Career Development

How to get a career in retail

Alice Greedus
Written by Alice Greedus

A career in the retail industry doesn’t have to mean shelf-stacking or scanning barcodes all day. There’s much more to working in the industry than this. In fact, the retail industry can be divided into various subcategories, all of which hold a range of different roles. This means that there are many opportunities for progression, no matter what direction you want to advance in.

However, it can be hard to know where to begin in such as dynamic industry, especially when you’re unsure what skills, experience or qualifications you might need. Below, we help you out by explaining the ways you can launch your career in retail.

Work your way up

If studying isn’t for you, it’s possible to work your way up the ladder. This means that you will gain a wealth of knowledge to offer employers, alongside practical skills from working on the shop floor. As every part of retail is different, it’s best to decide which area you would like to progress in first.

Here you have many options. You could work for a supermarket, a department store, a fashion retailer or a technology outlet just to name a few. Think about the area that you would like to work in based on your interests.

Also, keep in mind that the organisations within retail vary in size, so if you want to work for a big company, you might be better suited to a supermarket or department store. Alternatively, if you want to work for a smaller company, you might prefer specialist stores such as toy shops, jewellery stores or fashion retailers.

panoramic view of a modern mall

Do an apprenticeship

If you want to work whilst gaining valuable skills and a qualification, an apprenticeship is the way to go. Many retail companies offer apprenticeships schemes in a variety of areas, giving you the flexibility to pick where you want to take your career.

Doing an apprenticeship can be a gateway into a range of roles. You could work as a visual merchandiser, fresh food counter assistant, personal shopper, team leader and more! An added bonus with an apprenticeship is that you’re paid alongside your studying too.

To do an apprenticeship, you usually need a GCSE or equivalent in English and Maths, but it does depend on the company, as some will have additional requirements. What’s more, there is a variety of levels to suit everyone depending on how many qualifications you have. Even better, if you’re 16-18, they are fully funded by the government. 

Find a graduate scheme

If you already have a degree, you can take part in a graduate scheme instead. Graduate schemes are programmes that combine work with training. They can be competitive to get into and challenging, but are also rewarding and a great way to learn new skills.

Larger retail companies will often offer these schemes and they all vary in style. Many of the schemes involve some initial work on the shop floor, so graduates understand how the store works. They’re often around one or two years long, with a paid salary. After the scheme it’s common to be offered a full-time position.

Companies will usually accept degrees in various different subjects for these; some will be stricter and ask for a 2.1 whereas others will accept a 2.2. They may also ask for a certain number of UCAs points from your A-Levels and a driving licence, so it’s important to check each company’s individual requirements.

Progress your skills and experience

Many skills are essential for working in this industry. Some of the most important include team working, leadership and communication. To succeed in a retail career you need to master these attributes.

Think about the areas you can improve on and even ask for feedback from friends, family, teachers or current colleagues. They might be able to give you an insight into the ways you can become better at these skills.

You can progress by gaining experience working in a team and communicating with customers. If you’re finding it hard to land your first paid position in retail, you could try finding voluntary work in a charity shop to gain experience working on a till and interacting with customers.

In summary

A career in retail offers many opportunities and a bonus is that everyone can succeed in this industry no matter what their skills or experience are. Remember to keep your interests and key skills in mind when deciding which direction you want to take your career in and you’ll find the perfect job in no time.

CV-Library is the UK’s leading independent job board and owns a range of other career sites, including Jobs Retail. For more expert advice on careers and the workplace, visit their Career Advice and Recruitment Insight pages.

About the author

Alice Greedus

Alice Greedus

Alice is a PR and Communications Assistant at CV-Library. As a recent literature graduate she loves anything that involves reading or writing, which is good news because her job involves a lot of this. She also is a chocoholic at heart which means lots of post-work trips to the gym!

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