There’s more than one way to hatch your career in retail.
While most students finish school first and then start looking for a full-time job, York University Human Resources Management student Michelle Blom has taken a different path to become a genuine retail success story, going from part-time Barista to full-time National Recruitment Coordinator at Starbucks Coffee Canada all before completing her degree.
“I’ve applied the knowledge I gained at the store level in so many ways within my current role and in my past role as Receptionist.” —Michelle Blom, National Recruitment Coordinator, Starbucks Coffee Canada
In her second year of university, she started working at a Starbucks store part-time as a Barista and was quickly promoted to Shift Supervisor – an “expert” Barista who helps direct work on the floor during shifts.
“I love working with and interacting with the public, and Starbucks in particular really encourages making connections with your customers,” she says.
She also loved the flexibility that a part-time job at Starbucks offered, allowing her to balance school with work.
Working at a Starbucks store can lead to a career in retail
After nearly 2 years of working in stores part-time, she saw an opportunity to move into Starbucks Coffee Canada’s head office in Toronto and took it. “My first role in the office was as an on-call Receptionist, where I would fill in for the full-time Receptionist when she was away or working on other projects,” allowing Michelle to experience many different departments within the company at once.
In this role, she found that her in-store experience and knowledge of how the business operates was essential to be successful in dealing both with partner (all Starbucks employees, regardless of their role or seniority, are called “partners”) and customer inquiries.
“Customer service experience is always an asset regardless of the industry or role you are in – just because you aren’t serving someone over the counter doesn’t mean you don’t have customers or clients,” Michelle says.
At Starbucks, even partners who are hired directly into office roles must spend a minimum of 2 to 8 weeks working behind the counter in a store before starting at the office. “Knowing what is going on at the store level gives you an appreciation for the experience our retail partners create on a daily basis for our customers.”
Eventually, she became the office’s full-time Receptionist and, in March 2011, was promoted again to become National Recruitment Coordinator, providing administrative support to the company’s Canadian recruitment team. “I ensure all of our new partners at the store management level and above are set up properly within our back-of-house systems,” she says. “Although I work in recruitment, I have the opportunity to learn from every area of our human resource function.”
Starbucks provides financial – and moral – support for students
Since starting at Starbucks’ head office in August 2009, Michelle has been a part-time student and the company has supported her studies by providing partial tuition reimbursement, a perk offered to full-time and part-time employees as part of Starbucks’ benefits package.
Starbucks is part of a very small handful of retail companies in Canada that offer this type of benefit to part-time as well as full-time employees – perhaps one of the reasons it ranked #4 on the 2011 list of Best Workplaces in Canada.
“I’ve met many partners both in the stores and in the office who are also in school, either full- or part-time, so it’s great to have them to relate to.” And her colleagues in the HR department appreciate how stressful it can be to balance school and a full-time job, too: “My team is so wonderful and supportive,” she says. “They gave me a ‘study survival kit’ last fall and they always keep me positive around exam time.”
Michelle will complete her Bachelor of Human Resources Management degree in 2013, with more than 5 years of work experience under her belt, and plans to continue her HR career with Starbucks. “The growth opportunities are endless within our company! I’m always developing my knowledge of our business and human resources.”
Following in Michelle’s footsteps in retail and at Starbucks
The next time you start daydreaming at your part-time retail job about getting a “real job” after graduation, snap yourself out of it and remember that all retail businesses have non-retail support – called Professional Services at Starbucks – such as Human Resources, Finance, Marketing, Operations, Business Development and more.
Plenty of students and recent graduates, like Michelle, haven taken their part-time in-store experience and education and translate it into a career in their chosen field. “If you’re interested in a certain function within your business, connect with people in your company who can offer you more insight into transitioning there,” she recommends. “If you’re interested in someone’s career path, ask if they wouldn’t mind connecting with you over coffee. It’s amazing how many people are willing to chat about their experience and how they got there.”
A job at Starbucks is the beginning of something big, something better. It’s an opportunity to be more than an employee. Become a partner.
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