4 Ways Your Retail Job Can be the Start of a Successful Career


A recent study found that the most common jobs held by millennials are in retail — which are the lowest paid at about $19,000 per year — regardless of whether or not the person has a college degree. The question is: are Millennials going into retail because they have no options or is this a good place to launch their career? It all depends on your outlook. To make sure retail gives you a head start and doesn’t become a dead end, here are four things you must do:

1) Find a way to grow in your retail job: Many of my Michigan State retail alums worked in retail during college and stayed after graduation, because it was an easy transition. But, two of my students, Bradley and Jenna also got themselves promoted to manager of their respective stores, American Eagle Outfitters and J. Crew, because they had proven themselves to be reliable and hard-working as college students. Once they graduated, they were prepared to take the next step into management, and, Bradley said that his manager was great at helping him develop those much needed people skills to be a better manager, himself. Jenna worked her way from personal shopper to associate store manager to store director in a few short years, all due to her work ethic and positive attitude.

2) Find ways to use your retail skills in your next job: Armed with proven experience as a retail manager in college, Ricki started off after college working as a sales associate for Fendi. She took the experience she had selling an upscale consumer brand and leveraged it to find a new job selling the upscale automotive brand Acura, as a regional case manager. 

3) Find a way to make connections while you are there: My little brother (okay, younger), Dusty, worked as a barista at Starbucks to put himself through college (also while raising three daughters). Along the way in his retail service job, he made an effort to get to know his customers and what they did for a living. He also let them know what his long-term career goals were so that they could help him find a job post-graduation. One of his customers ultimately hired him to work in his mortgage business.

4) Find a way to focus your passion: One of my students, Chris, really wanted to work for Apple, but was having trouble finding a way in at the corporate level. He finally decided to get a job at the retail level with Apple in order to learn more about the company and ultimately work his way up. He started part-time as a sales associate and now works full-time in business-to-business sales. His goal is still to work for Apple at the corporate level, but he knows that the retail experience he has gained will go a long way toward making him an outstanding candidate in a corporate job.

Just because you start your career in retail does not mean it is a dead-end. You can always find a way to use it to get a head start: to learn more, develop new skills, and move in a new direction.

Karen and Aneil Mishra are business school professors and authors of Trust is Everything (2008) and Becoming a Trustworthy Leader (2012)