Since I had a great experience during my Sears career, I’ve often recommended retailing as an option for college graduates eager to launch their careers. With turnover rates of up to 100% a year or more, retailing provides quick entry-level jobs that can lead to greater career opportunities. At both Sears and the gourmet coffee store I opened years ago before most people had ever heard of Starbucks, the need for trusted talent is a top priority. So, it isn’t surprising that when big retailers get together they talk a lot about talent.
In the National Retail Federation (NRF) blog, Angela Elder, Senior Director of the NRF Foundation, summarizes discussions with retail recruiters during the recent Shop.org Annual Summit. To determine what retailers consider an “ideal entry level candidate,” Angela talked with e-commerce professionals from Ann Inc., OfficeMax, Sam’s Club and Belk. Here’s the consensus list of “must-haves” for graduates:
- Get to work. An internship, or some type of work experience, is considered highly valuable by recruiters. Start as early as you can to build up your resume.
- Project management experience. Many entry level candidates lack basic project management skills, the recruiters say. Being able to operate independently, manage your time, work with others, and communicate appropriately to many different types of people are all important components in executing a project from beginning to end.
- Flex your leadership muscles. Whether you’re the captain of a sports team or the group leader in a classroom project, it’s important to show that you’ve got experience leading a team of people.
- Do an interview test-run. Many candidates who look great on a resume have lousy interview skills, said the recruiters, who suggested students leverage their school’s career center, or even a savvy friend or relative, for some interview tips and a few trial runs before the big day. Specifically, candidates should be able to provide concrete examples when asked questions about leadership roles and what was gained from those experiences.
- Pay attention to details. Grammatical errors on resumes do not go unnoticed, said the group, and can often be a deciding factor on whether a candidate makes it on to the next round. So while you’re leveraging the career center for a mock interview, ask them to take a peek at your resume, too.
- Fashion + Business = Success. While a number of students desire a career in merchandising or design, art is only half of the equation. A design student with savvy business skills is going to win out every time over someone who isn’t interested in or doesn’t understand the numbers.
- Get familiar with data. Speaking of numbers, a skill that most retailers say is lacking is ability to analyze data and draw conclusions from it. With “Big Data” being one of the industry buzzwords, math class should be your new best friend.
- Think beyond the basics. When asked about the hardest positions in their companies to fill, the recruiters piped up immediately, with the exact same answer: IT. While many students are looking at positions in management and merchandising, recruiters encouraged students to think beyond traditional roles and consider positions in digital retail, loss prevention and, yes, technology.
- Be willing to move. There are some incredible retail jobs outside of New York City, even outside of major metropolitan areas (hello, Bentonville). And with a lower cost-of-living, some of these smaller markets could be more financially rewarding as well.
- Retail experience is a plus. The group was split on this one (as it is not considered crucial for those working in the digital world), but most agree that familiarity with the customer experience makes for a well-rounded candidate.
As NRF President and CEO Matt Shay makes an important point that applies to all industries, “In retail, where you start isn’t where you’ll end up.” With the growth of digital retail and with the economy showing signs of rebounding, there’s a lot of opportunity — and career potential — in this industry. And the first step is just getting your foot in the door.