attorney; however, he plans to continue to work for Barnes & Noble College as a department or assistant manager after graduation, while he attends law school.
Since the fall of 2013, Hicklen has worked as a student bookseller in various capacities. Bookstore General Manager Felix Robinson has shown Hicklen how the bookstore can help pave the way to his future endeavors. “It’s interesting to see how what I learn in my classes can easily be applied to what I do on a day-to-day basis at the store,” said Hicklen.
A short 25-minute walk west brings you to the Texas Southern University Bookstore where current senior Roneka Woodard is majoring in Radio Television and Film (RTF), and minoring in Entertainment Recording Management. Woodard, under the tutelage of Manager James Burch, is also part of the Bestseller Program, and who, according to Burch, takes her job very seriously.
Woodard has been enrolled in the management development track for about nine months and is already embracing her new role. In preparation for freshman orientation this fall, Woodard knew she wanted to do something big. So when she presented her idea to have a backdrop made so students could take ‘selfies’ to let friends and family know they were at Texas Southern, Burch let her to run with it. “I wanted them to be comfortable getting information they needed and to have fun,” said Woodard. She set up a table, complete with props, and made herself available so students could learn more about the bookstore, answer questions about financial aid and encouraged them to download the bookstore app.
Texas Southern has received outstanding sales achievements two years in a row at Barnes & Noble College’s Annual Meeting, and ultimately, that means the store is a busy one. Through his lively personality and dedication to the student employees who work for him, Burch says he works hard at using positive reinforcement with his booksellers.
When selecting part-time employees, Burch explained that one of the most important qualities he looks for in a bookseller is personality. “Is the person approachable, do they smile, can they speak comfortably with our diverse customer base? The campus president frequently comes in and speaks directly with my team, so I need to know they can be relaxed and confident answering his questions.”
Promising employees, oftentimes student booksellers who want to build a career with the company, are chosen to participate in the Bestseller Program. For Barnes & Noble College, it’s a great way to attract and keep talent. Recognizing potential when they see it, managers often mention to student booksellers, such as Woodard and Hicklen, about the program’s many opportunities. “When employees show an interest and demonstrate leadership qualities, management can show them a bigger picture than just working at their school bookstore,” explained Barnes & Noble College Regional Manager Marc Eckhart. “We have 743 campus stores across the country — and if they like what they do — we try to open their eyes to see that this could potentially become a career path.”
While 80 percent of Barnes & Noble College student booksellers will be with the company a year from now, nearly 70 percent will stay for the long run.
Like many at Barnes & Noble College, Eckhart’s story is similar. “I started as a student employee – long before the Bestseller Program,” he shared, “I’ve enjoyed an incredible career with Barnes & Noble College — and I’m still with the company — some 26 years later.”
The program provides guided benchmarks for Bestsellers to master a variety of skills and learn about the internal operations of the bookstore, but the most valuable areas of personal growth experienced by all three were their improved communication skills and new-found confidence gained to effectively engage with co-workers, customers and the campus community.
Cultivating a collaborative work environment takes great leadership, and University of Houston’s Robinson, recently recognized by the company with a Campus Leadership Award, leads by example. “I want them to understand the mission of the company and share in the importance of developing relationships on campus,” he said.
The success of Barnes & Noble College’s Bestseller Program is an opportunity to teach, develop and mentor those employees with great potential. While 80 percent of Barnes & Noble College student booksellers will be with the company a year from now, nearly 70 percent will stay for the long run. “We know the leadership skills developed by participating in our Bestseller Program as well as the outstanding mentorship offered by our managers will be utilized by Woodard, Hicklen and Hightower throughout their careers,” said Eckhart. “They all have incredibly bright futures.”