How This Daughter of Immigrant Farmers Found Her Comms Job at Tyson

September 24, 2019, 4:00 PM UTC
Entry Level-Hli Yang-Tyson Foods
Courtesy of Hil Yang; Getty Images(2); Courtesy of Tyson
Courtesy of Hli Yang; Getty Images(2); Courtesy of Tyson

Fortune’s Entry/Level column is dedicated to people looking for and working in entry-level positions—read the full series here. We interview entry-levelers about their jobs, how they got them, what they want to do next, and more. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Hli Yang grew up on her Hmong parents’ poultry farm in rural Missouri, a childhood that gave her a passion for agriculture. At 24, Yang has received two degrees from the University of Missouri—a Bachelor’s in agricultural and broadcast journalism and a Master’s of Art in journalism—in the pursuit of that passion. After several different experiences in the field of agricultural communications, she relocated to Springdale, Arkansas, and has settled in at Tyson Foods as a communications specialist strategist in the commodity purchasing group. 

Here’s what Yang has to say about…

Getting her foot in the door at Tyson:

After undergrad, I got an internship because I reached out to my advisor at Mizzou [the University of Missouri] and she had received an email from someone at Tyson a couple of weeks before looking for a communications intern. I read the description, and I thought that I could learn and add to the group as well. So I applied and got it. After that summer, when I went back up to Mizzou for graduate school, I continued remotely as an intern. That next summer, I came back to Arkansas as an intern, and interned again while I did my Master’s. Then I got hired full-time in November.  

Getting hired on full-time at Tyson after two internships with the company:

This past fall I was really looking at getting a full-time job. I had expressed interest to my boss and found out there were going to be opportunities in my group. And then they actually created this position for me because it’s not common to have communications in a commodities group, since commodities is really finance-based. I had to [formally] apply to let other candidates apply, but no one else qualified. So I didn’t have to interview, I just applied and then got it. 

What she really does as a communications specialist strategist:

I help our communications team for the local grain services business unit within Tyson Foods. They buy corn from farmers. The main goal of my job is to increase awareness about our business. Historically, farmers will sell their corn to a middleman, and then we would buy it from that middleman. But we just buy directly from the farmer, that way they get paid a little more and we save a little money as well. 

I’ve been trying to implement better communications and trying to add value to what we do. To do that, I’ve been prioritizing educational content, teaching the farmers about what the markets are doing and more complex things. Part of my research in my thesis was on farmers and their communication uses. A lot of farmers have told me that they don’t understand certain contracts. We build better trust if we educate them more, instead of just saying “use this service.” Giving them a better understanding of how the markets work adds value to their lives as farmers, too. 

A day in the life:

It is completely different every single day, which is really nice. I’m the only person doing communications within our group and for this specific business. Because I am the only person in this office, it’s a lot of work, and it’s a lot of different work. Mondays are probably my most consistent day. I put two video reports out, so I come in super early at 6:30 a.m. I normally don’t leave until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., but because those are my longer days, I cut my hours for the rest of the week. On the rest of my days, I’m balancing running our Facebook pages, writing articles, and doing some public relation campaigns. I lean a lot on our corporate communications team, too. They’re right across the hall, so I collaborate with them a lot on projects or just get advice from them.

The hardest part of her job:

I think the most challenging part of my job is being so young and having so many responsibilities and ownership. There are many times when I doubt myself. It’s really challenging, but it’s just trusting my instincts and leaning on what I’ve learned in and out of school.

Her favorite thing about working at Tyson:

For me, it’s really important to do work that I can see has a purpose in changing people’s lives. That’s why I love journalism so much, because you’re doing impactful work for the public. And the work that I do now really supports local communities and the work of the farmers. Our business actually provides more competition and gives farmers more opportunities to make a living. And I grew up a farmer’s daughter, so I understand how important it is to have a business like that in that community because it really circulates the economy.

How growing up as a daughter to immigrant farmers prepares her for her job today:

My parents were contracted poultry farmers with Tyson for over a decade starting in 2003, so Tyson’s been in our family for a long time. Growing up on a farm, you learn a very different work ethic. Not only that, but my parents are also immigrants from Laos. Being a first generation American, my parents have always taught us that you have to work really hard. So that helps, and then a lot of people have misconceptions about agriculture and farmers. They’re the ones who are raising the food for the world. Having that perspective really helps me today whenever I go visit farmers. I try to create a bridge, because I know the trouble that they go through. 

Dealing with impostor syndrome:

You have to know yourself well. It’s often just understanding my instincts and knowing that I’ve learned a lot of good things in school, and I can really implement it at work as well. One of my mentors told me that impostor syndrome will follow you through your entire career. Research shows that the most successful professionals have that in common and you can use it to drive you rather than hinder you. 

The importance of mentors:

I have a lot of mentors with very different perspectives. I try to make connections with them, and it’s not just business connections. They really do care about me, and I go to them whenever I have a career question or I’m having any doubts. They’re really champions for what I do. There are also a lot of young professionals in my office, and I find them to be peer mentors. They’re close to my age but they’re going through the same things I am. We share a lot of work and life struggles, and I think their advice is often the most helpful, day-to-day advice.

Finding her way from farm radio to corporate communications:

My first internship was at a really small farm radio broadcast station. I grew up in a very rural area, and my initial plan was to be a broadcaster in agriculture and then, the summer after freshman year, I interned with the magazine Farm Journal Media. So I got a little bit more into magazines, writing and editing, and then I decided I actually wanted to do broadcast. My other internship was with RFD-TV, which broadcasts a lot of rural news for farmers and people living in rural areas. And then I worked at a local TV station in Columbia, Missouri, as a reporter. Then I found Tyson.

This internship rose up when I decided to go to grad school and I had an open summer. I really wanted to try something in corporate communications because I’d never done that before and this was the first opportunity that came along. I knew the company well, I knew their values, and am comfortable with them as well. So I took it on and I’ve been here ever since.

Work perks:

We’re a food company, so obviously food is a huge perk here. We have a Tyson Company store and you can buy Tyson products for a lower price which is really nice for me because I am on a budget. One of the most important perks other than food is our stock options. A piece of it, too, is work-life balance. My boss is amazing about that. Especially when I was an intern. She reminded every day that school comes first. There’s still a really good work-life balance now that I’m out of school, and I really appreciate that because it’s a big value for me.

Traveling on the job: 

We visit our rural feed mill areas across the country in a lot of small towns. It’s really important for us to go visit our farmers. That’s one of the more fun parts of my job.

Searching for housing in a new place:

I grew up not too far from here, but I didn’t know this area of Arkansas that much. I didn’t know how much it had grown and how modern it’s become. We have Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, JB Hunt Transportation in Rogers, and then of course Tyson in Springdale. With all of these companies, there were a lot of young professionals around, I just didn’t know where exactly everyone was. I chose Rogers, but took me like four months to find an apartment. My sister also lives in Bentonville, and she’s about 15 minutes away from me. That’s another reason I wanted to move to Rogers because it was a bit closer to her, which is really nice.

Her living situation:

My rent is a little over $800, so it’s reasonable. It’s a one-bedroom apartment, and it’s good-sized. I wanted a good place for my dog to run around whenever I’m not at home. There’s a shopping area and this big amphitheater nearby, so there’s a lot of concerts, especially in the summers.

What’s next:

I love communications, all the aspects of it, trying to put complex things into easier words for people and being creative. In commodities, you don’t really associate finance with creativity but you can implement creativity in it. If you look at the way that consumers are changing the way they eat, if you look at the way farmers change the way they farm, it really opens up opportunities and doors here at Tyson and I want to get more into the food branding side of it, too.  

Advice to her younger self:

Really know your values and hone in on them. Having that figured out and written down really helps. There have been challenges where I’ve had to make decisions and I don’t know how, but I leaned on my values and what’s important to me in life, and that’s helped me. Whenever you do have a first full time job, you get busy and life moves a million miles an hour. You don’t have the time to hone in on your values then, so it’s nice to have them set already.

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