Working in retail may not be the glamorous job of your dreams, especially when you have to muster a smile for the 15th customer asking a ridiculous question on your 10-hour shift. But it’s a solid career option, short- or long-term, with a skill set that makes you hireable in many different fields, and lots of opportunities. Along with food service, retail is the biggest pool of jobs in the United States right now. We live in a society that needs stuff, on demand, and that means we also need an army of helpful, knowledgeable people to steer us toward that stuff. If you’re in the market for a retail job (or your next one), there are lots of great opportunities for you.
Where Are the Jobs?
Everywhere—literally everywhere. From the mom-and-pop store down the street to the big box store that magically has what you want when you want it, stores need staff. Sure, metro centers like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles will have more job openings, but you don’t need to worry about relocating for your career. You can find retail jobs near you.
What Are the Best Jobs?
Retail can be a hard industry: long hours, demanding shifts, the *ahem* joys of dealing with the public. Where you work can make all the difference between feeling good about your job and wishing you’d gone into animal dentistry instead. Let’s look at some of the best companies out there right now in retail, which offer strong benefits packages and focus on employee well-being as well as paying the bills.
You probably know you can get an industrial-sized vat of ketchup at Costco, but did you also know it’s consistently rated one of the best places to work? With a median salary of$13.14 according to Investopedia, it’s one of the highest-paying retail employers out there right now. The company also offers a lot of employee-friendly benefits like health insurance, vision insurance, dental insurance, a 401(k) program, and dependent care coverage. Plus an employee discount on that ketchup.
With more than 300 stores in the U.S. and Canada, Nordstrom is one of the biggest upscale retail chains in the country. As a cornerstone in malls around the country, Nordstrom is known for offering a median salary of $14.96 per hour, the highest hourly retail associate pay as of 2016. It also gets high marks among employees for offering benefits to part-time employees as well as full-timers.
As the nation’s second-biggest retailer (after WalMart), department store Target (look for the big red bullseye) is one of the most employee-friendly retail workplaces. The median salary is $9.25 for sales associates, with significant bumps for managers and warehouse workers (who have a median salary of $19.40). The company also offers a number of supplemental benefits which include health insurance, vision insurance, dental insurance, healthy living initiatives, and less common benefits like tuition reimbursements, savings and investment plans, flexible spending accounts, parental leave, and childcare assistance.
Gone are the days when the phrase “used car salesman” called to mind a shady guy in a bad suit and a “trust me” smile. These days, consumers value data and clear information about the investment they’re making in a car. CarMax has parlayed its customer service on that front into becoming the largest used car dealership in the U.S., and one of Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for. CarMax is big on employee appreciation, with $1,000 bonuses and a pizza party for employees who go “above and beyond.” Top sellers are sorted into “clubs,” and are rewarded with trips, dinners, and other compensation for their hard work.
If DIY is your passion, then Lowe’s can be a great destination for you. Its salary and benefits are tops in the big box home improvement store game, with a median salary of $12.95 and a strong offering of employee benefits like health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, disability insurance, and retirement benefits.
Working in retail doesn’t always mean being a retail associate—creative skills are in demand as well. At grocery chain Trader Joe’s, artists who create the store’s trademark in-store artwork, cartoons, and brightly colored displays make a median salary of $13.64. The company also offers employees health insurance, vision insurance, dental insurance, and a retirement plan. Must-haves: strong art background and a sense of whimsy about organic yogurt.
Gap/Old Navy/Banana Republic
Good luck finding a mall or shopping center without one of these stores holding down a corner. With more than 3,300 stores worldwide, The Gap (along with its sister stores/brands Old Navy and Banana Republic) is a retail powerhouse, offering a median salary of $11.86. The stores also offer employees health insurance, dental insurance, daycare assistance, and commuter benefits.
If you’re a shoe enthusiast, Zappos probably needs no introduction. If you’re not, Zappos is one of the largest online shoe retailers, owned by Amazon. Ranked #38 on Fortune’s best retail companies list, Zappos emphasizes the “life” part of “work-life balance” for its team members. The services they offer to employees include laundry service, car washes, educational and leadership seminars, parental leave and adoption reimbursement, and—one of the most unusual perks of all—expense reimbursement for pet adoption, as well as pet sitters/walkers. (And now my dog wonders why I don’t have a job somewhere that prioritizes her needs better.)
How Do I Get These Jobs?
The good news is that these companies are all broadly located, with locations all around the country. Assuming the geographic hurdles are low, what do you need to snag one of these opportunities?
Build your resume.
The starting square for any job hunt, retail or not, is getting your application package together. You’ll need to dust off your old resume, for starters, or (even better) rebuild a bigger, better one from scratch.
The mall is going to be full of job applicants, but what about that shopping center down the street? Consider applying to stores and jobs in less high-traffic areas.
Consider seasonal employment.
If you find that there are more applicants than openings at your target store, keep trying. If they hire seasonal help, apply for it. You’ll have a foot in the door, and can show off your stellar retail skills over the holiday rush season.
Do your research.
What is the company’s status right now? How are its stocks doing? If a company is in its death throes (and just announced a round of store closings), now is likely not the time to apply. But if things look healthy from your research (online searches, nothing too extensive or wonky), then you’re more likely to get a better reception.
Put in face time.
Applying online is a great and convenient tool. For retail, though, it’s not necessarily a replacement for showing up, putting in an application, and showing the hiring manager that you have the right stuff. While it’s not a full-on interview, take the opportunity to go down to the store, wearing an interview-ish spiffy outfit, and present your resume in person to the manager. It’s a nice first impression, and can make you more memorable as they sort through your application with others’.
Check often for new job postings.
Set daily reminders (or even a few times a day) to search for new job listings on the store’s site. Retail is a high-turnover field, and you can never predict exactly when there will likely be more job openings. Keeping an eye on the listings will let you jump on opportunities as they come up, instead of getting there a few days later, after the job has already been filled by Not You.
Don’t be afraid of job hopping.
“Job hopping,” or moving from one job to another after a short period of time, used to be frowned upon. These days, it’s become more of an accepted cost of moving up and building skills. If you’re in one job and another opens up that could broaden your experience or give you a bump in pay/compensation, don’t be afraid to go for it.
Whether you’re a vet of the retail job scene looking to trade up, or looking for your first retail job, we've hopefully laid out a ton of options for you to consider and a path for you to follow. Good luck!
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