November 14, 2015

Ask Andrew ... What skills should I highlight when looking for a retail job?

Now that we're halfway through November, many retail stores have started hiring additional staff to help manage the increased business brought on by the holiday season.

For many students, a retail job during the holiday season is their first foray into the workforce. It provides a great opportunity to gain valuable work experience while earning money - and for the lucky few, their job might become a permanent part-time position after the holiday season ends.

Recently, a reader wrote to me asking me for suggestions on the skills he should include on his resume that he is using to apply for various retail jobs.

Q: Hi Andrew. I'm looking for a retail job during the holiday season. What skills are managers looking for and which ones should I include on my resume?

Great question - and very timely given the large number of jobs hiring managers are currently looking to fill before the holiday season begins. Here is a list of skills that hiring managers commonly look for:

Customer service skills: because let's face it, you'll be dealing with customers all the time, and you'll be expected to be comfortable handing customer interactions

Communication and interpersonal skills: you'll need to communicate with customers, colleagues, and store management, so knowing how to talk to various people is important

Up-selling skills: all retail stores are concerned with key sales metrics and being able to suggest to customers that they also purchase a complimentary product/service increases sales revenue, the average transaction amount, and the units per transaction

Math/numeracy skills: key for any job in retail, particularly if you're working the cash register

Cash handling skills: understanding how to handle large amounts of cash, make periodic deposits, and reconcile tills to calculate daily floats is very important, especially if you're looking for a retail job where you'll spend most of your time working with a cash register

Teamwork skills: you'll likely be working with colleagues from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds

Leadership skills: while you'll likely report to a department or store manager, you might be called on to help lead a specific area or team that has been assigned a task

Multitasking skills: sometimes you'll be doing one thing and then a customer will ask for something and you'll need to be able to manage both tasks

Time management, organization, and prioritization skills: similar to needing to be able to multitask, you'll also have to manage your time effectively, particularly if your job is deadline-driven (e.g. restocking shelves overnight, tagging items, etc.)

Problem solving skills: it's inevitable that a problem will arise (e.g. your cash register crashes) and being able to handle and solve the problem is critical

Creative skills: if you have a creative eye, you'll be an asset since many retail stores have to constantly restock and redesign their layout and product offerings

IT/Computer skills: most cash registers are computer-based and you'll need to be comfortable using technology to do everything from processing transactions to signing in for your shift to downloading the latest visual merchandise guidelines from head office

These skills can be listed in various sections on your resume (e.g. under a Skills heading, as part of your experience, etc.) and can also be used in your cover letter. And if you have to complete an application form, you can also weave some of these skills into your answers to open-ended questions (e.g. "Why do you want to work at X?")

In addition to these skills, hiring managers are also looking for candidates who are:

- Mature
- Responsible
- Reliable
- Have flexible availability, especially for evening, weekend, and holiday shifts
- Comfortable working either alone or as part of a team
- Driven, which is particularly important for retail stores with sales quotas and a commission structure
- Willing to learn and help wherever necessary
- Able to stand for long periods of time and push/pull/lift boxes
- Capable of working in a fast-paced environment
- Able to handle difficult situations with diplomacy and tact

Similar to the skills list above, these attributes can be used in your resume, cover letter, and application form. And if you're lucky enough to snag an interview, demonstrating these attributes will definitely help you stand out from other candidates.

Good luck!