As a young college student, my choices of potential employers were very slim. Most jobs require that you have experience. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggled with this. Let’s be honest, how am I supposed to gain experience without a company giving me the chance to experience the workforce? It’s a battle we all face when it comes to finding menial retail jobs while studying for our dream career.
For the most part I’ve stayed at jobs a year or two unless work conditions or management were intolerable. I’ve worked in a pet store (eek, I can’t handle all the animal poo), a frozen yogurt shop, my college’s library and two retail establishments (yay, clothes and shoes). I’ve had a variety of different jobs. But it’s a great thing! While we’re young, we are able to dabble into different jobs and see what works for us. Or better yet, what flows with our lifestyle and what doesn’t.
Though some of us look at a part time sales associate position as just a stepping stone, there are valuable lessons to be learned from working in retail. Here are just some of the lessons I’ve learned:
Alright, I’m not going to lie. Time management and I are not good friends. Though we’re not besties, we’ve grown exponentially from where we were. I attribute that growth from the experience I’ve gained from working in retail. I’ve worked both sides of retail: the sales floor and back of house. And time management plays a huge part in both.
You’d think by being a student full time since we were five years old, we would have the whole time management skill down, but we don’t. But it wasn’t until I started working that I realized the importance of time management. It’s something that is expected from you from day one. And for most, including myself, first days of anything never really go the way I plan them to. Needless to say I’ve had my fair share of “Let’s pick up the pace” or “We have four hours to get shipment on the floor” as not so subtle hints to hurry my butt up. But as time went on, I became accustomed to being aware of time and which ways I could successfully finish my project within the time allowance while still doing it correctly.
I remember the days I would refer to myself as “not a people person.” I’m not necessarily sure why I would take enjoyment out of saying it, but I did. Most likely it was a way for me to put a disclaimer out that I was not the person you wanted dealing with crowds of people, or to just deflect attention from myself.
Either way, I stand here today in front of you to proudly say, I am a people person. Now I can’t completely say that working retail made me into a people person, I believe I always was one but I believe that working with the public everyday makes you confident and improves your communication skills beyond measure. Your job requires you to be vocal, to check in on your shoppers, problem solve, etc.
Trust me, it doesn’t just come to you either. Just like everything, it takes time. It wasn’t until my most recent retail job that I became comfortable enough to communicate freely with people I don’t know. I’ve been there only two years, but the growth I’ve seen in myself is remarkable.
I’m the type of woman who loves directions. It could be for school, an exercise routine or even work! I love following directions, and following them to the tee. (That’s the perfectionist in me.) Though most employers would love to have perfectionist employees, the retail environment isn’t the most conducive.
What I’m trying to say is, they need workers who can do for themselves without having someone to monitor their every move. The independent worker is the employee I’ve become. I became so comfortable in my work environment that I started doing the tasks I knew I had to get done daily without having to be told, “here’s the list of things you need to get done.”
Typically, taking charge and doing things my own way before being asked to do them is not something I’d normally do. However, now it is an everyday action. Beyond being seen as a valuable employee, it gives you the sense of freedom in a restrictive environment.
Treat Everyone with Respect
Some days I walk through the doors of my job and just know it’s going to be one of those days. But something I learned, and learned quickly at that, is to always treat every customer with respect. Despite the tone or attitude they gave you within five seconds of asking, “Are you finding everything okay?” always be professional and keep your cool. I know, trust me I know, some customers just really have a way of pissing you off royally. But there is no better feeling than maintaining your composure throughout the entire interaction for it to only end with an apology to you for the way they treated you.
Usually, they’re having a bad day, something isn’t going right, etc. and you’re the lucky person they can take it out on. Treat them with respect and they will see how they should’ve treated you from the beginning.
Learn to Adapt Quickly
I wear my Fitbit every day to work, and it amazes me to see how much I walk/run throughout the day. No wonder my feet are killing me by the end of my shift. In retail you will never be working on one sole project. You will have one you are personally working on as well as the others your coworkers are trying to complete that may need your help throughout the day. The ability to stop, drop what you’re doing and collaborate with another is a skill I treasure. By helping others you are also helping yourself.
Build Relationships by Remembering Details
One of my biggest joys is seeing my customers I’ve made a relationship with. Yes, as retail workers it’s part of our job to make relationships with our customers. However, there are certain customers you just connect with on a different level. I may not know their name, their life story, but I remember exactly what I helped them with last time, how I was personal with my selections, but also showed them other options that may suit more of their style. And most times, in our goodbye I always know what event they were shopping for and am able to wish them good luck on their interview, a good time on vacation or even a congratulations on their wedding! By building personal relationships with customers, you make yourself more approachable and someone people enjoy being around.
Though these are all lessons I’ve learned from working in retail, I have been able to successfully channel these into my personal life as well. Like previously mentioned, time management and I have some work to do still. I’ve become more comfortable in speaking my mind without biting my tongue. I push through the thoughts of negativity and go after the things I want. As cliche as it is, I treat everyone the way I would want to be treated. And last but not least, I look to make more relationships of substance even if these relationships are temporary, I want them to be full, not superficial.
You’d never imagine you’d learn so many life lessons from working retail.