Careers Blog

The latest events, opportunities and news from the Careers and Employability team at the University of Brighton

Retail – the changing image of a fast-moving sector

old fashioned cash register

Retail experience? Don’t think it counts for much? Think again.

If you’re dusting off your CV and giving it a shine for that placement or graduate application, don’t forget that summer or weekend job in a supermarket. Or car hire centre or any other retail setting you can imagine, for that matter. Retail experience can be a gold mine of skills that employers from a wide range of sectors are now looking for.

The retail sector has been misunderstood as low-skilled, low-status, and associated with entry-level roles, but this is changing. Higher than average graduate salaries,  opportunities for fast-tracking and high levels of responsibility mean some of the most sought-after graduate schemes are in retail.

It’s not just about the shop floor…

Retail graduate schemes are not just about working in store management (although that’s certainly a challenging and exciting role for many). Large retailers may have HR, finance and marketing, IT programmes to name just a few.

What skills will I need to work in retail?

At the Institute of Student Employers Conference recently, a panel of big name retail employers (Boots, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencers and Enterprise-Rent-Car) shared the headlines what they were looking for in their graduate recruits. Here’s the learning I took away from the session.  If you’ve worked in retail yourself, the chances are these will be familiar to you already.

Adaptability and resilience

Retail is a fiercely competitive sector, where companies must adapt to survive. Retailers are looking for people who thrive in that environment, who are emotionally intelligent, and who have high levels of self-confidence. Good people skills help with the ability to develop  support networks. These networks help new graduates become resilient in the face of challenging situations.

A flexible mindset

Being commercially driven, the business needs of the company are likely to influence the experience graduates will get on a retail scheme, and how the placements are allocated. You may be asked to commute for an hour or so to a three month placement, for example.

Customer service

As you’d expect – customer service is key, even in supposedly “back office” roles, such as finance, HR and IT. Multiple channels of communication now exist between a retailer and their customers. So an IT specialist, for example, may be in a customer-facing role. So the retail mindset requires that you are approachable and professional the moment you get to work.

Want to work in retail but never worked in a shop?

Even if you’ve never worked directly with customers, any role that involves dealing with the public or a particular client group is relevant to retail. If you’ve got leadership skills from sports or volunteering, that’s relevant too.

For further advice on applying to retail graduate schemes, contact the Careers Service.

Rebecca Duffy • 18/01/2018


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