This post has been written by James Pritchard who is currently a Warwick Sociology finalist. He appreciates how much his experience in retail has helped to him to build his job skills and to gain a summer internship, and now feels pretty confident about life after Warwick. He’d like to share his thoughts on how retail experience can be a real asset in the graduate job search. Over to James…
Successfully gaining and completing an internship with Student Careers & Skills has shown me just how much I owe to my ongoing role in a large department store. My experiences in retail over four-and-a-half years helped me to develop examples of key skills in my application form and interview, to demonstrate the qualities needed to succeed in the role. There are many ways in which students can develop skills for the professional workplace and working in retail is an incredibly useful, yet somewhat underestimated way of doing so.
There’s arguably a continuing social and cultural devaluation of shop work, a belief that the work is purely unskilled. I recall the horror expressed by a student I met a couple of years ago on an Open Day. “Manual labour?!” he gasped, as I mentioned my shop-floor retail job. However, it’s wrong to believe that these jobs offer students little more than pocket money. Employers are increasingly warning that students without work experience have little chance of securing a graduate level position – so, any experience is good experience and your Saturday job does a lot more for you than you may think!
The rise of retail
The retail industry has expanded vastly over the past couple of decades as a source of employment. This is a reflection of the rise of the service sector in the UK following the decline of industries such as manufacturing. The service economy of today understandably has a strong focus on meeting people’s needs. Customer service is required from employees in almost every profession in the job market. Many retail organisations prize customer service and proclaim that it is at the heart of what they do. In any shop-floor retail role, you’ll be required to assist customers with queries, deal with customers who have had negative experiences and be polite and friendly in your approach. These experiences show perseverance as well as an ability to get along with people, highly beneficial for any client-focussed role!
It is not hard to see why retail has such a large presence in the sphere of graduate employment, with further growth expected over the coming decade to meet the demand for better skilled managers. Large pools of graduate talent are recruited every year with opportunities spanning various areas of the sector. As a quick Google search will reveal, it’s not all about the shop floor. Retailers offer positions across functions including marketing, logistics, property, finance – you name it! It’s no wonder, then, that graduate retail programmes are some of the most competitive and financially rewarding out there!
It is not the case, however, that retail experience is only useful for retail careers. Shop floor experience will help you to demonstrate a number of key skills that graduate recruiters are looking for across the board. Besides developing your communication skills, time-management and ability to work in a team, working in a store offers you an insight into how a fast-paced organisation functions on the ground. It teaches you an awareness of the challenges faced by a business and how it must adapt to change to become more profitable. This understanding is attractive to potential employers, especially if you can articulate how you have personally helped to overcome an obstacle or improved processes or profitability. Working with numerical data in an applied setting can also help you to meet skills criteria. For example, you may find yourself assisting with product ordering, making decisions in accordance with sales figures, or using sales data to inform where products are placed on the shop floor. These experiences provide good examples of an ability to interpret data in order to make informed decisions.
Even the more routine elements of working in retail will serve you well! Shop floor experience is a good indicator of a positive attitude to work and a personable character. Possessing “soft skills” was found in a recent UK study of 198 employers to be more highly regarded than “technical knowledge” by graduate recruiters. The “recruit for attitude and train for skill” approach appears to be favoured by employers, who are committed to providing extensive on-the-job training for graduates. If you can effectively demonstrate the personal traits that recruiters are looking for, your applications are much more likely to stand out!
Whatever stage of career-planning you’re at, if you’re thinking about ways to boost your CV, remember what shop work can do for you. As well as earning an extra few pennies, you’ll demonstrate a can-do attitude, a willingness to work hard, and an understanding of the importance of good customer service – all of which will go a long way – both in life and in helping you meet those all important job skills criteria.
*James wrote this as he approached the end of his summer internship at Student Careers & Skills through the university’s very own Warwick Undergraduate Internship Programme. He found the role as the Social Media Intern exciting and challenging and even said it has transformed his university experience. He was a great asset to us too and we’re missing him!