We met Maddie Evans when interviewing her for a new role – she is a recent graduate, working full-time in retail whilst studying for an MA and trying to get her foot in the door of the creative industry. The creative world can be difficult to break into if you do not come from a privileged background – unfortunately, unpaid internships are an option only for a fortunate few.
Many entry-level candidates find themselves spinning multiple plates to try and build their careers. After hearing how arduous her job search had been, we wanted to give Maddie a paid opportunity to share her experiences and educate people on the value of retail experience.
Here’s Maddie’s story about the skills and advantages of working retail…
A few weeks ago, I met up with a friend, and as the world keeps proving that it is, indeed, very small, we bumped into a few of her friends from university. We exchanged hellos and introduced one another: “So what do you do, Maddie?” One of them asked.
My answer to the question was met with wide eyes: “So… retail…” she scoffed.
I felt humiliated, wishing I could rewind the last few minutes and prevent the question from surfacing. But now, safe from the possibility of confrontation, I look back on this encounter and wish I had responded differently. I wish I had questioned why she viewed my job so shameful, so embarrassing.
Graduates are having to jostle within a crowded, incredibly competitive job market, and many (like myself) often take up employment in the retail sector. Retail is not always the doorway into the career path we envisioned as bright-eyed new undergraduates, lugging a backpack containing half of a stationary shop around campus and signing up to every extracurricular offered.
Yet now that I’ve chalked up some experience in the sector, I’ve come to realise that it absolutely is worthwhile – no matter what many people would have you believe. Though retail still isn’t what I want to do long term, I’ve built a whole new skill set which undoubtedly makes me a better candidate for future roles.
Skills associated with retail
Retail requires communication and interaction with a diverse and varied range of individuals, this often not being the case for many other sectors. As a result, your communication skills become impressively malleable, able to adapt to the individual needs of the customer. With this skill in your metaphorical toolbox, you can unlock many doors across a variety of sectors.
Retail is dependent on a group of people who work brilliantly within a team. The day-to-day running of the retail sector could not be made possible without a strong web of communication. As a member of a retail team, you become adept at giving clear concise information and able to distribute tasks among a team based upon one another’s strengths, helping one another manage workloads. It teaches you the importance of trust, respect and team accomplishments.
Being responsible is paired alongside being reliable and trustworthy – key attributes that employers hold in high regard. Working within retail demands great self-management, punctuality, being flexible, meeting deadlines and targets, and developing your personal performance. As a candidate for another role, your retail experience stands as evidence for your ability to use initiative and take ownership of your workload.
The advantages of working in retail
Time off during the week:
Flexibility within employment should be a two-way street – how often are you asked to cover a random shift here and there? So, take advantage of your work not being 9-5 Monday to Friday. What artistic and creative endeavours can you get involved with that are speckled throughout the week? Are the small volunteering opportunities, talks and panel discussions to attend? How can you shift your working pattern to allow you to make your days off a building block to the career you want to piece together? With this comes perfect examples of management of conflicting deadlines, balancing workloads, and real dedication to your creative flare.
Get creative in your current role:
Some retail roles, particularly ones within the fashion beauty or cultural industries, rely on an online presence. Within your workplace you could seek out some opportunities to manage or contribute to your workplace’s social media presence. For example, starting an Instagram page for your specific shop: showing off new arrivals and writing reviews.
Whilst working in retail, you may have found that you love your role and feel that this industry is where your career lies. This can be exciting; especially given the myriad of ways you can build and shape your career. Working in retail can provide long-term opportunities within many areas including store management, area sales management, visual merchandising, personal shopping and styling. Transitioning from store to head office roles is also common, so if you are looking to work in buying or merchandising for example, this could be a great route to that.
To other graduates out there who are just passing through: this doesn’t have to be your forever job, instead it can be the tool to get you to the place you want to be. A bridge between your current situation and your career, and one to be proud of at that.
There is no shame in retail being your choice of career, or your current situation. In fact, as we muddle through the stressful and messy world of adult life, we are building up a skillset that makes us resilient, trustworthy, and perseverant. Having all this determination and fierceness now is exactly what will eventually help us and take us somewhere wonderful.