Whether you’re a seasoned (or seasonal) retail professional or you’re brand-new on the job, half the battle of getting any job is to prepare a killer resume.
Any time of year – but particularly at the start of a sale season, retail managers are flooded with resumes and cover letters from would-be-employees. But how do you make yours stand out from the crowd?
Be stylish with structure
Step number one in crafting the perfect career-hatching resume is to read the job posting carefully.
Undoubtedly, you have a standard resume saved on your computer: this is a good start, but job ads often specify a preferred format or structure, whether it’s something as simple as .PDF versus .DOC or a request for particular information to be listed in a particular order. Read the page carefully and make sure you’ve included all the information specified (we’ll go into more detail about that in a moment) and in the format they prefer.
Go a step further with structure, once you’ve made sure to include everything required by the hiring manager. Your resume should highlight your skills a clearly as possible, but a little style can go a long way. Include your name in bold font at the top, followed by your personal contact information. Use bold headings to signpost different sections, separating experience from skills, volunteering from relevant awards, etc.
Be as concise as possible – your resume should ideally take up one page, two at most. Get someone to proofread your resume (and cover letter) before submitting it: they may have suggestions for making your wording more precise.
Catch the buzz
Now that you’ve got your basic information set on the page, return to that job posting and scour it for keywords or phrases that capture what the hiring manager is looking for in potential employees. Often bigger companies or businesses scan for these kinds of keywords in a preliminary step to sort out who gets a call back and who goes straight to the slush pile.
In retail specifically, some terms to keep an eye out for are customer service, teamwork, flexibility, communication skills, and words related to products sold by the business itself. Applying for a fashion floor position? You might want to throw in a few words about styling, fitting, and keeping on top of trends. More into technological products? Try to pick up on some up-to-date product information. Look at job descriptions for the role you’re applying for – not just in the job posting but other sources as well – to see what kinds of words and phrases consistently reappear.
Style your skills
The two most important skill sets to have in retail are customer service and sales, as almost any career resource website will tell you. But if you’re lacking “professional” experience in either category, you can still get yourself into the retail business.
Ever hold a position in a school club or society that required you to liaise with other people? Guess what – that’s a lot like customer service. Were you involved in any fundraisers, either organizing or facilitating? That sounds a lot like sales, too. Use concrete examples of when you’ve had to deal with other people courteously and creatively, or when you’ve had to solve problems, work on a team, work under pressure, and so on. These are all related and transferable skills that will demonstrate to a potential employer that you have the skills they want, even if you lack experience.
Don’t forget to include any product knowledge you already have (which an employer will be glad to see, since it means they don’t have to teach it to you). This can be out of personal interest, from training courses, clubs, hobbies, volunteer work, or other activities.
Show some numbers
Different retail roles entail many different skills, traits and goals, but they do all have one thing in common: sales. And employers do like to see quantifiable sales numbers to back up whatever claims you have about your abilities.
If you have past experience in retail or sales, try to come up with some kind of quantified sales performance: total sales, average sales, performance over
time, even ballpark figures.
Inexperienced in retail and lacking those bottom-line numbers? Don’t sweat it: as always, you have related skills to fall back on. Retail roles employ a wide variety of skills that can come from a wide range of experiences. Emphasize the skills you’ve gained or strengthened. Highlight in particular any leadership skills you may have gained: were you in charge of opening or closing the store in a previous job? Were you ever in charge of a team or given extra responsibilities? These are all things that show that you were trusted in your abilities and judgement, and will all work in your favour.
Demonstrate your flexibility
Regardless of your work experience, relevant experience, related or transferable skills, one of the most important qualities to demonstrate to any employer is your commitment to learning. The top retail employees are the ones who know the most about their product. Why? Because they are the ones with the knowledge and confidence to consistently provide high quality customer service.
So, if you happen to know a lot about the product provided by the business, fantastic! If you’re not quite the know-it-all, don’t despair: demonstrate an interest in the company’s products or services, and show that you’re a fast and committed learner able to fill in whatever gaps in your knowledge that may exist.
Not having a lot of specifically retail-related experience can sometimes work in your favour, even, if you happen to have a lot of other experience with related fields. Being able to excel in a wide range of roles demonstrates that you’re able to adapt to new situations, learn new skills, and provide quality service regardless of position. Emphasizing those skills’ relevance to retail is important, but don’t discredit the value of having a variety of experience as well.
It all boils down to… read into the role
No one resume should be the same as another. Even if applying to the same type of position with two different companies, each company will have a slightly different idea of what they’re looking for and what they need in an employee.
Tailor your resume to the job and the company to which you’re applying. It may be as simple as switching around the order skills, job duties, or past experience appear on the page. You might change the wording of a sentence without actually changing its meaning, if only to include a keyword from one job posting not found in another. Different employers are interested in different qualities: different companies place different values on the same sets of skills.