• Ron Thurston

Turning Your Accidental Retail Job into an Intentional Career

Do you want to turn your normal retail job into a successful career? Follow these key skills that will turn your accidental retail job into a successful retail career.


the following is adapted from Retail Pride.

Rarely do people say, "If things are going well when I graduate, I'd like to land a job at the mall." That's not how a retail career starts. Usually it starts with a part-time job as a sales associate.

Maybe you took your first retail job for an employee discount, or as a temporary position while something completely unrelated in college, or to earn some extra cash to make ends meet.

As you got more experience, when those around you weren’t sure what to do, you stepped in and helped them figure it out. Then a management position opened up, and you found yourself thrust into a leadership role with little or no preparation. With more time, you found yourself responsible for other needs, filling bigger and bigger gaps, and serving more and more people.

All of a sudden, you realize that what started out as a temporary part-time job has turned into your career. That can be exciting, but also terrifying as you face one big question: “What’s next?”

Though you likely fell into this career by accident, to take it to the next level, you need to be proactive in developing it.

Your Relationship-Building Skills Will Get You Your Next Job

You're likely aware that networking is one way to find your next great job. But have you considered that it might be the best way to get that job? Getting a phenomenal opportunity can be as much about who you know as it is about what you know.

When you put your time into building your professional network, rather than poring through endless listings online and applying randomly, you will gain so much more.

You are better off developing several parallel networks of people willing to help you than you are relying on a single close-knit group. An extensive network expands your access to opportunities, broadens the range of perspectives you welcome into your life, and diminishes the power any one person holds over you.

For many people, the idea of "networking" instills a feeling of panic. Not everyone enjoys the prospect of "working a room." The good news is that anyone, even the most introverted of us, can improve our connection skills with a bit of reframing, practice, patience, and persistence.

If you find that off-the-cuff conversations make you want to run for the door, consider doing a little groundwork ahead of time. Come up with three open-ended or thought-provoking questions to keep conversations moving. These are three of my favorite questions:

● "Tell me how you ended up in retail?”

● "What made you choose that company?"

● "Who was the best leader you have worked for and why?"

Think of it this way: ultimately, networking is relationship building. Your network is the result of creating intentional relationships with people you encounter every day, a few times a year, or once at an event. And that is a skill that you will take with you, no matter where you go!

Reputation Management Is a Real Thing

What is the first thing you usually do before accepting a new position or meeting a potential candidate to hire? You search online.

And guess what? That’s precisely what most people do before they agree to work with you. This means you might be gaining or losing new career or business opportunities without realizing it, because of your online reputation.

Everyone needs to be aware of best practices in digital personal brand management to develop and safeguard their online presence.

However, there is more to developing a positive professional reputation than merely managing your digital presence. The tried-and-true method of reputation building is to always do your best work, whatever position you’re in so that anyone who hears about your efforts hears only positive feedback.

What should you do if your reputation is in question? First, do not ignore it. When an issue hits, launch your own PR campaign. Find allies who will stick up for you even when you aren’t there. Seek advice from people you trust, who have a stellar reputation in the company or industry. One word from the right person can immediately silence all criticism.

Building your reputation is a long game, but even in the short term, every new person you connect with will develop an opinion of you. Over time, the cumulative impact of these encounters will be like money in the bank—positive social capital—for you and your future.

Build a Personal Board of Advisors

The concept of having a mentor is bantered around a lot in conversation as a key to success, but it's not reasonable to expect a single person to provide you with all of the skills you need to succeed. Take it one step further. As you think about how to grow your career and skills, consider developing a personal board of advisors.

A personal board of advisors is an informal group comprising six to eight people who can help with your professional development. They can act as a sounding board, provide feedback on your decisions, and participate in unfiltered conversations that you can't have with colleagues or friends. This group of advisors doesn't meet as a whole, however. It's up to you how you communicate with them.

Think about it this way: companies, large and small, often enlist a board of directors to guide them, hold them accountable, and help them see things from fresh perspectives. The same principle can apply to your personal board of advisors. Treat yourself like a company with a high valuation and a team of people around you to guide your progress.

The best board will consist of people from a mix of professional backgrounds, each willing to provide genuine advice. You don't want advisors who will default to making you feel good about your choices. For example, your board shouldn't consist of members of your immediate family, as they may be too personally invested in specific outcomes to provide impartial guidance.

What’s Next?

My first multi-store role was as a district manager for GAPKIDS, a role to which I was promoted after a series of “stretch assignments” and a surprise visit from the SVP of stores. I will never forget the fear I felt. I said to myself, “Now what do I do?”

By following the exact advice in this article, I was able to begin building my career intentionally. I’ve gone on to hold positions with numerous influential brands, including Apple, Tory Burch, Bonobos, Saint Laurent, and INTERMIX, and I’ve risen through the ranks up to Vice President of Stores.

You may have taken your first retail job out of necessity, but now you get to choose what’s next. Work on building relationships, managing your relationship, and creating a personal board of advisors, and you can evolve your career from accidental to intentional.

For more advice on setting retail goals, you can find Retail Pride on Amazon.

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