7 Actionable Steps to Change Career from Retail

Retail trends show that consumers are turning to online shopping as online retail sales growth in 2021 vs. 2019 was 81%. There’s no surprise you’re considering a career change from retail. A career change can be daunting, but with the right information, it can be a success. As a retail professional, there are many great career options available to you. This article discusses actionable steps you can take to transition your career from retail.

Let’s get started!

Step 1. Research Alternate Careers for A Retail Worker and Select One.

If you’ve decided that you want to change careers from working in retail, you first need to highlight why exactly you’ve decided to leave retail work behind.

This is important because understanding what you do not like about your current profession will help put in focus what you should be looking for in a new one.

When looking at other career options available to you, it’s important to ask yourself, “what do I actually want to do.” If you’re changing from one career path to another, choosing one that you find fulfillment in is kind of a no-brainer unless you plan on career hopping every few years.

Once you’ve highlighted the things you do not like about working in retail, you can start creating a list of what you’re looking for in a new career.

Try asking yourself;

  • What am I interested in?
  • What skills do I have?
  • What motivates you?

Now that you’ve asked yourself these personal questions, it’s time to ask some more career-based questions.

  • What type of work-life balance are you looking for?
  • Are you interested in career advancement opportunities?
  • What income range are you hoping for?

Now that you know your wants and needs, the next step is researching what careers are out there to choose from. 

If you already have a specific career in mind, then the best thing to do is see how your skills and experience working in a retail match up to this new career you’re hoping for. This requires a lot of research on your part; you’re going to need to look for the requirements that a career requires.

 A great way to do this is by searching that job, for example, “sales associate” on job hosting websites like indeed, Linkedln, or monster, and compiling a list of the common candidate requirements they require. 

On the other hand, if you don’t have a specific new career in mind, then our tip for you is to search for jobs that align with the skills, interests, and experience level you’ve listed down. 

Here is a list of common career paths that former retail workers have successfully transitioned to.

  • Supply Chain Management
  • Real Estate
  • Sales Associate
  • Administrative Assistant
  • Recruitment
  • Insurance Agent
  • Project Management.

Step 2. Speak to other Professionals With Similar Backgrounds.

Now that you’ve possibly decided on a new career to transition to, the next actionable tip is reaching out and connecting with other professionals who have a similar background to yours.

There is truth to the common advice of “talking it out” A career change is not an easy decision to make, and having someone you can be open with and who can possibly mentor you around any challenges you may face really makes all the difference.

Think about it, and a former retail worker will have a more personal experience about the hardships you might face compared to a random google search. Additionally, someone who has successfully attempted what it is you’re trying to do will have much more knowledge on the best options to choose and the best way to go about things.

Communicating with both your personal and professional networks is a great way to get in touch with professionals who have a similar background. You can discuss your career interests with them, enabling them to connect you with possible opportunities.

Colleagues and previous colleagues can act as your professional network, while friends and family can be your more personal network.

Remember, you don’t have to limit yourself to only previous retail workers. Professionals from the field you plan to transition to can be very helpful; they’ll have better insights into what job requirements in the field are and what additional education or training you may need to stand out to employers.

You can find professionals in any field by reaching out to them through professional networking websites like Linkedln, or if possible, you can try volunteering and participating in events related to the new industry you hope to transition to.

Step 3. Build Foundational Knowledge and Get Qualified

Foundational knowledge is the concept, theories, principles, methods, mode of reasoning, and framework for a particular subject or skill. 

Think of it this way, imagine you wanted to become a cook or chef; some foundational knowledge you’ll need would be actually knowing the ingredients, cooking methods, and recipes for different dishes.

How does this apply to you and a career change?

When deciding on a new career, it’s very likely that after evaluating your personal preferences, needs, and wants, you may decide on one that you do not have all the required skills or technical requirements to enter into. This is where building your foundational knowledge and getting qualified comes in.

Let’s look at an example in detail. Picture a former retail worker trying to transition into a project management role. Apart from the useful soft skills these roles will require, they will also likely require project management certifications, work experience, or even a portfolio of projects the candidate has worked on.

The retail worker can build on their foundational knowledge by researching what the requirements for these roles are and setting out to achieve them. 

This is another area where having a network of professionals with a similar background to yours can come in handy. They’ll have more knowledge than you on what additional education or qualifications you’ll need for a new role.

You can build on your foundational knowledge in so many different ways. If what you’re lacking is experience, then acquiring some work experience in your new field is building on your foundational knowledge.

If the role requires you to get new degrees or certifications, then doing exactly that is helping to build your foundational knowledge too.

Getting additional degrees or qualifications may seem like an energy-consuming task. But, it may really be required to bridge your knowledge and experience gap for some career changes. Degrees, qualifications, certifications are tested and proven ways to gain the experience you will need in almost any industry.

Studying these will allow you to know the history and procedures for the industry you hope to transition into and will definitely help in bringing you up to date for your new career.

Step 4. Identify and Package your Transferrable Skills

Before moving forward with your career change, stop and take a moment to look back on the skills you have that you have acquired as a retail worker or even the skills you picked up while working as one.

Ask yourself what skills come easily and naturally to you. For example, working in retail probably means you’re good at problem-solving, sales and great at customer service.

You may also have performed other minor job responsibilities like following up with clients and customers, entering and organizing data into spreadsheets, performing inventory checks, or even working with specific software and programs to keep records.

These talents and skills of yours can easily act as selling points for other careers that may require them.

Let’s look at easily transferrable skills that retail workers can use in other professions.

  • Communication skills: whether it’s written or verbal, communication is a skill that’s needed in every field. Being able to correspond with clients, superiors, colleagues is important.
  • Problem Solving Skills: Retail workers normally face situations where they have to resolve customer complaints, and this helps in developing their diplomacy and problem-solving skills. Employers appreciate employees that can handle difficult situations properly, even when under pressure.
  • Customer Service: Part of being a retail worker is interacting with customers to help them meet their needs. Customer service skills will definitely help in a role where you also have to communicate and interact with customers.
  • Persuasive Skills: In retail, persuasion is often used to convince customers to purchase products. Your persuasive skills can easily help you in transitioning to a sales-related career.
  • Teamwork, perseverance, attention to detail and adaptability are some other skills that retail workers often develop from working in fast-paced work environments.

Highlighting any of the transferrable skills you have in a cover letter or resume when applying for a job will help to emphasize your suitability for the job and help to hire managers to see you as a strong candidate.

Step 5. Evaluate and Reframe Your Work Experience

Another helpful tip for making a career change from retail work is evaluating and reframing your work experience. This is important because you will definitely have learned a lot from your experience working in retail.

You need to evaluate your work experience by asking yourself how your performance at work aligns with the new career you’re pursuing after.

Some questions to ask are what tasks did you perform strongly at work? Are these tasks relevant to the new position you’re looking into?

A good way to carry out your evaluation is by identifying all the relevant tasks and activities you carried out while working in retail and analyzing them to see which ones can count as experience in your new field.

Why should you evaluate your work experience?

Evaluating your work experience helps to put in perspective what you learned on the job and how these may fit into your new career. But more importantly, it makes it easier to reframe your experience to present yourself as the perfect candidate for a job.

There’s a good chance you will not have all the qualifications and requirements listed on job postings. But even if you’re only a “partial” match for the listing that doesn’t mean you should give up.

Reframing your work experience even when you do not have some of the desired requirements can help justify and amplify your skills to make you look like a good fit for the position.

For example, if an employer is looking for a real estate agent, you may never have worked as one but as a retail worker, you may have had experience showcasing products and convincing clients to buy them. You can point out how your experience handling these products is similar to what real estate agents do and show how valuable this experience will be for the role.

Justifying the lack of skill or qualification may not be easy, but reframing your work experience to make up for the skill you do not directly have can easily sway an employer in your favor.

Step 6. Acquire New Work Experience.

Just like gaining new qualifications or certifications can help when transitioning to a new career, gaining actual work experience is also very important.

Unless you’re planning to start at an entry-level position, a lot of jobs will require you to have some form of experience.

Once you know what career path you want, working in that field is a good way to get your feet in the door. This doesn’t mean making an immediate career change into that field; think of it more as interning or just getting practical experience in your new field.

Some ways to acquire new work experience include;

  • Volunteering with an organization: One way to get more work experience is by volunteering for professionals in the new field you hope to work in. You can connect with professionals using professional networking sites like LinkedIn. Not only will this help you build your resume, but it will help you develop your skills while building new networks.
  • Working on other company projects: Another way to gain more work experience is by volunteering to work and help out on related projects going on at your current company.

For example, if you’re hoping to transition to a Human Resource role, you can volunteer to help the team leads or floor managers at your workplace with some of their duties.

  • Work on side projects: In the evenings after work, you can spend your time working on side projects that can help you pad up your work portfolio. You can even offer your services to small non-profits or local community centers in line with your new career.

Remember, the experience can come in so many different forms, and acquiring new work experience will not only look good on your resume but will also give you an inner look into the industry you may be working in in the future.

Step 7. Update Your Professional Brand Assets.

Changing your line of work will most likely require you to change and fine-tune the way you present yourself professionally. Reviewing your CV, personal websites, and Linkedln profile can go a long way in making your career change experience smoother.

Personal branding is all about marketing yourself and attracting recruiters and more job opportunities for you. Some good places to start are;

  • Your CV: Highlighting your skills and experience on your resume in a way that fits the new career options you’re looking into Is important. Make sure your CV is up to date and includes your most recent and relevant professional experience.

If you’ve gotten more work experience, qualifications or training make sure to add them to your CV.

  • Your LinkedIn Profile: Your LinkedIn profile is one of the first places that a hiring manager will check; this means it’s important to match the information on your CV to that on your LinkedIn profile. As someone moving into a new career, it’s also important to let recruiters know that you’re open to hiring and looking for new opportunities.

Optimize the headline section of your profile by listing major skills that will be required in your new profession. Also, optimize the summary section of your profile by highlighting your work experience, certifications, technical skills, and expertise.

  • Your Personal Websites: Your personal websites include all your social media accounts. A good tip is to make sure all your social media accounts show you in a professional light; if possible, let your social media activity reflect your interests and activities you may have carried out in relation to your new field of work. Make posts on topics that you’re passionate about and connect with professionals working in your field of interest.

Bonus Tip: Take Action.

Now that you have an action plan, the only thing left is for you to actually get up and start using it. Prioritize yourself and your future by investing your time and energy into making this career change work for you.

Don’t treat your career change as an afterthought once you’ve decided on it, be committed and dedicated to turning it into a reality. Motivate yourself, and surround yourself with people who will also push you to achieve your dreams.

Even though it may be a big and scary decision to make for most people, if you’re intentional about what it is you want, and you’ve drafted out your action plan on how to achieve what you want, the only thing left to do is believe in yourself and finally put your plan into motion.

Do not hesitate, do not procrastinate; the best time you have to make this career change is now. No other time will be as good as now. Commit to putting into the work, and your efforts will definitely yield results for you.

Just think about it. What do you have to lose? Best case scenario, you make a successful pivot into a new career that you love and is perfect for you.

Final thoughts

Changing careers can be a difficult thing to do, but with the right tools and attitude, you can make it happen! The eight tips in this article are tested and proven when making the action plan that’ll you’ll need to make this career change a successful one for you.

Do some research into what careers best fit your experience, skills, personal needs, and wants. Network with professionals who have a similar background with you, build on your foundational knowledge by acquiring more work experience, skills, and qualifications you’ll need for your new role.

Update your professional brand assets to align with the new career you’ve decided to pursue and market yourself as a perfect candidate for roles in your new career path.

 Finally, take action and treat your career change as a job in itself. Make sure to invest your time, energy, and any other resources you require into turning this dream of yours into a whole reality.

There are many opportunities out there open to people with backgrounds in retail. The key is finding these opportunities and equipping yourself with all the experience, skills, and qualifications that are sure to make you perfect for the role.

Patrick is passionate about supporting other professionals to find success in their chosen career paths. So far, he has successfully navigated four career transitions and is currently a Product Manager Consultant helping businesses build products their customers love.