All employers place great importance on customer-related work experience.
Employers assess CVs and online application forms by looking for examples of competencies or employability skills; in other words, they want to know you’ll be able to do the job. Here is a list of ten key competencies or skills that you can gain from retail jobs and tips on how to present your retail work experience to show you have the attitude and abilities the employer wants.
Ten shop work skills that will help students get a graduate job
1. Customer service and communication skills. Customer service is the care that a customer receives before, during and after a purchase. Good customer service is friendly and polite, and puts the customer first. It is very important in creating loyal customers and is vital in many graduate careers, such as management consultancy and financial services. For example, a retail banking employer might not expect you to have a degree in finance, but may well place great importance on customer-related work experience. On graduate job descriptions this requirement might be phrased as 'good client management skills' or 'the ability to build constructive relationships with clients' but essentially it boils down to customer service.
Having experience of dealing with customer complaints and queries can give you useful examples of your problem solving and communication skills, both of which feature on most graduate recruiters’ wishlists. However, communication is such a broad term that employers may want you to define your abilities in this area a little more closely, for example, by referring to persuasion, negotiation or influencing.
2. Commercial awareness. This is also sometimes referred to as customer or business awareness, and any retail work experience is a great opportunity to develop it.
Working in retail, you’ve seen first-hand how a fast-paced business operates and how commercial decisions are made. What made the business you worked for profitable, and what role did you play in its success? Did you come up with any ideas to make the business more successful? Were they implemented, and, if so, with what results?
3. Working under pressure. Did you ever have to stay calm and keep smiling as a big queue built up at your checkout? What steps did you take to try and make sure customers weren’t kept waiting? Were you working in a shop during the coronavirus and had to deal with customers who didn't follow the social distancing guidance? You will have examples of how you coped at particularly busy times and how your attitude and approach made a difference.
4. Working in a busy team. A supportive team ethos on the shop floor helps to create a good atmosphere for customers. Successful retail businesses depend on different teams working well together, so think both about your role in your team and how others in different teams depended on your work. Did you take part in team meetings and, if so, what did you contribute?
5. Time management. Good time management is an important trait for the majority of graduate jobs and one that recruiters find very appealing. They want employees who are able to work efficiently and prioritise tasks appropriately to make sure things get done. Being able to fit your part-time retail job around other commitments is a good example of your time management skills, particularly if you can go into specifics about occasions when you’ve had to be especially careful with your time, such as during exam season.
6. Problem-solving and initiative. What did you do when problems arose? What if goods were damaged before being paid for, or if a customer or colleague was taken ill? Think about how you reacted to the unexpected and what you learned from those experiences. If you made any suggestions about how things could be improved, these will show that you’re a good self-starter. If your ideas were put in place and worked out well, so much the better.
7. Attention to detail. You will have needed good attention to detail when stocktaking, when cashing up and when taking details of a customer's complaint. Being detail-focused is a requirement of many graduate jobs; being able to explain how you paid attention to detail when in a busy commercial environment will impress recruiters.
8. Responsibility. Being responsible, reliable and trustworthy is all part of what graduate recruiters describe as self-management. Good self-management involves being punctual, flexible, getting work done on time, and being willing to improve your own performance, abilities that working shifts for a retailer will develop. Employers sometimes complain that this is an area where graduates fall down, so if you can use your retail experience to show you can be trusted to get the job done, you’ll put yourself in a good position to get hired.
9. Cultural awareness. If you worked with people from a diverse range of backgrounds in your retail job, this could be an asset. Many big graduate employers are multinational and want to recruit candidates who are capable of building rapport with colleagues or customers from all around the world. Smaller companies will regard cultural awareness as an advantage too.
10. Numeracy. Retail workers use numeracy skills in a range of ways, from giving customers the correct change to stock taking. Did you play a part in using information about sales trends and promotions to estimate the stock needed? Then you’ve gained a good example of how you can put your numeracy skills into practice.
More advice on how to get the graduate job you want
Our advice articles on the skills you need to apply for a graduate career will also be relevant to you if you want to showcase the competencies you’ve developed from retail work in an application for a career in a different area.
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