Essential Skills To Start Your Career In Retail


Getting a job in the retail industry is not as straightforward as some, but there are skills that are important to possess.

One of the main skills key to most positions in retail is being able to think analytically.

Alan Gryn, a director in the strategy and business improvement team at Sears, says analytical ability, mathematical skills and presentation delivery are key factors in getting hired. If you hated math all through high school and tried to avoid it at all costs afterwards, don’t worry too much—the math you do in retail is much simpler than calculus or trigonometry.

While the formulas are easy enough, it’s the seeing the story behind the numbers that’s the trick. That’s where the analytical and strategic thinking comes in.

Having gone to fashion school and worked in retail for a few years myself, I remember how we were taught to interview.  As Gryn says,“To stand out it is important to have a solid understanding of the industry and where the company fits (its strategy and positioning).”

Know the company, it’s history, price points and competition. Visiting the stores (if possible), to look at and think critically about their assortment. Know where they sit in the industry. In addition, Gryn suggests trying to see if you can speak to any employees.

For example, understand the difference between Wal-Mart and Winners. Wal-Mart is a discount store and Winners is off-price. Discount stores buy product at the same cost as everyone else but take lower markups.

Off-pricers buy clothes at a lower cost and take a regular markup. Quality tends to be more important to off-pricers than discounters. An important lesson: don’t dismiss stores like Wal-Mart as unimportant. They have tremendous financial power.

So, what do they look for? “Coming across as someone genuine, that works well with people, often proves to be the kicker,” says Gryn.

Common mistakes? Lea Jamieson, national recruitment and retention manager of The Source, says that many don’t see retail as a long-term career. Companies like Sears and Winners have multiple offices overseas and are truly worldwide companies.

Jamieson also says how you approach the role is important. “We will train and develop you for on the job skills, however, attitude is not something we can change. It is about making a choice.”

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Photo credit: Toy store by James Jordan on Flickr
About the author

Mira Saraf studied psychology and English at McGill University. When she graduated, she wanted to pursue journalism but somehow ended up working in Montreal's garment industry. From there, she moved to New York to attend FIT. She worked there for a year before moving back to Toronto to work for Winners. Two and a half years in she took over a year off to pursue writing education and a career in freelance writing. She has since returned to the industry and now works for Loblaw/Joe Fresh. She continues to write on a part time basis.