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Creativity, persistence and resourcefulness: how a WVU Tech senior turned obstacles into job opportunities

We recently sat down with graduating senior Luis James, a business management major from Colombia, South America. He’s also graduating with minors in marketing and economics. 

Headshot of Luis James wearing a navy blue WVU Tech Men's Soccer t-shirt against a white background

Like many college students looking for internships and job opportunities, James was frequently met with the issue, “We can’t hire you without experience,” but struggled to get any job experience. James got creative and landed multiple internships and experiences, and now has a job waiting for him after graduation.

Last summer, James spent his time interning at Ballie Lumber in Hamburg, New York, a suburb of Buffalo. The previous summer, however, James was running into an issue all too common with college students – he was losing out on opportunities because he didn’t have relevant work experience to land an internship. He found additional hurdles because he was an international student, too.

“I was talking with companies and I had a call with a bank. They said because I was international and didn’t have any other work experience, they didn’t want to hire me,” he said.

James asked them directly, “How do I get experience if you won’t hire me?” The human resources employee suggested working at a summer camp or doing community service during the summer. They were jobs where he wouldn’t get paid but would give him experience. Through Handshake, James found a position at a summer camp in Pennsylvania where he taught tennis and soccer.

“I applied for a summer camp job. It was easy to get a summer camp job as an athlete,” he said. “Whenever I had the job interview with Ballie, the president of the company always sends his son to a summer camp, so I had a connection with that. We talked during the interview about the camps and their experience.”

While not directly related to his business degree, the camp ended up being a great networking opportunity for him, as well as developing skills to apply to other jobs. He helped manage and take care of large groups of 12 and 13-year-old kids.

“You might think the summer camp wasn’t related to my major, but it is related to your major. You have to be organized, really patient, and smart in how you plan the day for the kids because it’s not easy to do,” he said with a laugh. “I met a lot of people from Texas, California, New York City, all across the country. The networking is amazing,” he said.

The next summer, James interned with Ballie Lumber and got an offer to stay with the company. They even offered to sponsor his work visa and helped provide him with housing while he was working for the company in their sales and trading department. While he gained valuable experience, he did learn the weather in Buffalo wasn’t for him. He has a job in sales at American Sun Components waiting for him in Miami after graduation.

“They’re a great company and the people are amazing but the weather in Miami will be much nicer,” he said smiling.

“I got the job only because of the sales experience I had with Ballie,” he explained.

He starts his new journey in Miami just a few weeks after graduation.

James offered advice for all Tech students looking for internships and work experiences. He found all his internships and summer camp work opportunities through Handshake, a resource all students in the WVU system have access. He also gave some advice about applying for jobs and internships through Handshake.

“It can be hard to get an offer from only applying through Handshake, so apply through Handshake but also apply through the company's main web page,” he said.

Finally, James says to take advantage of the career services resources available to students.

“Susan [Wood, Director of Career and Professional Development] helped me with my resume and cover letter. I didn’t know how to do any of that, so she really helped me,” he said.

He also explained he had a couple of different options for internships, and she helped him weigh his options and pick what was best for him.

While a long way from home, James said he really wanted to come to Tech for the opportunity to play soccer but liked the small size of Tech too.

“You get to focus on school, and you get really close to people here,” he said.

As for the future, James said he enjoys sales and perhaps one day will take what experience he gains here and back to Colombia.

“I would like to have my own company one day or maybe even move back to my hometown, but right now I really like sales,” he said.