Lola's Quest to Find the Ideal Job Part Two: Retail Industry

retail jobsDuring my East Coast job search adventure with AOL career diva Lisa Johnson Mandell (who also happens to be my wonderful aunt), I couldn't control the urge to take advantage of the amazing shopping in New York City. I was mostly limited to window shopping, of course, due to my non-existent salary, but Aunt Lisa insisted that we at least wander through that "Marvelous Mecca of Merchandising," Saks Fifth Avenue, and assured me that no trip to New York City was complete without perusing the racks at Saks.

Re-thinking retail

I admit to being a retail enthusiast ever since I was little, but many of the sales associates were intimidating. You know the routine: There you are buttoning, zipping and sizing up what you hope will be the perfect-fitting jeans, when the sales clerk rushes in breathlessly with another pair, often the most expensive and completely unlike the ones you've selected for yourself. You politely say "thank you" and then ask yourself, "Does the sales associate really think that these pants will help me bring my A game? Do they really compliment my assets?"

retail jobsI don't mind advice from an astute, knowledgeable employee, but the pushy one who has a private agenda does me no favors. Shopping experiences like these haunt me every time I enter a retail store, and are one of the reasons I've never really pursued a job in retail sales. However, my experience at Saks was amazing, and actually warmed me up to the idea of working in retail.

Unfortunately though, after turning over a few price tags and remembering that Saks is one of the higher-end department stores, I realized that my bank account wouldn't even begin to cover appropriate work attire. One outfit alone would undoubtedly put me behind on rent and maybe even cut into my food allotment for the month. But then I remembered the employee discount, and thought, just maybe...?

I decided to investigate some behind-the-scenes jobs, which wouldn't require such an expensive wardrobe. When I mentioned this idea to Aunt Lisa, she took time out from ogling handbags to give me the number of her high school friend Roxanne McCaleb, who has worked as an executive assistant at Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Texas, for years. Lisa also told me that employee discounts often apply to family members, and reminded me of how close we are.

Exploring the opportunities

Unfortunately, Roxanne was not able to publicize the actual discount amount, but she confirmed that employees do receive a nice discount and added that dependents are the only family members eligible. (Sorry Aunt Lisa, apparently we're not close enough.) Aside from that, Roxanne was able to give me great information about corporate retail.

Neiman Marcus, like most other retailers, has corporate positions in advertising, marketing, ecommerce, legal, product development, project management, IT, purchasing, human resources, visual and display design, as well as finance and accounting. Neiman Marcus also offers an Executive Development Program, which is an intense, 90-day training program designed to produce assistant buyers at its conclusion. Roxanne mentioned that "they're looking for very well rounded people. Coming out of college, they like to see that you were active in volunteer work and other activities around campus besides just your educational background."

In fact, many companies have leadership and management training programs, which can provide a big career boost to involved participants. Saks, Bloomingdale's, Gap Inc, Target, Wal-Mart, Sears, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and JCPenney all have similar programs.

Over the last few years, retail, like most other industries, has been negatively affected by the recession. However, in 2010 retail sales have steadily increased and year-end totals are expected to exceed the estimated $4.13 trillion from 2009. Good news --opportunities are now opening up in retail.

And Roxanne would encourage anyone to take advantage of them. "I love the variety!" she says. "Every day is something different when you are an assistant. Whether it's managing one very busy executive's day or helping all the people who report to that executive, there is never a dull moment."

Sarah, who works in the human resources department for Gap Inc., agrees that corporate retail can be a great job. "I work 9-5, five days a week, I don't have to stand on my feet all day long, I still get the employee discount at all of our stores and subsidiaries and to top it off I get benefits... My job is perfect for me."

Considering the "buts"

The downside to corporate retail jobs is that they are centralized in fewer geographic areas. For example, if you want to work for Best Buy or Target corporate, you may have to move to the Minneapolis area. Nordstrom will bring you to Seattle and Wal-Mart will take you to Bentonville, Ark.

I like the idea of employee discounts and health benefits. Consistent hours and holidays off are also very appealing. But there are other options to explore, and over the next few weeks, I'll bring you along with me as I take a look at them...

See Part One of Lola's Quest to Find the Ideal Job

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