Use your retail job to launch your career

Posted June 12, 2012, by Aziza Green

If you’re a university student, there’s a good chance you’ve worked in the retail or customer service industry to cover your living expenses and bills. Your student job may not be directly relevant to your qualifications and career aspirations, but that’s no excuse to be apathetic about it. You can use this work experience to develop new skills, give your resume substance, and demonstrate to future employers that you have initiative and a healthy work ethic.

When businesses employ new graduates, they’re not expecting them to have much, if any, industry experience. What they’re looking for are key qualities and traits, in addition to excellent academic qualifications. They’re also looking for that little bit extra that tells them that a graduate is a great catch who will blossom into an excellent employee.

When you treat your student job as more than just a pay cheque, you can find opportunities to take on more responsibility and start developing a professional mindset. Approaching your part-time role in this way will help you to secure an excellent reference and stand out from the rest of the graduates applying for entry-level jobs.

HR manager Jo Copeland recruits and trains sales and customer service staff for Gloss Accessories. She recommends that as a casual employee, you ‘build confidence, integrity and life skills. Strengthen your emotional intelligence and you will develop quickly within a company’.

Here are the key skills that you can develop in retail, which will get recruiters’ attention.


Just about every career requires communication skills – whether it be for dealing with customers, presenting to groups or communicating with co-workers. Recruiters want to know that you can communicate effectively with people both verbally and in writing, in a variety of situations.

According to Copeland, ‘Communication is the most important skill we look for in retail sales assistants’. If you can demonstrate your effective communication skills in your part-time job – by your ability to listen, understand requests and instructions, provide information and deal with difficult customers – you’ll be highly adept and sought after by the time you have to apply for those graduate jobs.

Ability to meet targets

As a salesperson in a retail environment, your main responsibility is to meet sales targets by selling products to customers in the store. Meeting and surpassing your company’s sales targets benefits the business and helps you to demonstrate that you can achieve results.

You can improve your sales outcomes by providing great service, researching sales techniques, and asking for advice from top sales performers in the business. Build rapport with customers so they become regulars. If your organisation has ‘employee of the month’ or ‘top salesperson’ awards and incentives, strive to get the gong so you can include it in your resume.


Employers want a recruit who is proactive – someone who can see a problem and takes the initiative to find a solution. You can demonstrate this characteristic in your current workplace by helping with tasks that support your manager and the business, even if they are not necessarily in your job description.

Take the opportunity to give a little extra in your role. If your manager looks really busy, ask him or her if you can help with any tasks that they have. This could include ordering stock, managing the roster system or communicating with other staff members. You may not get the most exciting tasks, but it’s this kind of helpful, can-do attitude that will win you friends – and future jobs.

Customer service

Copeland notes that a lack of confidence is common for people who start out in retail. ‘We are dealing with very young girls and guys, finding their place in life and society. The people who lack confidence are the ones who lack the ability to successfully give high quality customer service’.

Working with customers every day will help you to develop strong customer service skills, and confidence, that can take you far in your career. The ability to remain pleasant and friendly in a high-volume environment is indispensable in any work environment.

Most customers are a pleasure to serve, but every retail worker has had their share of unpleasant and at times unreasonable customers. Though the experience can sometimes be uncomfortable, having the ability to remain calm and resolve customer grievances is invaluable. This demonstrates to your potential employer that you can interact with others appropriately and professionally, with tact and diplomacy.

Leadership and self-management

Even if it’s just a part-time job, take on leadership responsibilities where you can. Having proven leadership skills may give you an edge in your graduate job applications. This may be as simple as asking for more management tasks or taking the opportunity to train for a leadership role, if you plan to be with the company for some time. Management or leadership roles will mean more responsibility, but the experience will demonstrate that you’ve got the goods to be a high achiever.

Working in a team

Many people underestimate how important the right cultural fit is for employers looking for a new recruit. Full-time employees spend more time with their work colleagues than anyone else. Smart employers understand that their business needs the right mix of skills and personalities in order to function well and retain staff.

Everyone loves a team player. Do your best to get along with your co-workers and stay away from work gossip and drama. You can also demonstrate your sociable and warm personality by organising social events, sports or activities for your team at your current job. These don’t have to be structured or even regular events, but making the effort will show that you understand the importance of professional relationships and inclusiveness.

Study while you work – check out your full range of study options here. For more specific sales and retail skills, study business, communications or marketing.

Aziza Green

Academy Xi
ACBI (Australian College of Business Intelligence)
AIBI Higher Education
AIM Business School
ALC Training
Australasian College of Health and Wellness
Australian College of Physical Education
Australian Institute of Business
Australian Institute of Management Education and Training
Australian Institute of Personal Trainers
Billy Blue College of Design
Builders Academy Australia
Building and Construction Training Australia
Celtic Training
Collaboration Learning
College for Adult Learning
Demi International
Ducere Global Business School
Ella Bache College
Endeavour College of Natural Health
Foundation Education
Gateway Training Academy
GROW Training Group
Hader Institute of Education
Hammond Institute
Industry Skills Training
Insight Training
James Cook University Online
La Trobe University
Lumify Learn
MCI Institute
Melbourne College of Further Education
Monarch Institute
Monash College Future Skills
National Business Institute of Australia
Nepean Industry Edge Training
Onfit Training College
Open Colleges
Original Campus
Outsource Institute
Parker Brent
Pet Stylist Academy
Phillips Institute
RMIT Online
Sero Institute
Serve It Up
The Hotel School
The Institute of Applied Psychology
Torrens University Australia
University of Adelaide
University of the Sunshine Coast
UNSW Online
UTS Online
Victoria University Online
Torrens University Australia
Torrens University Australia
University of East London
Southern Cross University