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In a time where many recent college graduates are struggling to start their careers let alone find any sort of employment, 23-year-old Chloé Varennes is the exception.

After graduating a little over a year ago from California Poly-San Luis Obispo with a degree in business administration and a concentration in marketing and minor in packaging, Ms. Varennes has not only already begun a promising career in the produce industry, she’s also managed to snag her dream job.

SIFE2Chloé Varennes (right) with her Students in Free Enterprise group members during one of the many club conventions and competitions she attended throughout her college career.Ms. Varennes began working for Gourmet Trading in August 2011 when she was hired as the marketing and packaging administrator. Since then, she has been promoted to marketing manager.

“There weren’t a lot of positions that offered me the opportunity to immediately work with packaging and marketing, which is what I wanted to do,” she said. “When I found this opportunity, I thought it was a great fit for me because I am interested in the food industry, and I could do both marketing and packaging. It was the perfect fit.”

But this opportunity didn’t just come out of nowhere. Ms. Varennes spent many years preparing herself for a successful career, whether she realized it at the time or not.

At the age of 16, Ms. Varennes went to work for In-N-Out Burger, a popular West Coast fast-food burger chain, where she first learned the importance of good customer service. Since then, she has continued to work customer service jobs, which she said has definitely helped make her a better employee.

Once in college, Ms. Varennes found herself actively involved in a school club called Students in Free Enterprise (now known as ENACTUS). She was the club president her senior year.

“It was actually a cause that’s really close to my heart,” Ms. Varennes said. The club was based around the old saying, “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

“You’re teaching people skills so that they can continue to help themselves,” she said. “We would go to elementary schools and teach kids about fair trade and what’s the difference between fair trade products.”

Ms. Varennes was in charge of overseeing all the club’s activities, and at the end of the year she and three other group members presented a 30-minute film showing everything her team accomplished and the impact they had made on their community as part of a competition against other colleges.

“It definitely helped shape my work ethic,” she continued. “Being club president and going to school full time took a lot of work, planning and organizing ahead of time. You don’t do it for any special credit, you just do it for the love of helping out others.”

Not only did the club help improve her work ethic, it helped prepare her for business travel since the team would participate in regional and national competitions in various parts of the country.

“It helped me prepare for how it feels to travel for business because you’re only there for a few days and it’s a trade show environment with thousands of people,” she said. “It definitely helped me out with presentation skills as well. I’m very thankful for that.”

This experience, she said, has been essential to her new role at Gourmet Trading, since traveling is a huge component of the position.

“I feel really fortunate to have a chance to travel with my company,” Ms. Varennes said. “I think that’s definitely the biggest reward because not everyone gets that opportunity at such a young age.”

Aside from traveling to major trade shows such as CPMA convention, the PMA Fresh Summit and the New York Produce Show, Ms. Varennes’ daily duties as marketing manager for Gourmet Trading include approving artwork that is going to be printed and helping to create artwork with the company’s graphic designer. She also writes marketing reports and manages all of the company’s social media sites, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Pinterest.

As if her work ethic, knowledge and determination aren’t enough, Ms. Varennes, a Quebec-native, is also fluent in French, which certainly comes in handy since the company has bilingual packaging that ships to Canada.

“I can review our packaging and information on there and see if there’s any error with the French translation,” she said. “You know, little errors here and there that you may not catch if you’re not fluent in that language.”

Although Ms. Varennes seems to have a good grasp on her job and the industry, she’s a firm believer that a successful career revolves around continued learning and always remembering to stay on top of the little things.

“I think the biggest challenge is not forgetting the little things,” she said. “I think that’s a challenge for everyone in the produce industry. We’re so busy, and there’s these huge projects, but at the end of the day, you need to make sure to do the little things because it will help you in the long run.”