Four tips prospective college students can learn from boss woman Kristen Cavallo

By Lauren Thomas, communications and social media student assistant

You know the cliche advice: “Do your work, follow your dreams.” They’re great classics, but fresh tips spark thought and perspective on life, including college prep while still in highschool. I got this same spark when I listened to Kristen Cavallo speak during the “Robertson School Speaker Series” at Virginia Commonwealth University on March 29, 2019.

Cavallo’s currently the first female CEO at the The Martin Agency, an advertising agency based in Richmond, Virginia. The topic was “Female Leadership in the Age of #MeToo.” Though the main focus was about women, there was so much advice that everyone could utilize.

Cavallo was looking stylish as ever, but the words are what left a real statement. Cavallo never aspired to become a CEO. However, during a period of crisis in late 2017 when The Martin Agency had 700,000 million negative media impressions, Cavallo knew that when offered the position, she was the one who could turn things around for the agency.

Right off the bat, Cavallo started making changes for the good of the agency and its female employees, such as hiring more women for higher positions, eliminating the wage gap between genders, shooting for more racial diversity in the company’s hiring pool, and much more.

A woman who has pushed so much change in such a short amount of time ought to be someone we listen to for advice. Even if you’re only in the beginning stages of thinking about going to college, here are four takeaways I got from Cavallo that you can remember when college is coming around the corner.

Never say no; at least, not initially.

Before Cavallo became the CEO at The Martin Agency, she was offered a big job that was out-of-state. She was reluctant because she thought that would mean she’d have to move. She took her children into consideration, saying that her son was a high school freshman who was going to play on the varsity soccer team. However, she didn’t say no. Instead, she suggested a compromise and they agreed: flying to the job for two days out the week and flying back.

If you’re still deciding on the right college for you try making a list of pros and cons to weigh out all of your options. Take into consideration location, weather, travel options and expenses. You may also consider whether a four-year college is the right fit for you or if going to a local community college then transferring would be a better option. Remember that there are compromises you can make to create a college experience that is unique and beneficial to you, just like Cavallo did with her former job.

Do one “impossible” thing every year.

Cavallo vowed to do one “impossible” thing every year to keep in touch with herself and the world around her. Some goals she has achieved are hiking a mountain with her son and running in a marathon (though, she claims she isn’t athletic). Currently, she is doing weekly acts of service with her co-workers at “The Martin Agency.” Even though Cavallo is a big-time CEO, she is still making time to do things that she wants for her own personal life and growth.

When going to college, the same mindset should apply. Yes, you plan to go into school to work hard for a career, but it can be very easy to lose yourself. While you’re still in high school, identify one or two activities you love and participate it in and make a promise to yourself that you’ll continue those activities once you’re a college student. You could even plan to try something new out that you didn’t get the chance to do in high school.

“Put your hat into the ring.”

A funny, yet unfortunate, fact Cavallo used to show the disparity of female leadership was that there are more “Johns” than female CEOs combined on the Fortune 500 list. 

Confidence and commitment to yourself and your abilities are the keys to reaching your goals, no matter how big or small they are. Just remember: You can’t play if you’re not in the game. I think the biggest instance of this when it comes to prospecting college are scholarships.

Scholarships are so intimidating, and there’s so many on the internet. For me, there were many I wasn’t eligible for, and many that were just schemy looking. When I did find one I could apply for, there are more than likely hundreds of others doing the same thing. This is where the confidence comes in.

You must trust in yourself that they’re something unique about you, and beef it up. There’s a misconception that you must have a “sob” story to get money, and that’s not always the case. As always, start applying as early as you can. The more you apply, the better your chances.

“And, so we did.”

Cavallo started making progressive moves at The Martin Agency as soon as she was in position. Alongside her was the newly appointed chief creative officer, Karen Costello. The two strongly believe that just “having good intentions” is not enough. In other words, actions speak louder than words.

The two set goals to achieve within the company, and followed through with them immediately. For example, it only took two weeks for the gender wage gap to be eliminated. Their motto? “And so we did.” Cavallo and Costello realized that they were the ones in charge. The same thing for you applies, even as a high schooler.

While you’re considering college, remember that the sky’s the limit. There’s no need to make excuses as to why you can’t achieve something, especially when your drive and passion about it comes into play. Plan your steps, execute them, and wallow in the success of your goals with no hesitation.