Retail, buying and merchandising
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How to write a great graduate retail CV

When writing your CV, here are some things to emphasise to show retail recruiters that you’d be a fantastic candidate.
If you want to maximise your chances, you can’t use the exact same CV for each application.

Boots, Marks & Spencer, Lidl, and Abercrombie and Fitch are just some of the large retail employers who ask you to upload a CV as part of their graduate application forms. It's worth spending extra time on your CV in order to convince them that you have the skills they seek.

Use your graduate CV to demonstrate to retail recruiters that you get things done

Whether they call it 'taking decisive action', as the John Lewis Partnership does, or ‘drive and determination’, as Tesco does, all retailers seek those graduates who can ensure that things get done and can achieve results. When writing about your work experience, part-time jobs and extra-curricular activities:

  • Include any examples of when you’ve met objectives or targets. Part-time jobs in retail or telemarketing, will look good, but your extra-curricular activities are also valuable. Possible examples include fundraising/gaining sponsorship and marketing student society events, but it can be anything when you set an objective and worked towards it.
  • Say what you achieved. When you worked in Argos, say, how many store credit cards and insurance policies did you sell? If it was a good number, include it. If you earned commission when working in retail, state how much you earned (use numbers or percentages depending on what looks best!). If fundraising, how much did you raise?
  • Quantify what you did and achieved. Use numbers where possible. If you worked in telemarketing, how many calls did you make? If you were a cashier, how many customers did you serve on busy days? What was the store’s turnover? If you marketed, say, a show for your university’s drama society, how many flyers did you hand out? How many tickets were sold?

Use your graduate CV to show that you have leadership and management potential

This is especially important if you are applying for a graduate retail management or leadership scheme, but all graduates are hired with the belief that they will be the company’s future leaders, so it’s always good to stress your management potential.

Include in your CV any times when you managed a project or part of a project (this could be part of your course, carrying out a task for a student society or something else in your spare time). But also emphasise any time you took responsibility for something – for example, deputising for a manager in your part-time job; looking after a group of younger children on school camp; or even babysitting. It would be fantastic if you could point to a time when you inspired others into action.

Use your graduate CV to show you have customer service experience

’The customer is at the heart of what we do’ and ‘Putting our customers first’ are common claims on the ‘About us’ webpages on retailers’ websites. They are looking for graduates who they’re confident will treat customers well. Make sure you add into your CV:

  • Times when you went 'above and beyond' to give good customer service.
  • Any instances when you were praised by others for your good customer service (eg your manager).

Your examples would look best if they occurred in a commercial environment, but any public-facing role (such as an advisory role for your Student Union or being part of Nightline) would impress.

Use your graduate retail CV to show that you can sell

At the same time, however, retailers exist to make a profit and, even if you’re not applying for a customer-facing role, you are going to have to think about the bottom line: what sells and what doesn’t. If you do have any examples of where you’ve made a sale – say, for example, in a retail job (think of those credit cards and loyalty cards) or telemarketing – make sure you write about this and write about your success rate and/or how your performance compared to your colleagues’.

However, the recruiter will be examining your whole application to see whether you can sell – they will be judging how well you sell yourself. Put simply, is your application so persuasive that they simply have to invite you to an interview or assessment centre? The best way to be persuasive is to show that you understand what is on their job description (the skills they need, any instructions on applying etc) and show that you have those skills and can follow instructions.

Use your graduate retail CV to emphasise your creativity and problem-solving skills

These skills are key for all retail jobs – from buying to logistics to store management. Highlight any times when you had to be creative, made an innovation (change) and overcame obstacles to achieve a goal. Your examples would be particularly impressive if they show that you can be creative and solve problems by analysing data – as analysing data is a key part of most retail jobs.

How to structure your graduate retail CV

There is no one ‘right’ way to write a CV – you can write it in the way that best emphasises your skills and achievements. However, take a look at the following CV templates and advice to avoid some common pitfalls:

Remember, you’ll need to tweak your CV for each job and employer

Unfortunately, if you want to maximise your chances of getting through to an assessment centre, you can’t use the exact same CV for each application. Firstly, each specific role will ask for slightly different skills and abilities – buying schemes, for example, will require you to analyse complex data, while retail leadership schemes will need you to be comfortable making decisions without necessarily having all the data to hand. Secondly, each employer will ask for slightly different skills – or at least phrase them differently.

When reviewing your CV before uploading it to a retailer’s application form, ensure that you have emphasised the skills they’re looking for, using the language they’ve used. For example, if they require you to ‘set direction’ then make sure you say something like: ‘Set direction for team by...’ when writing about a project you’ve managed.