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Careers After Retail When You Have No College Degree

What to do after working retail with no college degree


Careers that heavily employ youth seem to take two distinct paths: retail or food. High school students flock to positions in restaurants as servers or dishwashers, while retail jobs have kids stocking or selling.

Retail isn't just for first jobs. Many workers stay in retail sales for the long haul, for a multitude of reasons. Some people may have had no desire to go to college, while others balance both school and work. But good things and good feelings sometimes come to an end: It's time to move on.

What happens when you no longer want to work in retail, yet college never happened for you? There IS life after retail. Open one of these many doors and transition from working in retail to a different career.

Why it's A Good Idea to Leave Retail. Now.

Retail is suffering. Stores and malls are closing all over the country. It’s becoming impossible to compete with the online marketplace. Many huge chains are announcing the lowest earnings in years, with their stock and retail sales plummeting. E-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon are destroying any and all competition. Iconic stores such as Radio Shack, Kmart, and J.C. Penney are all shutting doors, displacing many of their salespeople. As anchor stores close and malls head to their demise, fewer consumers are spending money at brick and mortar locations and opting to spend it online and for entertainment purposes instead.

With the state of retail being in the process of a massive transition, and not a good one, it’s time for salespeople to start thinking about their next move. Keep reading to find out how to leave retail behind or change your direction in it.



The Transition From Retail

It’s sort of a big deal when you decide to move from one career—that you have been comfortably settled into for however long—and transition to a new career. Whether it’s still in the retail sector, or it’s something altogether different, it doesn’t matter. It’s a milestone, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

You’ve asked yourself those important questions: Am I ready to move on? Do I know where I want to go from here? Is pursuing this new career a good idea? Am I even interested in this new career or just the idea of it? And you’ve answered yes to all of them. So, here are some preparation pointers for you, as you move from your retail career on to your next adventure.

  • Get your resume ready. Update it, adding all the skills you’ve gained during your time in retail, and make them relevantly wordy to your new career.
  • Network. Get familiar with people in the industry you’re looking to move into. Use LinkedIn to make connections, too. It can be a really great starting point to find out the whos and whats of this new industry.
  • Research the job market. Find out which companies in your realm of interest are hiring. Narrow it down to the ones you think would best suit you and your skills.
  • Have a plan in place. It may take a while to get this new job; make sure you have your affairs in order, in case it takes longer than you anticipated.
  • Have clarity of thought. Be certain you don’t want a career change because you aren’t happy where you’re working. Hating a job doesn’t mean you hate your career. Also, don’t compare your success to others in your age group. Money, as strong of a motivator as it is, does not equate happiness—especially if you’re working in a field that leaves you unsatisfied.
  • Don’t go at it alone. Make sure your support network is ready and that they know what’s ahead. You never know when you’ll need a shoulder or an ear. Be fully aware that you may be in for a bumpy ride, just as much as it may be smooth sailing ahead. You never know!


The Skills You Bring With You

You may or may not recognize this, but during your time working retail, you’ve picked up many soft skills employers want. You should really feel great about these things; there are many people who go through life lacking the skills you acquired. Use these qualities as your key selling points when you update your resume and subsequently go through the interview process.

  • People are your, well, people: Working retail brings with it loads of socializing. You’ve learned to turn on the charm. You can talk to a brick wall. You can communicate. That’s a huge bonus with many HR people. Whether you move up the retail career ladder or jump on over to a completely different path, communication is a crucial component looked for in employees. And you’ve got that covered.
  • Solving problems is your M.O.: If there’s a problem, yo, you’ll solve it. Working in retail, you had to deal with all types of customers, from angry and aggressive to overly chatty. You know how to ask the right questions, get the right answers, and therefore, solve problems. It’s a skill. And you wear it like a crown.
  • You don’t combust under pressure: Retail workers, especially those who work on straight commission, are under a constant amount of stress. Not to mention, you have to balance a handful of customers at the same time, which can cause anyone some emotional duress. But you’ve got this conquered. Pressure is nothing but something that goes in a tire.
  • You’ve got amazing balance: Retail isn’t a 9-5 Monday through Friday office job. There are night, weekend, and holiday hours that have to be worked. Plus, a house to run, mouths to feed, and sleep to be had. You learned, fairly quickly, how to balance both work and life, even if it was quite delicately.

Skills to List on Your Resume

Chances are, you’re updating your resume to make it attractive for non-retail based companies. It doesn’t have to be difficult to take your past responsibilities and translate them onto your resume. Many of the things you’ve been doing while working in retail easily lend themselves to a variety of jobs. The following is just a basic list of keywords you may want to hit when you’re putting your resume together.

  • Customer service: Retail sales is a customer-facing job; you made sure all was good for your customers, and if it wasn’t, you fixed it.
  • Communication: Because of your retail and customer experience, you are a clear and concise communicator.
  • Team player: Working retail means you’re part of a sales team, moving together toward a common sales goal. You learned quickly how to play well with others, and this will serve you well in every other career you could possibly go into.
  • Attention to detail: You had to pay attention to every single thing happening on the sales floor, plus keep an eye on your customers for their wants and needs. You’re in tune to the smallest of nuances, and this skill needs to be bragged about.
  • Information Technology (IT): You’ve worked with cash registers, computers, and handheld inventory scanners, among other electronic equipment.
  • Numeracy: Making change for customers, handling money for both the store and the customer: It makes you instantly trustworthy.


Which Way Should You Go?

You may decide you want to stay in the realm of retail—you just don’t want to be on the floor anymore. You’ve paid your dues in swollen feet and varicose veins. The thing about retail is it’s not a dead-end job. Just because you are paid hourly doesn’t mean you can’t progress. There is a ladder held together by rungs of more advanced retail jobs. You just have to decide how high up you can handle.

Careers in Retail:

  • Retail field management: If you have proven you have strong leadership skills, then you may be a good fit for retail field management. Most likely, you’ll start as store manager before moving up to area manager, then become regional manager. The highest level would be head of stores. Retail manager salary runs an average of $44K but can go up to over $69K.
  • Visual merchandising: Visual merchandisers make the stores look pretty. They decorate the windows and do all the displays both inside and outside the store. It can be an exceptionally fun career. The average salary of a visual merchandiser is around $40K, but it varies depending on where you live and who you’ll be working for.
  • Buyer and planner: Someone has to decide what and how much of each product will be going into the store, and it may as well be you. Buyers and planners earn an average of $65K annually, but they can make well over $100K if they’re at the top of their games.
  • Supply chain management: Entry-level supply chain would be positions such as drivers, warehouse employees, and dispatch. As you move up the supply chain, you can work in corporate, and that’s where the big bucks start rolling in. You’ll start in the mid-$50K, but can end up making well over $120K.
  • Security and loss prevention: Store security and loss prevention are employed to deter or catch the ever-present shoplifters. Store thieves aren’t just customers: They can be employees, as well. Loss prevention earns around $44K, but depending on a variety of factors such as location and store, they can see that increase to more than $80K.


Careers similar(ish) to Retail

Maybe you enjoy selling, but you just aren’t interested in the retail end of things? Your skills are transferable to many other similar yet different careers. You don’t need any college for most of them.

  • Customer service representative: You’ll be interacting with customers, responding to complaints, and helping them with products. The median annual salary is $32K.
  • Insurance sales agent: As the sales agent, you’re drumming up new clients for the insurance company, as well as selling insurance. Most insurance sales agents make an average of $50K. However, some earn over $128K.
  • Real estate broker and agent: You have to work as an agent for one to three years before you can become a broker. Similar to agents, brokers help their clients buy, sell, or rent properties. The major difference is a broker can own his or her own real estate company. Brokers earn an average salary of $57K, and agents make about $44K.
  • Wholesale or manufacturing sales rep: You’ll make customer and client contacts in order to sell goods and products. Some industries will require a bachelor’s degree, such as pharmaceutical reps. On average, $57K is the annual salary, but the highest 10 percent earn well over the $121K mark.
  • Sales engineer: For this career, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree. You’ll sell more complex products in the scientific and technology realm. Extensive knowledge is a must. The average salary of a sales engineer is $100K, but it’s not uncommon to make more than $166K.
  • Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agent: You’ll work in the financial sector, connecting buyers with sellers. A bachelor’s degree is a necessity. Your average annual salary will be more than $67K, and you can make an average of more than $208K after a few years.


Alternative Jobs

There are so many alternate career directions that have nothing to do with retail. Even better, some allow you to go from training to working in two years or less. Skilled trade careers are a great option for people with retail sales backgrounds because you already know how to interact with customers, and you know what it takes to make them happy. If you’ve worked in retail sales and you’re now considering getting out and starting a whole new career, here are some trades to consider:

  • Welding: There is an extreme shortage of welders at the moment. The job outlook is expected to grow 6 percent; there will be plenty of available jobs. The median annual salary for welding is $40K, but that goes up as your experience does.
  • Dental hygienist: Dental hygiene is one of the fastest growing careers, with a projected job growth of 20 percent through 2026. The average annual salary of a dental hygienist is $73K, and it only takes two years to become one.
  • Registered nurse: (or certified nursing assistant CNA) In as little as two years, you can get a job as a registered nurse. The field is expected to grow 15 percent over the next few years, with a median annual salary of over $68K.
  • Massage therapist: Massage therapy training can take up to two years. Careers are expected to grow 26 percent through 2026, with an average salary of $40K.
  • HVAC technician: The median pay for HVAC technicians is $46K, and employment growth is projected to be 15 percent through 2026. Training takes up to two years, or you can get an apprenticeship position and get paid as you learn the trade.
  • Bartending: Bartenders don’t need any formal training; they often get taught on the job. Average reported income for bartenders is under $20K, but that isn’t including tips which can add to income significantly.
  • Cosmetology: There are many different cosmetology career choices, from hairdresser to nail technician to makeup artist. The reported average income is around $24K, but with tips, you can expect to double that.
  • Trucking: There is a shortage of truckers, plus a 6 percent projected employment growth. An average trucker's salary is around $41K, and it only takes a few short weeks to train for this career.
  • Phlebotomy technician: With three to four months of training, you can start your phlebotomy tech career. The average salary is more than $32K, and the employment growth is expected to be 25 percent.
  • Veterinarian technician: The national median salary for a vet tech is $32K, and it only takes as little as two years to become one. Twenty percent is the expected projection for employment growth through 2026.

Still no idea? Try taking some of the practice tests. It can be daunting to move on from a retail career when you have no college degree. But you’ve got the skills, the drive, and the determination to transition from retail to whatever new career awaits you. Good luck; you’ve got this!

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