College interns at Whole Foods Market? Not so out-of-place. A high schooler? That doesn’t happen often.
But it did. I’m Audrey, and I’m an intern at Whole Foods Market. And I also happen to be an upcoming high school senior.
I’m the youngest and first high school intern Whole Foods Market has ever had. I appreciate that I’m not regarded or treated any differently than any other team member (Whole Foods Market’s term for employee), while being held to the same expectations.
Whole Foods Market (and other large companies) is selective about the candidates they hire and that apply to their intern program. Here are a few tips for trying to get hired at a company that inspires you:
Passion Beats Grades
Your GPA and the school you attend are taken into consideration, but they aren’t the deciding factor. When interviewing, you need to be passionate about the company you’re applying for.
Ask yourself these questions: Why did you choose the company? Does the culture attract you? Have you followed their mission? Do you agree with their philosophy and what they promote?
Before starting my internship, I didn’t know a lot about Whole Foods Market. But I shopped there weekly since 2006. I passionately believed in them and that stood out during my interview.
Mitch Madoff, Global Executive Coordinator of Exclusive Brands, believes passion can even trump skill.
“If you find the right candidate, you can train them in skills specific to their team. But you can’t train them to be motivated, passionate or enthusiastic. Those are qualities that candidates have to arrive with.”
Everyone at Whole Foods Market has different personalities and interests (a team of 87,000 will do that). But as cheesy as it sounds, what they all have in common is their shared belief in the company.
So be passionate about the company’s mission, culture, and brand — it’ll go a long way.
Be Okay With Ambiguity
You know that feeling you get when you’re driving somewhere new with a dead phone and no access to Google Maps? How do you deal with it? An internship is similar in many ways: you’ll often face ambiguity. The best internships are the ones you shape.
Upon arriving, my first task was open-ended: get testimonials from team members. I had my deliverables, but it was up to me to research team members to ask, create an email template, a list of questions, and a spreadsheet to track everything.
The objective was there, but it was on me to figure out how to make it happen.
At Whole Foods Market, this ability to self-start is ingrained in the culture. Jamie Katz began working part-time at the Gold Coast store in downtown Chicago in 2005. She started as a bagger, then a cashier. She excelled at neither.
She enjoyed talking to customers more about our products and about Whole Foods Market than ringing them up at any meaningful speed. Eleven years later, Jamie is the Associate Coordinator of Quality Standards Training and Education. Now it’s her job to speak to larger audiences about our products and the company.
Seize the opportunity to be your own entrepreneur within a large corporation like Whole Foods Market.
You Might Be the Youngest, But Don’t Be the Quietest
What does a 17 year old in high school say to a 42 year old mother of two?
When you’re an intern, you’re going to be one of the youngest individuals at the company. Upon arriving at Whole Foods Market, I was overwhelmed due to the large age gap between my coworkers and me.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I’d be reaching out to various team members and interviewing them for testimonials. I’m an extrovert, but the idea of interacting with team members who are twice my age was intimidating.
My first testimonials were nerve-wrecking, and I hoped that my lack of experience in the corporate world wasn’t glaringly obvious. At the same time, I was excited for the chance to prove that I was capable of working alongside team members that attended college when I was learning how to walk.
I slowly built my confidence over the course of the first week, and over time, I started to feel less like a high schooler and more like a businessperson.
My coworkers can vouch for me – I’m not afraid to approach them. Take advantage of the internship to ask questions; it’s for you to learn and get exposure. You can’t expect results if you don’t take action.
Companies want candidates that will be proactive and go the extra mile. Use your internship to prove what you’re capable of.
Embrace Your Biggest Weakness
Some struggle with mindfulness and being present in the moment. Others struggle to communicate effectively. I struggle with being self-critical.
Being an avid learner, I believe that there will always be room to improve in every aspect of my life. My coworkers have years of experience, making me more critical of myself because I feel I’m not on their level.
But I’m self-aware enough to know I’m still in high school, and this is my first time working in a corporate environment.
Having a semblance of self-awareness of your strengths and areas of improvement will be key to development. No one is perfect – everyone has areas of improvement and learning is a lifelong journey.
You can’t grow or evolve without making yourself vulnerable.
If you arrive proactive at your internship with a passion for the company, you’re bound to make the most of every opportunity. But don’t forget to relax and enjoy your time – it’ll go quicker than you think.
As my internship comes to an end, I will remember the passion and excellence the team members had to seize every given opportunity. In the words of Martin Tracey, Global Vice President of Team Member Services (HR), he has never worked with a group of people who are as authentic, compassionate and selfless. For those of you that ever interned, what are your biggest tips for success? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.
Author: Audrey Hur
“Audrey is a current recruiting intern at Whole Foods Market. She will be entering her senior year of high school in the fall. She’s looking to attend university in California or Texas to pursue marketing or HR in the retail industry. In her spare time, she enjoys playing golf, spending time in the sun and trying new food venues.”
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