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What you can do with a background in retail

More than 15 million people work in retail, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a recent CareerBuilder survey found that 33 percent of retail employers are likely to hire seasonal help this summer. Considering the high employment numbers, along with varying education requirements, on-the-job training and transferable skills, a job in retail can be the start of, or next step in, a strong career path.

Here is a look at the skills you acquire in retail, advancement opportunities within the industry and similar occupations to which retail workers can apply their skills.

Skills gained from working in retail

From customer service to sales, retail workers have hard and soft skills that can be transferred to other jobs in the retail industry or a different sector. When you're putting together your résumé or preparing for an interview, build upon the skills that you've gained while working in retail. The BLS names some of the important qualities workers in retail possess, including:

  • Customer-service skills: Retail sales workers must be responsive to the wants and needs of customers. They should explain the product options available to customers and make appropriate recommendations.
  • People skills: A friendly and outgoing personality is important for these workers, because the job requires almost constant interaction with people.
  • Persistence: A large number of attempted sales may not be successful, so sales workers should not be discouraged easily. They must start each new sales attempt with a positive attitude.
  • Selling skills: Retail sales workers must be persuasive when interacting with customers. They must clearly and effectively explain the benefits of merchandise.

Advancement opportunities within retail

If you're not interested in leaving the retail industry, or if you're looking for an advancement opportunity within your current company, know that there's room to move up. The BLS notes, "Retail sales workers typically have opportunities to advance to managerial positions. Some employers want candidates for managerial positions to have a college degree.

"As sales workers gain experience and seniority, they often move into positions that have greater responsibility and may be given their choice of departments in which to work. This opportunity often means moving to positions with higher potential earnings and commissions. The highest earnings potential usually lies in selling 'big-ticket' items -- such as cars, jewelry, furniture and electronics. These positions often require workers with extensive knowledge of the product and an excellent talent for persuasion."

Similar occupations and career options

When looking to what's next in your career, there are a variety of jobs at which you can apply the skills you've acquired in retail. Here are some examples:

Customer service representatives*
Interact with customers on behalf of an organization. They provide information about products and services and respond to customer complaints. Some also take orders and process returns.
Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent
Average annual salary: $54,000

Information clerks
Provide administrative and clerical support in a variety of settings. They help maintain records, collect data and information, and respond to customers' questions or concerns.
Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent, though some employers prefer some education beyond high school.
Average annual salary: $48,000

Insurance sales agents
Help insurance companies generate new business by contacting potential customers and selling one or more types of insurance. An agent explains various insurance policies and helps clients choose plans that suit them.
Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent
Average annual salary: $58,500

Real estate brokers
Help clients buy, sell and rent properties. Brokers and agents do the same type of work, but brokers are licensed to manage their own real estate businesses. Sales agents must work with a broker.
Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent
Average annual salary: $79,500

Sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products' parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.
Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
Average annual salary: $70,000

Financial services sales agents
Connect buyers and sellers in financial markets. They sell securities to individuals, advise companies in search of investors and conduct trades.
Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
Average annual salary: $102,500

Wholesale/Manufacturing sales representatives
Sell goods for wholesalers or manufacturers to businesses, government agencies and other organizations. They contact customers, explain product features, answer any questions that their customers may have and negotiate prices.
Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent; some industries may require a bachelor's degree
Average annual salary: $84,000

Related articles:

Skills needed for Customer Service Superstars

Example cover letter for customer service positions

Related jobs to consider:

Call Center Agent
Customer Care Representative
Client Representative

*Job descriptions, education levels and salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.